catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Why Prince Charles will probably be our king

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It’s not just 43 degree heat and a corny name that kept me away from the Australian Republican Movement’s A Mate for Head of State function today. In a rare moment of following the Carlton consensus on matters political, I voted for a republic in 1999. Even then, it was without much enthusiasm. As we have been a de facto republic for many decades I accept that there is sense in becoming a de jure one was well, but with my usual dislike for symbolic politics my vote was as much to make the issue go away as to see a republic. Once we have one, the monarchist cause will be permanently lost and the republicans will drop their dreary campaign. As I feared, the defeat has left the republicans diminished but alive.

But it’s worse than that. Their strategy at the moment seems to be to avoid the issue that must be resolved if constitutional change is to occur. As David Marr explained in the SMH on Saturday:

…In the wake of the new parliamentary group came the launch this week of the folksy face of the ARM, Mates for a [sic] Head of State. The new strategy is to keep things very, very simple. It’s small- target time for the ARM. A briefing paper distributed to spokespersons says: “The central idea is to move away from the dry constitutional arguments and focus more on the emotional messages of an Australian head of state.”

Looking at Newspoll and Australian Election Study polling on a republic vs the monarchy, the monarchy lost its majority support in 1990. The AES gets higher pro-republic figures than Newspoll, 60%+ since the mid-1990s compared to 46-52%. Newspoll has very high uncommitted figures – 20% in the latest poll (reported in the Weekend Australian but not online, though it should be on the Newspoll website in a couple of days). While there are a lot of uncommitted voters, the in-principle debate is effectively won by the republicans. Demography and migration will secure their majorities, irrespective of the quality of their campaigns.

The difficulty is that republicans can’t secure support for a single model – the problem that effectively killed their 1999 campaign. When Newspoll asked ‘no’ voters why not, these were the results:

The current system is fine and you feel if it
ain’t broke don’t fix it 45
You would only vote yes for a directly
elected president 16
There is too much uncertainty about
the proposed republic model 33
You would like to retain the Queen
as head of state 9

Though the political elites and those who understand the political system generally don’t like direct election, the masses certainly do. The Australian Election Survey has asked at every election since 1996 whether its respondents want direct election or election by Parliament; at least 80% in every survey went for direct election. And some of them won’t vote ‘yes’ until they get it.

The ‘A mate for Head of State’ campaign, to the extent that is likely to have any effect at all, will promote the populist-patriotic side of the republic campaign (of course as a liberal my objection to the monarchy is that it is hereditary, not that it is British), making it even less likely that a non-directly elected model can secure support. Yet it hard to see the Liberal political elites supporting the constitutional and political complications of a directly-elected President. Labor promises a pre-referendum plebiscite, avoiding a decision. Without bipartisan support, however, direct election is unlikely to succeed.

The republicans are in a painful position, victors in the symbolic dispute, but unable to escape the stalemate of the detail. Prince Charles will be our king, perhaps Prince William too. But the ARM’s pain is my pain. For the rest of my life, I will have to listen to their contrived patriotism, arguments about anachronism, and assertions of national immaturity.

Written by Admin

January 22, 2006 at 6:14 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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