The battle between monarchists and republicans has taken a new turn as Howard government ministers adopt increasingly belligerent positions for and against the referendum due on November 6.
The Prime Minister, John Howard, issued a major statement to his Bennelong constituents earlier this week outlining his arguments against a republic.
This was followed by a speech from Treasurer Peter Costello that rebutted Howard’s argument point by point.
The debate is about more than just the republic question. Costello is clearly positioning himself as a younger, new-breed Liberal thinker, compared to the more traditional views of his party leader. The future leadership of the Liberal Party is in part being determined by the referendum debate.
This point is taken up by Laurie Oakes in his column in the latest edition of The Bulletin (Nov 2).
Oakes argues that if the No case gets up next week there will be a sense of “unfinished business” in the nation, the coalition will be paralysed and divided, and there will be strong community feeling in favour of a directly-elected president.
Oakes says “that will leave Howard, an avowed monarchist, clearly out of step with mainstream thinking, and incapable of adapting to it. The message will be reinforced by the sight of the prime minister squiring the Queen around the country on a royal visit only four months after the vote. The contrast between Howard and Costello will be stark, leading inevitably to a revival of leadership speculation.”