My ballot paper for the Constitutional Convention has arrived, but the thought of voting for Steve Vizard, Lindsay Fox and the egregious Mary Delahunty is just too much. As for Eddie McGuire, well, it is more than a game. So what is a committed republican to do?
Sure, it’s important not to frighten the horses. And it’s important to present an image to the community of a broadly-based movement of ordinary Australians committed to having a resident for president. Maybe when they see their favourite television, sporting and business personalities running on the Australian Republican Movement ticket the ordinary voters will say to themselves: “If Eddie and Poppy and Mary and Steve and Lindsay think a republic is a good thing, it must be okay”.
Or will they? Have we really reached the stage where the cult of celebrity is so strong that it has to infect our politics with glitz, glamour and designer-labels? Are people so enamoured of colourful images that this great Republican versus Monarchist debate needs to be conducted like a beauty contest? In these times of political disillusionment and frustration, I’d like to think not. Just possibly, the ARM has made a major tactical mistake in trivialising the republican debate. Let’s hope so.
I’m more interested in voting for people who are more likely to have more than a 12-minute concentration span and who just might be interested in genuine constitutional reform. People who understand that simply changing every reference to the Queen and the Governor-General to “president” is simply not good enough.
Have you looked at the three alternative constitutions posted on the Australian Republican Movement’s web site? There’s one by Malcolm Turnbull, another from George Winterton and a third from a former Liberal senator, Baden Teague. What they all have in common is that they do not propose any amendment to Section 64 of the Constitution. For those of us old enough, and still outraged enough, this is the section that John Kerr used to dismiss the Whitlam Government in 1975. Any constitutional changes that don’t clarify this iniquitous section of Australia’s ramshackle constitution aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.
When the monarchists and their hangers-on are still proclaiming the sanctity of the constitution, it’s time to consider alternatives when we vote for our delegates at next February’s convention. When that old duffer Lloyd Waddy says the constitution is inviolate, as if it is some kind of unsullied democratic virgin, instead of the whorey-old bag we know it to be, I become more determined than ever to support people who might be willing to raise some of the issues that are likely to give us a modern democratic document.
The only team of candidates that come anywhere near is therefore the Real Republic ticket, headed by the Rev. Tim Costello.
And here’s the rub: how does a self-respecting left-of-centre republican bring himself to vote for anyone with the name “Costello”?
“He can’t help his family background”, a friend said to me the other day, but I’m not convinced. And of course there’s that difficult problem of the religion. Let’s face it, Baptists are a funny lot. Okay, he’s been very vocal about the Auditor-General and the assorted attacks by the Kennett Government on Victoria’s public assets. He’s opposed to the gambling culture that has replaced sound public policy making in Victoria. But is he the right type to move us towards the Australian republic?
The rest of the ticket suggests perhaps he is. Moira Rayner, Bishop Challen, Sid Spindler and company are somewhat reassuring figures who make it easier to support this ticket. You can have some faith that these people have a long-standing interest in social and political justice, and haven’t just been recruited from their trucking companies, lipstick factories and television production houses to spruik for the celebrity-driven republic. Okay, there’s the odd attempt at celebrity-influencing, but at least Jill Singer was axed by Jeff Kennett and his supporters at Channel 7, and Rod Quantock can be bloody funny at times.
And if you read their policy statement, brief as it is, at least they’re interested in writing some basic democratic rights, civil liberties and protections into the constitution. There’s some suggestion that they may actually understand the importance of an independent judiciary, a political system that promotes participation by the populace and socio-economic goals that don’t pander to the big end of town.
So, I’ll vote for the Real Republic and hope they can get a couple of people up who can do something to prevent John Howard using the Convention to totally stymie constitutional reform in this country. Afterall, he hasn’t done too bad so far, what with the absurdly difficult ballot paper and the disgraceful back-door introduction of voluntary voting.
But, I’m not really happy about my decision. From the time John Howard proposed the convention in the lead-up to the 1996 Federal election, it’s always been the second-best option, designed by a man who has no commitment to its work and who can still make silly speeches about how we are a “crowned republic” whilst his erstwhile supporters propose – without a hint of irony – an Australian head of state appointed by the British queen!
Of course, Paul Keating was right the other night when he said that a convention like this isn’t the way to go. Real leadership would have given us something much more constructive to be going on with. But that’s another problem, best saved for another day. In the meantime, this political junkie can’t let an election go by without casting a vote, even though it’s tempting to do so.