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Canberra’s latest folly is a referendum, costing up to a quarter of a billion dollars, to replace the politicians’ oath with an empty pledge without legal effect. Instead, why not bring in real reform and finally make the politicians accountable? The referendum should be to allow Australians to initiate recall elections for non-performing politicians.

There is one useful consequence of politicians swearing allegiance and then announcing their usually fake republicanism. They thus confirm what many suspect — their word just cannot be trusted.

So when they swear in court before a jury to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, barristers cross- examining them should expose their parliamentary misbehaviour.

The plan to abolish the oath was announced on Australia Day by Matt Thistlethwaite, until 2019 ‘Shadow Assistant Minister for an Australian Head of State’.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese, better informed than his predecessor, must have realised this portfolio mouthful exposes Labor to ridicule for the simple reason that every Labor government tells foreign governments the Governor-General, always Australian, is indeed our head of state.

The Hawke Labor government famously made this very point to the Indonesian government after a serious diplomatic incident in 1987. Indonesia’s President Suharto, probably mislead by some republican in our embassy, announced he would not welcome our Governor-General, Sir Ninian Stephen, at Jakarta airport as our head of state, but would send the vice-president. The Hawke government cancelled the state visit. Indonesia apologised, with the Governor-General later visiting them as our head of state.

Realising Labor could be exposed to ridicule by a diligent media, Mr Albanese changed Thistlethwaite’s portfolio to ‘Shadow Minister for the Republic.’ But the portfolio should not be for the republic, it should be for any republic. Their last  precise republic was such a constitutional outrage that in the 1999 referendum, despite strong political and media support, it was defeated in a landslide— nationally, in every state and 72 per cent of electorates.

If the republican movement were to hold a demonstration in the usual format, honesty would demand they chant ‘What do we want? We want a republic… but we haven’t the foggiest idea what sort of republic…’.

Fortunately for them, the republicans abandoned demonstrations years ago mainly because virtually nobody ever came. In fact, the only successful republic-monarchy demonstration was by Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, when over 20,000 marched up Sydney’s Macquarie Street over Premier Bob Carr’s expulsion of the governors from Government House. Keating blamed this for the loss of the following election.

The underlying reason for changing the oath is probably to replace the recently abandoned dubious plan to lock voters into supporting a republic referendum through the device of two prior plebiscites. The penny had finally dropped. As Malcolm Turnbull entered in his referendum diary, Fighting for the Republic, ‘we’re going to lose, nobody’s interested’. (Then ACM youth leader, Julian Leeser, suggested the diary be renamed Whingeing for the Republic.) To reduce the cost of a referendum, Thistlethwaite suggests it be held with an election. It won’t. The party will rightly see this as an unnecessary distraction. Alternatively, it could be added to the proposed referendum on an ‘Indigenous voice’. But the ‘voice’ has a far higher priority in Labor circles; they won’t allow a distraction.

Proposing such a referendum, instead of addressing real issues, is neither wise politically nor is it good government.

What was objectionable was that Thistlethwaite made this visit his Australia Day citizenship ceremony address. Anyone having had the great honour, as I have, of addressing new citizens, must realise that this is a day for unity denigrating neither the constitution nor the oldest institution in our Commonwealth, itself one of the world’s oldest continuing democracies. It is extraordinary that Thistlethwaite did not realise that his action would be extremely divisive and highly inappropriate.

Unfortunately for the shadow minister for the republic , but fortunately for Australia, his portfolio has just died under him.

On the very day he dropped his package onto those unfortunate new citizens of our Commonwealth, two newspapers with strong republican agendas, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age   published what must have been highly disappointing for them, an Ipsos poll which confirmed the trend over recent years, ‘the’ republic is doomed.

Not only has overall support for a republic fallen to 34 per cent, the lowest level ever recorded either by Ipsos or Nielsen, this is before republicans inevitably divide over the model.

Worse, the poll contains a time-bomb we have been noticing over the last few years. At 24 per cent support, young Australians have well and truly farewelled ‘the’ republic. If republicans cannot attract significantly more support than that from a generation more open to change and who have been exposed to much republican teaching, they have no hope.

ARM chair Mr Peter FitzSimons dismisses the poll as an ‘outlier’, contrasting it with one in July 2020 by YouGov which, he said, found 62 per cent of Australians want a republic.

Not exactly, Mr FitzSimons.

That poll cunningly asked: ‘Do you think Australia should have an Australian as Head of State?’ The answer was 52 per cent Yes, 32 per cent No and 16 per cent Don’t Know. Taking away the Don’t Know option, the response was 62 per cent Yes, 38 per cent No.

Notice no mention whatsoever of a ‘republic’, and contains a complete misrepresention of the facts. Not only did ACM argue in the referendum that we already have an Australian as head of state, all governments, both Labor and Coalition, declare this to foreign governments and international organisations. Experts agree.

In the meantime, instead of pushing something Australians are just not interested in, it is surely time that republican politicians addressed the real issues which concern the people.

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Professor David Flint AM is an emeritus professor of law and was chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Authority and the Australian Press Council, president of the National Federation of the English Speaking Union, Associate Commissioner with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and convenor of the Committee of Australian Law Deans. He has been National Convenor of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy since the 1999 referendum campaign. He has authored books on topics such as the media, international economic law and on the Constitution. At Barcelona in 1991 he received a World Jurist Association award as World Outstanding Legal Scholar. He was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1995. His Good Sauce show,Take Back Your Country, discusses the problems and solutions to the decay of federalism and democracy.

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