Australian Civil Liberties Union

from Your Rights 2000
(Chapter 20)



Elitism of Republicans. Media Bias. "Revenge of the Nerds". "A kick in the teeth for the Authorities". Role of Direct Election Republicans.

Elitism of Australian Republican Movement (ARM)

The proposal that Australia should become a republic with a President elected by a two-thirds majority of the Federal Parliament, after a token system of community consultation, required an amendment to the constitution to be carried by a majority of the people in a majority of the states (see pages 7 and 103).

In the referendum held in November 1999 all six states voted against the proposal that Australia have a President elected by Parliament. Of the 42 proposals to amend the Constitution put to the voters since 1901, 34 have been rejected. No referendum has succeeded without the active support of the Prime Minister of the day. The proposal that Australia become a republic was actively opposed by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Although other members of Howard's government are republicans their public support for a yes vote to change the constitution was muted.

However, the main reason the referendum to change the constitution failed is the fact that prominent republicans who support the direct election of the President campaigned against the referendum. The rebel "real republicans" included the former Governor General Bill Hayden, two former Federal independent MPs, Phil Cleary and Ted Mack, the former Brisbane Lord Mayor Clem Jones, Melbourne lawyer Jocelyn Scutt, and prominent Howard cabinet member Peter Reith. Mr Cleary has said that the model approved by the constitutional convention which was supported by the Australian Republican Movement (ARM) was too similar to the existing constitutional monarchy and that it was the status quo dressed up as a republic. Direct election republicans who were entitled to a portion of the $7.5 million public funds allocated for the no vote enlisted the aid of high profile sportsmen and aborigines for their campaign.

While support for the direct election of a head of state remains high, support for the election by Parliament model is slipping. Historically it has proved very difficult to amend the Constitution and many people felt when in doubt vote no, and "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Many people felt that the whole republic or monarchy debate was a costly farce, diverting attention away from much more important issues such as unemployment, the destruction of some of our manufacturing industries, and the loss of our independence through our massive foreign debt. It was difficult to see how anything that matters to ordinary people would change if Australia became a republic.

There was a skepticism about the motives of the millionaire high flyers supporting a republic, such as Malcolm Turnbull and Janet Holmes a Court, who have done little to oppose the steady erosion of Australia's economic independence in recent times. That independence would be even further eroded by a proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MIA) which would, if implemented, give multinational companies concessions not open to local companies.

Pro Republic media bias counterproductive?

Tony Abbott (Australian, 11/11/99) a member of the Howard government and a leading anti-republican said the media was the big loser in the November referendum when it took an unpopular and partisan line pushing for a yes vote for a president to be elected by Parliament, and then claiming in a peeved way that the voters had got it wrong. The Canberra Press Gallery, feature writers, and editorial writers were virtually unanimous in calling for a yes vote for the indirect election ARM model for a republic. The former Governor of Victoria, Richard McGarvie, said that the media had taken sides in support of the ARM model. One media analyst said that no media coverage on any issue in the last 25 years had been so partisan as it was in its support for the indirect election model. He suggested a slogan for the anti-republican campaign- "annoy the media - vote no." The Australian ran a front page editorial calling for a yes vote featuring a crown versus a slouch hat and offered readers free "Vote Yes" bumper stickers.

Abbott said that an attitudinal survey conducted by Professor John Henningham of the University of Queensland's journalism school provides hard data to support the argument that, on this issue, the media tried to shape events rather than report them. Henningham's research has previously revealed that 30% of Australian journalists identify with "left of centre" positions compared to just 15% who describe their views as "right of centre". Journalists covering politics, he has previously found, are "more inclined" than others to a left of centre position. Henningham's latest research, published earlier this year, found that journalists are "far less likely than the public to put a value on royalty and were far more inclined to support Australia's adopting a republican constitution." Among the general public, Henningham's research rates favourable responses to "royalty" and "Australia as a republic" about equal at 46% and 40%t respectively. Among journalists, however, there is a vast disparity, with favourable response rating just 25% for royalty and 78% for a republic.

Henningham's research suggests that the gulf between "elite" (or journalistic) and "popular" opinion is greatest on social rather than economic issues. Media attitudes to privatisation, competition, public spending cuts and free trade generally mirror those of the public - although the public are generally less sympathetic than journalists to strikes and welfare measures. Journalists and their consumers generally support multiculturalism and working mothers but part company on Asian immigration, tougher jail sentences and religious observance (as well as the monarchy) with the public adopting a distinctly more conservative approach.

The fact that journalists tend to barrack for change (which makes better copy than stability) is no odder than when doctors support free-market medicine. The problem is not what journalists believe privately but how scrupulously they practise their profession. Journalists who don't give opposing views a fair go would be as ethically compromised as doctors who only treat patients who pay them.


Frank Devine (Australian 9/11/99) said that the defeat of the referendum designed to make Australia a republic was the third significant democratic revolution of the 1990s. The first uprising was the peoples' thunderous dismissal of Paul Keating in 1996, when he was at his hubristic peak and his courtiers and beneficiaries at their triumphant and assertive worst.

Keating's affront was to use the resources of the Commonwealth to advance special interests - multiculturalists, feminists, environmentalists, Aboriginalists, welfarists, Asianists, Suhartoists, unionists (senior officials only) and economic rationalists.

Devine says the second great democratic uprising was the brief Pauline Hanson ascendancy. A political innocent, she formed a party that broke up quickly but drew 1 million votes in the last federal election. Hanson's policy focussed on two issues: Aborigines, in her opinion, benefitted

disproportionately from public funding; Asian immigrants should be discouraged because they couldn't integrate. The uproar that followed Hanson's maiden speech in parliament was not caused by a rush to reason with her but by the rage of self appointed regulators of opinion. Devine says that Hanson's enemies put on a grossly comic performance, their troops crowding into One Nation rallies, often in much greater number than her supporters, to shout Hanson down. Contingents of police were needed at rallies (in Australia!) not to subdue the mobs of racist and rednecks she was said to be inflaming but to protect her and her audience.

The third democratic uprising occurred with the crushing defeat of the referendum on the republic, in November, 1999, when all of the six states voted no to the proposal. Public Opinion polls had consistently shown that the great majority of Australians wanted a republic with a president elected directly by the popular vote not appointed by Parliament. Only 3 Federal MPs supported the direct election model, showing how unrepresentative the representative Parliament had become.


John Pasquarelli writing in the Herald Sun said that the most important referendum in Australia's history, has left Australia clearly divided and has re-drawn the political boundaries in such a dramatic way that the potential now exists for the exploitation of a powerful new force in Australian politics. 'It's Time' held top spot for the political slogan of the century until 'Vote NO to the Politicians Republic' came along. Pasquarelli, the former advisor to Pauline Hanson, said that she had been silent before, during and after constitutional campaign but the support that once swept her to awesome heights in the opinion polls reared up and turned the republican dream into a nightmare on November 6. It was also Hanson's ghost that struck down one of her chief tormentors in the Victorian State election but not many now dare mention her name. While the pundits and the commentators huff and puff about the referendum result and pontificate as to what percentage of Australians voted for what, the fact remains that the bush and the outer metropolitan blue-collar working class voters gave their thumbs down to the nouveaus, the new-age snobs and the chattering classes who have congregated in the Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne triangle and other capital cities. 'No' voters have been described by the media, political and other elites in not too clever code as being basically poor white trash - economically and intellectually at the bottom of the heap. The double 'No' win was the revenge of the nerds. Pasquarelli said he was a double nerd - he voted 'No' twice.

He said when he was with Pauline Hanson he felt like Alibaba in the treasure cave when he scanned a sampling of the forest of letters and faxes that buried her Canberra an Ipswich offices. The sources of her tsunami of support were clearly identifiable. Pasquarelli said that in 1996 he had told John Stone and Bob Santamaria that the bush and the working-class suburbs had flocked to Hanson with "hardly anyone from the leafy suburbs".

There have been four recent wake-up calls for mainstream politicians. The Queensland State Election, the Federal Election, the Victorian State Election and the failure of the republic referendum, but to date there has been no concerted, strategic action taken by any of the major political parties. The prize is a glittering one and its winning would revolutionise Australian politics. A brave new Labor Party that could slough off its' Socialist Left and neutralise Mark Latham and his economic rationalist mates would be most attractive to the new constituency. The National Party, teetering on the brink of destruction needs fearless action to stall off the inevitable but it lacks the necessary 'ticker.' The leadership of Tim Fischer has left the party impotent, clinging desperately to the coat-tails of the Liberals as its members get picked off, one by one. In Victoria, the Nationals should employ some gung-ho lateral thinking and offer Mildura independent Russell Savage their leadership.

As the effects of economic rationalism and globalisation permeate Australian society, the gulf between the bush, the outer metropolitan electorates and the CBDs will in fact grow wider. New generations will carry a genetic hatred of mainstream politicians and their camp followers. John Howard the wowser, took the biggest gamble of his life last Saturday and won in spectacular fashion. Those republican politicians who stubbornly refuse to heed the clear warnings an press ahead with their personal agendas will pay a heavy price. Squandering huge amounts of public monies on more plebiscites and referenda will further enrage the new electorate and no big party politicians will be safe. Pauline Hanson has faded from the scene but her support has re-cloned itself. The cases for and against a republic were set out in detail in Your Rights 1998 and 1999. Pasquarelli's book The Pauline Hanson Story - by the man who knows is available from the ACLU ($7 including postage).


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Australian Civil Liberties Union