It is only on a rare occasion, that I have to agree with an Age article concerning their propagating “a” republic. But today it happened. Shaun Carney, The Age’s associate editor, has written a very honest opinion piece, one that should be widely read by his fellow followers of republicanism:
Does this mean, The Age will stop it’s “hardy annual” on ANZAC Day or, more symbolically: Queen’s Birthday? I am afraid, that would be too much to expect. After all, all those republican writers need their payment. No articles – no money. Being an Australian republican means, you are in the business as long as the Monarchy prevails. They cannot wish “a” republic or do they really think opinion pieces praising the fabulous new order would be read by anyone?Australia should become a republic. But it won't for a very long time, if ever. There's a better than even chance that the change won't come during the lifetime of any Australian alive today.
The political system, and Australians' deteriorating attitudes to politics and politicians, will see to that. The republican question is now what used to be called in the newspaper game a "hardy annual": a predictable, intrinsically inconsequential story that can be trotted out at the same time every year to little lasting effect.
This Australia Day weekend the hardy annual sprouted a little extra foliage with Ray Martin's revival of the suggestion that the nation should change its flag and ditch the Union Jack. That idea used to get around with the republican argument back in the 1990s, until republicans, excited by the prospect of a referendum aimed at ditching the monarchy, judged it to be too toxic and dumped it.
It is probably the case that a majority of Australian voters favour the idea of a republican Australia, as the polls suggest. But the numbers are not overwhelming. And there is often a big gap between what people tell pollsters and what they do. They say they want governments to provide greater services but they bitch about every extra tax dollar, for example. And Australians have not liked voting 'yes' at referendums since Federation.
In any case, what sort of republic are we talking about? There is no single view: the republican position is in a pre-adolescent state. There are minimalists and there are direct-electionists, with few real signs of an accord.
Since the 1999 referendum, when the minimalist proposal attracted 45 per cent of the vote and failed to carry one state, the direct-electionists have argued that every non-monarchist is obliged to fall in behind the idea of an elected ceremonial head of state. Speaking for myself, they are dreaming. The last thing this country needs is more elections and more politics, which is what this model would bring, no matter what they say. Certainly some minimalist republicans will shift but I would never back it.
The RadicalRoyalist remains cautious and on alert. After all he has to be, because he is using what Shaun Carney denounced as “the hit-and-run style of the blogosphere … that alone would probably be enough to sink any referendum”.