It is as yet far too early to even attempt any serious assessment of the recent rout of republicanism by the people of Australia. So, too, it is too early to properly weigh the great contributions of so many individuals in what was a ten year campaign this year. So many Doctoral theses remain to be written ...........
So tonight I will not try to be exhaustive or even historical. I can offer only some random reminiscences. Nevertheless, they may be thought to have a relevance to the present, and perhaps the future.
A further embarrassment comes from my having endeavoured to leave the field of political controversy (for at least a decade!) upon taking my oath as a Judge of the Family Court of Australia at 4.30 pm on 1 July, 1998---some three hours after my last street demo! (Fear not: I marched through Sydney in the first Reservists' Parade at 1pm).
When I was appointed, I decided that I would pursue the conservative course once common to all Judges and avoid all media comment. My judgments, which I properly (and as it has turned out, correctly) thought would interest no-one but the litigants, would be my only public prognostications. As the media calls continued to come in, I repeatedly explained that I had become a Trappist. Far from enraging them, all those who contacted me seemed to understand perfectly. So silence it has been since. I have been a "shutta the trappa judga".
Until I had voluntarily forsaken my right to speak freely, I did not realise how greatly I had circumscribed my liberties as an Australian citizen. The right of free speech is such an incident of life that, until one loses it, one tends to forget what a precious gift it is. To abandon television appearances, spurn radio interviews and decline to submit newspaper articles may not appear to be a great loss to some; but to have to file in the waste paper basket every clinching letter to the Editor can become galling indeed. This was more so whilst the referendum was held on the republic.
John Stone's invitation to speak tonight, "among friends" as it were, and to follow our distinguished Chief Justice of Australia who spoke so eloquently last night, was, however, too tempting a bait for me to refuse. I hold John and Nancy, our President and Lady Gibbs, and the membership of our Society in too high a regard.
The achievements of this small group, through its Conferences and through its published volumes of Proceedings (to which Mr Ruddock referred earlier this afternoon), have had a significant influence on the general understanding of the implications of Australia's constitutional arrangements---and why some should change and others not. I deny that I am saying that our Constitution has been "Stoned". And for good measure I deny it for myself as well.
May I also say at the outset that I will not attempt to record here the great debt I, and indeed the nation, owe to those who have contributed so greatly to the struggle in which we engaged: Sir Harry, Justice Michael Kirby (who drafted our Australians for Constitutional Monarchy (ACM) Charter, during which court hearing he would never say...), Dame Leonie Kramer, all members of our ACM Councils, and my irrepressible and highly successful successor as national convenor, Professor David Flint. So many of you are here tonight, including Digger James, Justice Ken Handley, John Paul, Sir David Smith, Julian Leeser and so on. To you belong the gratitude of our nation, and our thanks for all you have done, and are still doing, to educate our compatriots in the glories of our federal and State Constitutions. In that endeavour John and Nancy Stone and Sir Harry and Lady Gibbs deserve special mention also.
Our two indefatigable executives, the Hon Tony Abbott and Mrs Kerry Jones, were each retained on the basis of raising their own salaries. They then had to raise all the money to fund all our activities. Their individual contributions have been outstanding. Then there were all the volunteers, the State Councils, the 50,000 supporters across Australia, and so on.
I repeat that I will not tonight attempt to evaluate or even do justice to any: an after-dinner speech should be at the least diverting, and is not to be taken seriously as history.
So here are some random thoughts from
the judicial monk's cell ...
The first shots
Sometimes I ruminate on how I became involved in the whole business in the first place. It was all so coincidental.
It is just a decade since the move for a republic (of a different type from the Crowned one we have), was made a political football by the Australian Labour Party National Conference of 1992. Tonight I felt it might go well with the cheese and cabernet if I touched on some aspects of the fray which followed. But I bailed out on my appointment to the bench in July, 1998, several months after the Constitutional Convention, and so the far greater labours fell on the shoulders of my successors to win that great tussle. Them I salute unreservedly, and win handsomely they did.
Legend has it that in 1992 a faction of the ALP wanted Mr Barry Jones as National President for the ensuing year. A deal was done with another faction, that, as a quid pro quo (I do not identify the pro and cannot say where the quid came from), the ALP conference would resolve that Australia would become a republic by the time of the Olympic Games in the year 2000. To add insult to injury, this motion was not to be debated, but merely carried on the voices!
This constitutional barbarism, tearing out the heart of each State's and the federal Constitutions, was blithely reported by the media. The sheer effrontery and ignorance of the mess it would make of the Constitution made my blood boil. As David Flint said this morning, it appears that it will not be possible to graft presidentialism onto our current arrangements with any facility.
As I walked to work up Phillip Street, the morning news fresh in my mind, I encountered Mr Peter King. Peter is now a Member of the House of Representatives, and son-in-law to the Rt Hon Ian Sinclair, who was eventually to preside over the Constitutional Convention of 1998. I had proposed a toast at Peter and Fiona's wedding and we were (and remain) on very friendly terms.
When Peter asked me why I looked so disconsolate, I sounded off about the ALP proposal, and I must say felt a lot better for it. I may even have concluded, "Over my dead body!".
However, having rid myself of the anger, somewhat to Peter's bemusement, I thought, I went off to my chambers for the day's work. It passed from my mind.
The following Sunday I was at my daughters' boarding school in the Southern Highlands. Several people avoided me (nothing new in that!), but eventually one said how very disappointed in me she was. When I asked why, I was told it was all over the front pages of the Sunday press!
Utterly mystified, we raced off to buy the newspapers. There it was, Moves to Dump the Queen. Still, I thought, how can I possibly be involved in such a story?
It transpired that Peter King, as State President of the Liberal Party (of which I had long been an inactive member), had pre-empted a Liberal factional move to support the ALP's republic, and had nominated a Liberal Party committee to oppose any republic. He would chair it. John Howard (then awaiting his political triple by-pass) was a member. Knowing my views from our encounter earlier that week, Peter had added my name, without reference to me.
However, the press article, read quickly, made it appear that I was on the committee not to oppose but to support a republic! It proved to be an extraordinary way to be dragged into the ensuing political upheaval. My name being thus brought to the attention of the media, radio interviews and TV appearances soon followed. One thing led to another.
I might add that I only recall one meeting at Riley Street (then Liberal Party headquarters) of Peter's committee. We were all of the view that such fundamental change to our Constitution was not a party political matter.
One committee member later went to South Australia and for whatever reason became a republican. John Howard went on, of course, to become Prime Minister and the Chief anti-republican. No one should ever underestimate the brilliant contribution he made, both before and after his elevation, to the defeat of the republican push. He gave the Australian Republican Movement what it asked for, and it proved enough rope to hang itself.
John Howard and I were to speak about
the republic only half a dozen times in the next six years. But
the important introductions had been made. We knew where the key
players stood. The rest is history, and so not for tonight!
About the same time as the ALP National Conference passed its motion, another group of ALP heavies and fellow-travellers formed the Australian Republican Movement (ARM).
The famous scene was set over that extra bottle of chardonnay at one of Neville Wran's exquisite Sunday luncheons: he announced that he did not want to die before there was an Australian republic. His friends raced to secure one as fast as they could! Tom Kenneally became its first Chair. Malcolm Turnbull, of the Wran-Turnbull merchant bank, became its financial and eventual mainstay. Franca Arena and Al Grassby became its fiercest shock troops, and so on.
The ARM's first proposition was that it was unpatriotic not to sign up immediately for their undefined republic! Their second was that a republic was inevitable!
Our first problem was whether or not to react to them. I had sufficient appreciation of the principles which underlie entertainment to understand that TV is drama, and that drama demands tension. If there were no counterpoise to or denunciation of the ARM, then, in theory, in due course they would become boring, no matter how valid their cause might be. In other words, unless there was a contradictor, any program would become like an ABC documentary, of interest only to those already persuaded.
Thus for a long time, after a short first flourish of interviews as individuals, we did nothing. But TV, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Into the breach strode the "Hang the Traitors" brigade. They were formidable polemicists, but way over the top. Prominent were the Rev Fred Nile in NSW and Bruce Ruxton in Victoria. Each had conviction and was very effective within their individual communities, the Festival of Light and the RSL respectively. Each knew well how to use the media to good effect. But neither was particularly persuasive to outsiders.
There was and remains a very respectable case for the retention of the Monarchy as a system of government. It is no mere chance that so many seek to flee to the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada and Australia. We all have a splendid reputation for stability and the rule of law. Our systems of government are not inferior to the great republics, like the USA and France, and many consider them superior. Obviously we are doing something right.
The essence of Constitutional Monarchy is to have only one fount of legitimacy (the Crown), which remains above the political fray and is thus unassailable. This gives immense flexibility in changing the Crown's advisers at the behest, and in accordance with the perceived will of the majority, of the people, without the necessity to have repeated elections. An Australian Bill Clinton, heaven forbid, could not hold on to power for years. He would be swept under the desk, if not into the waste-paper bin of history, by a mere meeting of his Cabinet or Party. I feel I should not say he would go up in smoke...
A republic without a Crown invests the President with either executive authority (think USA), or titular but moral authority (think Ireland), or something in-between. Long ago I published in our first ACM volume a personal preference for the USA model. But it is wholly inferior to our own, I believe. The contortions of the ARM in trying to suggest a safe method to change our Governor-General to a President (during those weeks that they wanted to) illustrated how difficult such an operation was, and how much flexibility our present Constitution lost in the attempt.
Meanwhile others, beside the Liberal committee of which I spoke, had been wanting to oppose the republican push. And they were by no means all Liberals. Justice Kirby, then ironically "President" Kirby of the NSW Court of Appeal, and a formerly influential member of the ALP, was one. Dame Leonie Kramer, Chancellor of the University of Sydney, was another. Our own Sir Harry Gibbs was yet another. The then leader of the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras was another...
We came together in early 1993. We gathered others. We met in Kirby J's chambers several times, debating what it might be best for us to do.
Eventually we decided to launch an organisation publicly, on the eve of the Queen's Birthday weekend, 1993. We struggled to find a proper name. We did not want to be "anti" anything, so we did not choose "Anti-Republicans". We wanted to be "for" something. But how should we describe it?
The basic sentiment was that we loved our country the way it was. We wanted to defend our Constitution as it was, and to protect the centrality of the Crown in all the federal and State Constitutions. We are, after all, seven Monarchies! However, we were savvy enough to know that "Australians for the Constitution" would convey very little to the general public.
As second in the field, the battle ground had been set, and so we had to meet the ARM and ALP on their definition of "republic", as a system of government without a Monarch, although it would soon emerge that a republic with a Monarch is equally possible. (Paddy McGuinness suggested one variation today, writing in The Sydney Morning Herald, of a possibly elected Governor-General nominated to the Sovereign for appointment).
Forced to decide by the rapid approach of the launch day in 1993, we opted for the title "Australians for Constitutional Monarchy", but not without considerable misgivings that it would prove unwieldly. From then on we have been repeatedly urged to change our name, but to what?
Our first advertising advice was to use the phrase from our Charter, "Leadership Beyond Politics", which we thought best described the role of the Queen, and to have nothing to do with the flag or it would swamp us. We were advised to appear always in front of the title page of the Schedule to the Act of the Imperial Parliament containing the Constitution ... It was hardly practical advice, even if it cost us nothing!
However, we did use the "Leadership
Beyond Politics" nomenclature for a while, and LBP became
our internal acronym. On every receipt and letterhead we also
included the real message, "Defend the Constitution".
Our first rally was called for the Lower
Town Hall in Sydney. Given only eight days' advertising, we wondered
who might come. We need not have worried. Over 800 turned up and
we were well and truly launched. Amongst the crowd were Sir James
Rowland and many others of note.
My then secretary, Heather Hindle and my Mac SE30 became the administrative hub. From 10 or so, our numbers advanced rapidly. We were without major backing of any kind. But we knew that unless we were always open and democratic, defeating the inevitable referendum, which alone could effect change to the Constitution, would be unlikely. Anyway, we had no choice, being short a political party and a merchant bank, unlike the ARM!
So we set out to recruit as many of the general public as we could. We aimed to be a genuine grass-roots group and to empower those without access to the élites with a voice, so long as they sang the tune of our Charter.
We encouraged support without prior monetary commitment. It was free. This was entirely the opposite of the ARM. They charged a membership fee up front of $40 or so.
We operated on the Biblical principle of gathering the hearts and minds first and then asking for money in any amount: "For where your heart is there will your treasure be also", to invert the quotation from scripture.
On a more practical basis, numbers were as important to the Press and the apparent tide of battle as dollars. In this we were brave but pragmatic. I might also add, successful. No one was excluded from participation because of lack of money.
I came to regard giving a voice to those
without means, as the greatest brief I had the honour to hold
in 35 years at the Bar. During one interview I actually wept as
I disclosed a letter from a pensioner sending $5 and promising
another $5 on the next pension day. It was sacrificial giving
like that which inspired us to keep going through thick and thin.
We soon had to decide some basic principles as to how we would operate. Gareth (now Commissioner) Grainger produced a Speakers' Guide, which propounded fundamental principles:
We were very worried about sabotage and pre-emption of our names in individual States, so we decided to register a company to protect our activities. Compliance with complicated company law would be a nightmare if we did not keep company membership small. We decided to use it to adopt our Charter and then to operate by seeking "supporters" to promote our cause.
The outcome was highly satisfactory. The Board of the company was able to nominate widely representative State committees to launch our operations in each State. This avoided for us the fiasco of the ARM launching their South Australian branch over and over again. The small company membership, through its elected Board and National Convenor (a title I invented to avoid being "Chairman" or "President"), was able to direct a decade long campaign without dissent.
Those who wanted to join in could. Others could do their own thing. Michael kept quoting Chairman Mao: "Let a thousand flowers bloom". In all we had extraordinarily little internal conflict, and when one considers what was achieved by volunteers that was truly amazing.
National headquarters were in NSW and our greatest support came from here. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were collected and disbursed and all company accounts were centralised in Sydney. Very few donations exceeded five or even four figures. So, too, the records of our members were kept in Sydney. Every last dollar was receipted by the one national bookkeeper with a computer system developed as we went along.
I refused to allow us to go online for interstate branches. Thus we avoided the troubles that struck the ARM when their computer system was allegedly penetrated by parties unknown.
However, whilst our data was protected and backed up daily, our actual computers and their replacements were stolen. Thefts occurred on several occasions, Kerry Jones even losing the entire first draft of her book.
A huge debt is owed by ACM to Phuong
Van, a computer whiz, who operated a highly complex but effective
system (and still does). His life story is worth a full address
As national spokesperson, I had to decide, early on, what attitude to adopt. It soon became evident that I was to be given as little exposure as our opponents could devise. This came through the media outlets themselves. Republicanism was news. Stability was not. The Constitution was unknown and unread. The Queen was only good for bad vibes about her family, and so on.
Let me just recount one event when there was to be a televised national debate on the ABC. I was nominated to represent ACM. The late Andrew Olley, appointed its moderator, spent an hour on the phone to me trying to persuade me not to appear on this program. To miss a televised national debate was a grievous blow and I demurred.
Apparently someone else allegedly objected to me participating, and would not appear if I did! I told Andrew that that was his problem. However, he kept on and on until I was made to feel that it would be totally counter-productive were I to force the issue.
I was thus denied a national appearance at a crucial stage of the debate. Andrew did say he would have me on his morning program on ABC radio (how we all miss him on that!). However, the seven minutes substituted on radio was no compensation for missing the national debate on television. I never did find out who vetoed my appearance, but it drove home how compliant the media were going to be to the republican cause, if even Andrew Olley was put under such pressure to keep me off.
When I could get on TV, it was usually only for the "ten-second-grab". As you will know, the news editors want several of these, preferably making different points, so that they can compose "news" items to divert the public. In the end I had these down to a fine art (or so they told me), but nothing sensible could be said in such a forum.
I had to settle on a formula. I decided the only useful thing I could do was the opposite of the earlier campaigners: I would be the jolly fat man who didn't seem at all rattled by the republicans, and would be seen laughing as often as I could. Not only do the public like to be entertained, but I also thought that many were laughing at it all themselves.
Once during a televised joint interview this tactic so unnerved Malcolm Turnbull that he said on air, "Lloyd, will you stop laughing?", and before I knew it I had responded, "I'm so sorry, Malcolm, but it's so hard to remember that you take all this so seriously".
Malcolm and I actually got on very well on a personal level. We appeared at numerous dinners and meetings together and were always civil. Indeed it was not unknown for him to alter the seating so that we were seated together. (We deserve to share the Chicken in Clag award, having together eaten so much rubber in white sauce, unlike tonight!)
Once he said we were like "Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee", to which I could not refrain from quipping, "but which is dumb, we cannot yet agree!".
One night, for charity, at a dinner at Parliament House for 200 or so we ostensibly swapped sides in the debate. Malcolm tossed and asked me to call. I pointed out that a Monarchist could only call "Heads". He won and went in to bat, describing in hilarious detail all the foibles of the Royal family, and the constitutional strait-jacket that Parliament had placed them in as to marriage, religion and so on.
My rejoinder had to start at the famous Wran Chardonay Luncheon, which got boozier and boozier, as I imagined it for all. It was a riot, but we never did it again.
I treasure letters from Malcolm which
might amaze the public. Even his description of me as an Edwardian
gentleman can be forgiven by someone devoted to the memory of
Queen Victoria. It is, I suppose, only a little more modern! (Incidentally,
he and I shared a love of music hall, and had even sung the same
song in days gone by. He made me promise that the annual Victoriana
I conducted for 37 years would not cease with the republic. I
merely told him I thought it in no danger of doing so.)
The first major challenge we had was in Tony Abbott's time. A rugged enthusiast from Canberra had threatened to start up a rival group in the ACT, if we did not act to do so virtually immediately. We moved within 10 days and it turned out very well.
However, one of the members of the new
ACT branch then made a remark which implied that the republic
was an Irish plot or some such thing. A commentator gave us twenty-four
hours to endorse or disassociate ourselves from both the member
and his racist remarks. We had him out of the organization within
even less time.
Another great challenge came in the campaign for the election of our selected candidates to the Constitutional Convention. One was a senior branch office holder in the Liberal party on the Mid-North Coast. The allegation was made that he was a Nazi and an anti-Semite. The information was leaked to the friend of a prominent former member of Mr Keating's speech-writing staff by the young Liberals. (The republic certainly made some strange bedfellows). Asked what I was going to do about it, I replied, "Put our youngest Jewish candidate on to investigate it!".
Julian Leeser will confirm that we ransacked the State Library of NSW and eventually came up with some incriminating material published 20 years previously. Its chief offence consisted of advertisements for Hitler's Mein Kampf. But it was sufficient evidence to secure the candidate's immediate resignation.
I was somewhat challenged to see the
same work on the open shelves at Dymock's Booksellers. But that
is politics, and there seemed to me to be two entirely different
scenarios in general sale on the one hand, and pushing a single
work for a select purpose on the other.
The League of Rights
One of our greatest fears was that we might be infiltrated by the League of Rights and then discredited. It was hard to know who their members actually were, of course, but we knew that it would be lethal were we to be compromised. Shortly after ACM became prominent I had an open visitation from a representative of that organisation.
I told him very frankly that were we to be in any way compromised, I and the whole committee would close down the entire operation. If they wanted to retain the status quo, they were free to do what they liked, so long as they did not become involved with us. Were they to try, I promised that it would be entirely counter-productive and achieve the opposite of what they said they wanted. Luckily I heard no more from them, and so far as I know they neither joined nor influenced us in any way.
Another challenge was less serious. When we had all our candidates lined up and ready to launch to the media I had a mini-revolt on my hands, with the press waiting in our ante-room to televise the announcement.
I had accepted an invitation to be nominated by the Government (suggested by the republican Peter Collins and others). This meant that we could let an ALP man, Doug Sutherland lead our NSW team. Further, we alternated male and female candidates and alternated the young and the younger.
It was on this side that it nearly all came unstuck at the very last minute. We had printed the ages of each candidate. One of our greatest supporters suddenly objected that her age was private and disclosure of it might harm her employment. Not disclosing her age meant we could disclose no one's! Eventually I succumbed, not through gallantry, but because "Hell hath no fury like a lady's age disclosed ...".
We were strongly advised not to run our candidates under a "Monarchy" banner, and so we ran a "No Republic ACM" ticket. The Monarchist League ran as monarchists and secured very few votes. The "No Republic" banner already had solved our need to provide democracy for every supporter. So long as they were registered with us at National Headquarters, each supporter had the right to belong to a local branch of their choice, named after the location of greatest influence. Hence we had No Republic Goulburn, No Republic Wollongong, and so on.
Each branch had to keep its own insurance and account for all monies raised. Each elected its own office bearers and thus could conduct its activities as it saw fit. This meant that any branch that got out of line could be closed down. None was. It also meant we had an instant local base waiting to distribute literature, monitor local papers and man polling booths.
Being local, each branch mainly interested the press in that area, and so we had no ugly attempts to speak on behalf of the national body. It was an ingenious administrative arrangement that avoided all hassles, clearly defined purposes and boundaries and led to great harmony.
Major fundraising was undertaken by Head Office, and advertising thus commissioned and paid for by those who raised the money.
I pay tribute to all who joined us on
the big adventure.
May I conclude with a few observations evoked by today's session.
I do not share Peter Coleman's pessimism about the petty irritations forced on the local Governor by the ALP Government, although they do make me equally angry. As National Convenor I condemned republicanism by stealth, and I still think it underhand.
However, The Queen herself has said that the only justification for a monarchy in a modern democracy is if the people want it. A constitutional monarch must always act on the proper advice of the people through the people's duly elected representatives. The very concept of election means that as a matter of course many will disagree with that advice. That advice will also include the arrangements for the monarch and her representatives.
Furthermore, the monarchy is evolving at its own pace. The Queen is presiding over one of the greatest transformations of the institution in a century. She is doing it slowly but purposefully on the advice of her Ministers or with their consent. These last weeks have seen an outpouring of genuine affection and appreciation that has startled even her most ardent admirers. The tributes in the recent TV series were extraordinary. At long last, a great deal of all that she has done has been made public, and there has been almost universal appreciation.
Even Gerard Henderson has foreshadowed an Oscar for the Queen for her performance, "almost without blemish", he wrote, "as the matriarch holding together what seems like your average dysfunctional family".
Indeed, as a judge of the Family Court of Australia I can say that nothing that I have read or heard about the Royal House of Windsor has been very much different from the human trials and tribulations of the families I see before me, or indeed my own.
But the system of Government that the Queen understands so well has been an inestimable boon to our country and to her other realms and territories. And it could be in no safer hands than her own as it grows with the modern world.
Yes, the Royal Mail has gone. (Its successor lost $2 billion pounds last year). Yes, curtsies have gone, but so have they in life except for Jane Austin remakes. Yes, the loyal toast The Queen herself sanctioned on her recent visit has become: "The Queen and People of Australia".
But the immediacy of TV has meant that we can share every moment of a service like that of Thanksgiving at St Paul's last week and see more than any guest or member of the crowd.
We were often criticised because we did not campaign on The Queen. But there were two very good reasons for that.
Firstly, she was not the issue: the system of government was what counted, as she would be the first to acknowledge, as she has done.
Secondly, she is such a brilliant campaigner herself that no one could improve by any gloss. But her campaign is simple. To live her life according to the precepts of her faith, to give herself in the service of her people day by day as figurehead, Head of State of the UK, wife, mother and daughter. She can trust to the sound instincts of her people to distinguish her humility of service from the ambition of those who seek to replace her role.
Wasn't it stunning that it was an Australian, Dame Edna Everedge, who announced to the world's assembled possums "The Jubilee Girl".
Now try and tell me that the monarchy isn't changing faster that we are. If we only catch up the future is bright.
Let us see if we cannot devise a new way of looking at the institution of monarchy in Australia so that our fellow citizens, republicans and monarchists alike, can share its rich heritage and devote our future efforts to improving and serving the world about us.