Australian Republic & ISO - Red-Queen Alliance?

Paul.Benedek at Paul.Benedek at
Thu Oct 28 18:34:18 MDT 1999

Further to the discussion on the republic, and the position of Left groups, this is an
article from the latest Green Left Weekly looking at the International Socialist
Organisations position, which is to call for a "No" vote................

Next weeks GLW, the issue for the week in which the referendum will be held will
likely have significant articles on the republic. See it on the web at
http:\\ next Tuesday.

The red-queen alliance?
Comment by Sean Healy

The monarchists have chanced upon the Basil Fawlty strategy for defeating the November
6 republic referendum: "Whatever you do, don't mention the queen".

Rather than go into bat for the "happy and glorious" Elizabeth Windsor and her litter,
the "no" case has focused on opposition to the particular republic model on offer -- a
president appointed by two-thirds of parliament.

Their slogan says it all -- "Vote No to the politicians' republic". Kerry Jones, the
convener of Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy and as hard-bitten a right-wing
scaremonger as you can get, has even made a deliberate pitch to those wanting to
directly elect the president, urging them to vote "no".

Undoubtedly, the monarchists' campaign has found fertile ground. Politicians of all
stripes are widely hated, and there is considerable, justified, anger at the exclusion
of the popularly elected president option from the November 6 ballot. The referendum's
outcome is finely balanced and dependent on the 20-30% of "don't knows".

A major part of the "no" case's success has come because the monarchists haven't had
to do it alone. Prominent direct-election republicans, such as former MPs Ted Mack and
Phil Cleary, have given a "radical" tinge to the "No" camp.

Many of their criticisms are correct: Cleary, for instance, argues that the republic
model put forward by Malcolm Turnbull's Australian Republican Movement aims to provide
empty symbolism rather than real democratic reform. Cleary also argues, rightly, that
the major parties are opposed to direct election because it might endanger their own
monopoly on political debate.

It seems that this argument is now being taken up by some further to the left than
Cleary and Mack. The International Socialist Organisation, for example, in the October
22 issue of its newspaper, advocates, "Stuff the bosses' republic! Vote No", arguing,
"The `yes' case is not about democracy. It's about nationalism."

There's an obvious flaw in such an argument. We can reject the "bosses' republic" --
and be left with the bosses' constitutional monarchy! Isn't getting rid of feudal
relics a good thing?

More importantly, the left "no" case misses the real point of the exercise. Which
result, "yes" or "no", will advance the interests of working people and democratic
change more?

Cleary and the ISO both argue that if the ARM's model is defeated, then there will be
another chance soon enough, this time for a directly elected president, whereas if the
"yes" case wins, there will be no further such chance.

This is pure speculation. There are any number of scenarios.

Just as likely is that, if the "no" case wins, John Howard will smugly claim an
against-the-odds victory; the ARM will drop its support for a republic altogether,
knowing that the only possible republic would now be one with a directly elected
president; and together they conspire to bury the republic in some back closet of
Parliament House.

What will the political consequences of a "no" vote really be? Is it really going to
fire people up, increase their combativity and morale?

To see even such a minor reform to the system rejected would have to have a
debilitating effect on working people's confidence to fight for greater, and more
fundamental, democratic reform.

After all, many would think, if this can't get up, what chance do we have of forcing a
rewrite of Australia's undemocratic electoral laws? Or getting a bill of rights which
enshrines the right to free speech and free association? Or investing working-class
communities with real decision-making powers over their localities?

The left "no" case is clutching at straws: their sense of moral outrage is well meant
but, if successful, a "no" vote would have just the opposite impact from what they
think it will.

Far more worthwhile is the approach Green Left Weekly has put forward: voting "yes" on
November 6, writing "elected by the people" to indicate what your real preferred
option is and getting active in the movement for change. Or, as "yes" campaigner Pat
O'Shane put it, "We'll take what we can now, and then we'll take what we can later".

[Sean Healy is a member of the national executive of the Democratic Socialist Party.]

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