There are clear similarities with the 1999 referendum
22 April 2023
If the Voice were constitutionally enshrined, not only would we risk making the country ungovernable, but we would also fail to ‘close the gap’. On past experience, as previously argued here, we would only make matters worse.
The media is replete with advice about how the referendum will be won or lost.
It is curious that only now has any commentator spoken with Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, the one organisation with national experience not only in winning a referendum, but one against the odds and by a landslide.
Fred Pawle, the energetic commentator on ADH.TV , has just put me through a thorough cross-examination.
Just as he did recently over the charge that King Charles risks politicising the Crown. On behalf of HM, I pled ‘not guilty’.
While I was in 1999, as now, national convener, (preferred to ‘president’) of ACM, the real credit belongs to ACM’s foot soldiers. They were the nearly 60,000 who fought fiercely to retain the Australian people’s chosen constitutional system, one which makes us one of half a dozen or so of the world’s oldest continuing democracies.
Unlike the republican movement’s , those foot soldiers were ACM’s own and not borrowed.
The credit also belongs to the brilliant strategists who served on ACM’s central command. Together they ran a military-style campaign delivered, not so much by orders, but more often, by discussion and consensus.
There are differences today.
The technological changes in the media and in the make-up of the population may change tactics, but will not change the founders’ ultimate test.
This is that while the constitution is not set in aspic, proposed change must be delayed until what can be called the ‘Federation Standard’ is satisfied. This is that there be strong evidence that any proposed change is ‘desirable, irresistible and inevitable’.
The onus is on nobody else but the Albanese government to provide this strong evidence which they are failing lamentably to do. As Alan Jones famously and 100 per cent correctly re-iterated almost daily in 1999, ‘If you don’t know, vote No’.
Two crucial differences from 1999 are being overlooked today in the media.
First, John Howard, working with Nick Minchin, presented a gold-standard regulatory, level playing field.
The second explains why Julian Leeser must go to the back-bench. The Liberal party had no position on the 1999 referendum. It is now clearly in the No camp.
It is elementary that a minister (or shadow) cannot go against the party’s policies on such matters as degradable plastic bags or degendered public lavatories, much less the Voice. This is central to cabinet governance under the Westminster system.
The Liberal party can hardly be criticised for observing this especially when the ALP, unlike British Labor, still practises Bolshevik-style democratic centralism by gagging the dissent of even the lowliest backbencher.
Being neutral in and enabling a referendum was the stylishly magisterial way Alexander Downer and John Howard completely neutralised Paul Keating’s attempt to use ‘the’ republic as a wedge.
This only worked when gullible and/or opportunistic Liberal politicians swallowed the line that ‘the’ republic was inevitable.
Meanwhile, high standards were assured when seven, most prominent Australians, two indigenous, formed an intentionally broad-based ACM. Wisely, Justice Michael Kirby drafted a charter setting out a minimal core belief along with optional views, e.g., that we are already a republic, a ‘crowned republic’. Crucially, ACM would operate on the basis that they must never forget traditional Labor voters, who unlike ambitious politicians, are not in the slightest concerned with what is in the party platform, such as some sort of republic.
The danger with the Voice is that with the Coalition strongly entrenched in the No case, traditional Labor voters could feel discouraged from voting No which will, for many, be their natural home.
While the Yes vote belongs to the elites, there is also the danger of a leakage to Yes out of emotional sympathy for indigenous Australians over the ‘gap’, exacerbated by the fabrication of much of Aboriginal history. That is why it is crucial for a strong and continuing argument to be made that the Voice can and will do nothing about the ‘gap’ and indeed, will make it worse.
Emotions can affect even a referendum vote. In an interview with Nigel Farage on ADH.TV, I revealed my fear in 1999 of a similar emotional vote arising out of the contrasting treatment at Heathrow of former enemies and Australians, especially those whose family had served in the war.
Fortunately, with Brexit, that is in the past.
In the final analysis our 1999 call not just to vote No, but to vote No to the ‘politicians’ republic’ was crucial. Australians correctly smelt the very big rat which is behind every republican model the ARM releases. (There have been three, one a decade.) The ARM’s referendum national campaign director, lawyer Greg Barns SC admitted last year that this was the most damaging of arguments.
The Voice campaign today must reach, as we did in 1999, into every electorate. Indeed in one state, on strategic advice, we reached into the even smaller state electorates. That worked well. We won all states.
The No case today is politically stronger. In 1999, the only federal party supporting the No case was the National party, today the Liberals have joined them. The mainstream media were more biased, but big business had the good sense then not to come out. Big sport had not yet been corrupted. Today, the lawyers are vocal in their support of the Voice, a good thing because it is rolled gold for the No case. That has to be featured in their advertisements.
As in 1999, the media is in the Yes camp but with less hysteria. Perhaps older hands have warned about going too far.
What will be revealing will be the extent the soi-disant fact-checkers take over the regulation of the social media as they did during Covid. At least this time, they have no need to protect Big Pharma’s massive profits.