On to a new Republic
by Wally Pritchard* The bulk of the Australian trade union movement supported the "yes" campaign in the referendum on November 6. The bulk of left political parties also. It was clearly the thing to do. It meant cutting ties with an historical enemy of the working class, the British monarchy. The Republican position was dubbed "the minimalist model" because it did indeed alter the status quo in Australia only in relation to the monarchy. The basic class position changed not one bit. The position between the working class and the capitalist class (the effective ruler of Australia) was not affected at all by the proposed Republican model or the Preamble to the Constitution. The ruling class support for the Republic model was clear before the vote of November 6. In the days prior to the Republic vote, the Australian Financial Review, in polling 49 top Chief Executive Officers found 47 adamantly supportive of a "yes" vote and only two against. Similarly, editorials of all major newspapers owned by rich Australian families urged the voters to endorse the Republican model on offer. In Constitutional terms, the Republican vote of November 6 could be termed Australia's mini-bourgeois revolution. As in other bourgeois revolutions in other countries over the centuries it carried with it support from large sections of the working class. It was also very clear from the electorate results of the poll that it did not carry the support of enough of the working class. To put this down to disinformation is to ignore the resources of the "yes" campaign which were in excess of the monarchists. To put it down to misinformation is to suggest that workers in those electorates could not work it all out. This is an approach fraught with danger. A politician who blames the constituency for not understanding the subtlety or complexity of the argument is further adrift from reality than the inept carpenter who continually blames the tools. It was stated earlier that the Republican model threatened only the Monarchy and not the ruling class. Neither did it hold any substantial threat to the working class apart from preserving the rule of capital. It was precisely the fact that it offered nothing to workers that most likely led to the lack of sense of ownership and therefore the lack of support. It was not that bodies like the ACTU did not try to embellish the constitutional change to give workers more substance, more power, more rights. It was simply that the Republican debate was dominated in the first place, incongruously, by the Monarchist John Howard and in the latter part by the bourgeoisie. The cup has clearly passed from John Howard. The Monday after the poll, the Sydney Morning Herald urged John Howard "to reflect on his lost place in Australian history". That Kim Beazley has picked up the scent and promised a new plebiscite as part of his next electoral platform suggests John Howard may have at last fallen on his own imperial sword. The prospect of a Costello-led Republic debate does not bring with it visions of opportunity for the working class. The prospect of a Beazley-led debate, however, does hold out promise. Beazley has promised first a plebiscite that will, by all available data, skittle the monarchy in one fell blow. The Opposition leader has then promised to listen to the people on what they want out of a Republic. In this context the method of electing the President pales into insignificance. It could in fact be solved by simply taking the currently proposed model and putting the single candidate back to the national populace for endorsement in a one-off poll. This gives the people the final say without the prospect of US style two-house hoop-la. Beazley's proposition, however, opens up far more opportunities for developing real positions: on indigenous ownership; on full recognition of the contribution of the working class; men and women breaking out of chains to build the modern nation; the setting standards for protection of children, the aged, the handicapped, the disadvantaged; ensuring education, food, clothing, medical care as constitutional rights. To ensure freedom of expression to protect the high ideals of society and to eliminate racism and other forms of discrimination. For the trade union movement it could bring to an end the vilification and slander and the type of offensive by Australian police against Australian workers that was witnessed in all major ports last year. The ruling class have already picked up on Beazley's shift of ground and within 24 hours of Beazley making his position known, the bosses unleashed the NSW Right of the ALP to tip a bucket on any prospect of anything different from their model, one that cements the status quo of the hegemony of capital. It will take considerable debate within trade union movement and considerable activity within the Left and progressive movement to ensure firstly that Kim Beazley's proposition survives in the embryo form and it will take further effort to develop it into something of substance for the working families of Australia. Now that the dust has settled it can be stated that the Constitutional package just rejected held out no other prospects than the end of the Monarchy. Even the Queen has now recognised that her family's days are numbered on the Australian scene. The task ahead for Australia's progressive forces is to move the debate out of the realm of the Monarchists and away from the private appropriation of the minimalists and for the Australian people themselves to turn the debate into a model for a far better and fairer country. History has revealed that public ownership of a nation's agenda is the prime requisite for public ownership of anything else material or spiritual within nature. A new republic debate provides that opportunity. *Wally Pritchard is Deputy Branch Secretary of the WA Branch of the Maritime Union of Australia.