In the time-honoured tradition of the Australian parliament, Lindsay
Tanner (Age Tuesday), chose a grievance debate to vent his spleen.
Seemingly desperate to enhance his leadership chances, Tanner's
speech on the republic was neither helpful nor an honest assessment
of his or the ALP's role in the fall of the ARM republic.
SPADES OF RETROSPECTIVE COURAGE IN 2002
Like John Howard, he can't find it in himself to say sorry. Sorry
that he didn't break rank when the party machine put its shoulder
to Malcolm Turnbull's wheel. Sorry that he ignored the will of the
people, as expressed in one poll after another, to elect their own
president. Sorry that he didn't publicly confront Turnbull's 'celebrity
ticket' politics and the phony republic he now openly condemns.
Tanner's retrospective courage is sadly typical of so many mainstream
politicians. When direct electionists pleaded for a broad coalition
to expose the ALP's collusion, in what Tanner now calls a 'celebrity
plaything' republic, he was nowhere to be seen. From day one of
the Constitutional Convention I said I would never vote for Turnbull's
undemocratic republic. Silent then, a disingenuous Tanner now damns
Turnbull as a self-serving Liberal multimillionaire who 'rammed
this model through the Constitutional Convention'.
But even unbridled contempt for Turnbull isn't enough for Tanner
to express solidarity with those who refused to cower in the face
of the celebrity and media avalanche. For holding the line against
the 'glitz and glamour republic' I'm derided as a 'professional
curmudgeon' and direct electionists are portrayed as cheap populists.
Is it any wonder people don't want Lindsay Tanner to choose the
president for them?
The historical revisionism completed, Tanner went on to accuse
those republicans who opposed Turnbull of having deserted the cause.
How galling to see a professional politician reprimanding ordinary
punters forced to earn a living for failing to resurrect the republic.
So removed from everyday life is the Member for Melbourne he now
demands that a rank and file army, 'popularly based and democratic',
should drive the republican cause.
While we're devoting spades of voluntary labour, what will my Member
of Parliament be doing? Waltzing into the Chamber to pour scorn
on those misguided fools who voted ARM and we malcontents who traitorously
defended the republic against the 'stars and celebrities' he now
wants banished from the movement? This was not a speech designed
to build a mass movement. It was a silly piece of grandstanding.
When the vitriol subsided after the referendum failed, I met ARM
National Director, James Terrie, and later went to Sydney to explain
my position to members of the Just Republic. Despite supporting
the direct election of a president, the Just Republic group had
advocated a 'yes' vote at the referendum. I was bitterly disappointed
with them. But I wanted a way forward.
The meeting left me with hope. Later I met the ARM's Greg Barns
and Richard Fidler to try and mend the split and find a way forward.
During the referendum debate Barns' abuse made my blood boil. I
found it hard to forgive him. But the republic mattered. So I put
the anger aside and talked about what kind of republic I thought
would capture the imagination of Australians.
Only a month ago, the Real Republic group had a national phone
hook up to explore possible strategies. A week later I met La Trobe
University constitutional lawyer, Spencer Zivcak, to enlist his
support in the development of some direct election models. If Linsday
Tanner had lifted the phone I'd have been happy to invite him to
Instead of big noting in the manner of his mate and rival, Mark
Latham, Tanner should be showing some real leadership and extending
the hand of friendship. Instead of blaming Turnbull and the celebrities
-who interestingly enough he refuses to name - he should be affirming
his unconditional support for a democratic republic. Instead of
rehashing the ARM's jingoism about national symbols and its shallow
prattle about hereditary, race and religion being no barrier to
a prospective head of state, Tanner should be telling us what he's
prepared to do.
At some point he must accept that direct electionists opposed the
ARM model because they honestly believed it was the antithesis of
republicanism. There'll be no reconciliation if all Lindsay Tanner
wants to do is blame everyone else . It's time he waved the big
stick at his mates in the labor caucus, not at those people who
saved him from Malcolm Turnbull's phony republic. It's time he dragged
his own party to the forefront of the struggle for a republic with
an elected head state. After all, isn't that what people want?