Side show alleys have become smaller these days. They used to be the centre of attraction at the annual Royal Show with the boxing troupes, the bearded ladies and so on but even the shrunken lane of today still has a conjuror performing the old pea and thimble trick. The conjuror puts a pea under one of three thimbles then swirls them around with appropriate flourishes and invites a member of the audience to pick the one hiding the pea. Some honest but dim fellow steps forward and has a go but…no luck. He retires ruefully shaking his head and the conjuror’s patter goes on.
Our bemused citizen here could well be the Australian Republican Movement. The Monarchist conjuror has in truth few assets to work with and he will exploit the plodding good nature of his adversary for all it’s worth. The conjuror’s first rule: NEVER accept the idea of a simple referendum question asking the people whether they want (some form of) a republic or to continue with the present structure. That would probably finish the game there and then. Those in the magic trade still gasp with admiration at the Howard/Minchin Flutter of 1999 which deftly avoided this core question but nevertheless convinced most people that the issue had been decided.
After dodging that bullet, it becomes a bit easier for the conjuror. “It would be disrespectful to the Queen to hold such a referendum while she is still alive”. Fair enough, concedes our generous friend only to hear when he steps forward the next time that “We’ve got to do the Australian thing and give Prince (King) Charles a Fair Go”. Beyond that awaits Prince William and the radiant Kate protected by a slobbering media. Even our decent bloke is beginning to get the idea that he’s been had here, played for a complete mug.
The political process could resolve this but the Prime Minister, in spite of Labor policy and her own professed position as a republican, has assured the country with a wagging finger that there’ll be none of this republic stuff during her term, as though describing distasteful behaviour by schoolboys behind the tennis shed. Has she won the Monarchist vote through this step into Liberal territory? Unlikely. As for the conjuror, he sits quietly in the background contemplating an untroubled future for the next decade at least.
So what’s to be done? Upend the table? No, but let’s change games. A straightforward arm wrestle through a simple referendum would be a good start.
Greg at Cottesloe