We are delighted to interview Professor David Flint who is the National Convenor of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy.
RR: Her Majesty the Queen celebrated her 60th year on the throne in 2012, becoming only the second Australian Monarch to do so, how do most Australians view the Queen?
DF: At the time of the 1999 referendum, some republicans – foolishly – criticised The Queen for a very trivial reasons. They took this one step further by claiming that monarchists would not mention The Queen. This was untrue but it also ignored the fact that the core argument advanced by Australians for Constitutional Monarchy was this. The Australian Constitution offers such an excellent system of government; that it should only be changed if this were to be a significant improvement. The fact is that the republican model proposed in 1999 was distinctly inferior to our present system of government. It would have concentrated power in the hands of the Prime Minister.
I remember telling our media years ago that as The Queen advanced in age she would be more and more respected as her constant service to her people was so belatedly recognized. This has come to pass, evidenced in Australia by the very large crowds who turned out to see her in Brisbane and Melbourne and the 120,000 who turned out on the banks of the Swan River to say farewell on her last visit.
RR: Having looked at some of the arguments of the Republic movement, they seem to think that when The Queen passes away, it could be a good time to replace the Monarchy in Australia with an elected President. I know that both you and I don’t want to see that, however do you envisage a rise in support for a Republic when the Queen dies?
This is foolish argument. The Republicans are always looking for some silver bullet which will ensure is that some sort of politicians’ republic will fall into their laps. What will happen at the end of this reign will be that there will be immense sadness across the United Kingdom, the realms, the Commonwealth and the wider world. This will be followed by a worldwide media retrospective into what will be called the second Elizabethan era. This will dwarf even the media interest in the wedding of Prince William and the birth of Prince George. Then there will be immense interest in the new King and as well, the new Prince of Wales and the younger princes and princesses.
Attention will move to the Coronation as an extraordinarily meaningful ceremony, of deep religious meaning, which will astound and fascinate the world. The idea that a tiny, lacklustre, unimpressive band of republicans in Australia will be able to raise any interest in their plans – or indeed lack of them- it is fanciful.
One of the superb things which the founding fathers of Australia did was to ensure that any change in our constitution had to be approved in a Swiss style referendum and not in a French style plebiscite. The difference is that in a Swiss style referendum all the details of the proposed change has to be on the table before the people vote. A French style plebiscite – which is what you unwisely use in the United Kingdom -asks a question designed by the spin doctors and is in fact a blank cheque from the people to the politicians to fill in the details.
The result is that just to be even taken seriously; Australian Republicans have to decide what they want. But the republicans can’t because of the irrevocable division between those who want Parliament to appoint the President and those who want the people to elect the President. In the 1999 referendum, the latter group clearly favoured the No case rather than approve a republic where Parliament chose the president. As we say, it’s as if the republicans were marching down the street, chanting “We want a Republic…. But we haven’t the foggiest idea what sort of republic we want.”
RR: Recently we saw Prince Henry of Wales undertake a visit to Australia on behalf of the Queen, during the International Fleet Review, would you like to see other members of the Royal family visit the country more?
Most definitely. One of the horrors of the period of the threatened republicanism in the nineties was that the republicans took so long to get to the point. There was a period of several years when it was impossible for members of the Royal Family to come to Australia because a visit could be interpreted could be interpreted as campaigning for the constitutional monarchy.
RR: Some polls have suggested that Prince William is favoured more than Prince Charles to be King of Australia after the Queen is no longer. What can constitutional monarchists in the Commonwealth do to ensure Prince Charles has a good reputation and is seen as a trusted Monarch like his mother?
The trouble is we have so many opinion polls, and the media is so dependent on them that at some stage this sort of pointless question is eventually asked. The succession is quite clear and it is obvious that Prince William would not be involved in any scheme to remove his father. I think there is increasing recognition that Prince Charles is a thoughtful and committed Prince of Wales and will be an excellent sovereign. Monarchists should unceasingly call attention to his considerable and quite remarkable charity work.
RR: Prince Philip has been an absolute rock to Queen Elizabeth, he is known for making gaffes, how well do they go down in Australia?
Too many lazy journalists have decided that they must caricature Prince Philip, as they do Prince Charles. They try to squeezes what they indulgently call a gaffe from any and every conversation that he has. We monarchists have to point out that he is a very deep thinking and energetic member of the Royal family. His life has been full of achievements both before for and after his marriage. Rank and file Australians are down to earth and do not stand on ceremony. Most are amused by the Prince’s witticisms, and agree with the fundamental down-to-earth truths that he expresses.
RR: Why are you a constitutional monarchist?
I am a constitutional monarchist first because I know that apart from the Swiss system, which is uniquely Swiss, constitutional monarchy is the most successful form of government conceived by man, at least in the modern era. It successfully mixes sound checks and balances in the system while producing stable government. It lacks the rigidity of the American system which in any event is based on the first British model for constitutional monarchy adopted in the Glorious Revolution. Australia is one of the world’s sixth or seventh oldest democracies. We were the first Federation to be formed as a result of the people expressly agreeing to the union. Its essence is, as the preamble says, an “indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown… and under the Constitution.
My second reason is that emotionally”, I am a royalist. In addition I have sworn allegiance more than once to The Queen. I believe that I am bound by that oath. I have absolutely no intention of breaking it.
Incidentally, as Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in the introduction to one of my books, to republicans, “…Flint should have been one of them. Weren’t people like Flint supposed to be victims of a racist Crown and the boring, conformist Australia which flourished under it? As it happened, “White Australia” in its heyday seems to have given Flint’s family the same welcome as has been more widely extended to people from a show since the 1960s.”
RR: Why should Australians who are in two-minds about the Monarchy support the campaign you are leading?
The monitoring we have done of opinion in this country – it can be seen in the opinion polling section of the www.norepublic.com.au – demonstrates that the trend over time and across opinion polls indicates a declining support for republican change in this country. (Incidentally many leading constitutional monarchists in Australia describe our polity as a “crowned republic.” This is explained in our educational site www.crownedrepublic.com.au)
The point is that the republicans cannot even tell us precisely what they want nor can they show us a new flag to replace our beautiful Australian National Flag.
There are other aspects of our system of government which need attention and Australians should not waste their time on a campaign which will only result – in the unlikely event that it were successful – in a politician’s republic which will increase the power and on one bottle the number of politicians in the country.
As for the young, we are gratified that youthful support for the monarchy is increasing just as we are finding the large number of young fans of our Facebook page www.facebook.com/acmnorepublic.
As to those of two minds, it must be recalled that in every referendum, those who express themselves as undecided move overwhelmingly by the vote to the no case. This is because by this time they have heard both sides, and the seriousness and finality of the vote dawns on them.
RR: The Governor-General announced that she had offered her resignation to The Queen in order to avoid any allegations of bias as a result of her son-in-law being elected as leader of the Labor Party. Do you think she was right to offer her resignation and if so why?
There are some who feel that this situation would create a conflict of interest. When I have been asked this in the past I have told the media that I saw no conflict of interest. Interestingly my view was supported by two professors of law – both experts in Australian constitutional law and both of whom are republicans.
However, I think she was very proper to offer her resignation to allay concerns among some people about the potential for a conflict of interest. These concerns were being put in the media, and this was the best way to handle the question. The Prime Minister, Mr Tony Abbott, who was the first executive director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, could see no need at all to advise the Queen to accept this. In other words he could see no conflict of interest
Professor Flint, thank you.
And thank you so much for inviting me.
ABOUT Professor Flint:
David Flint read law and economics at Universities of Sydney, London and Paris, and is an emeritus professor of Law. He is the President of the Australian National Federation of the English Speaking Union and National Convenor of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy (ACM). He was Chairman of the Australian Press Council and Dean of Law the University of Technology Sydney between 1987 and 1997 and Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Authority and Associate Member Australian Competition and Consumer Commission between 1997 and 2004.
He has published books and articles on topics such as foreign investment law, European Union law, the media, international economic law, and Australia’s constitution as well as Australia’s 1999 constitutional referendum. This included a book The Cane Toad Republic, Wakefield Press, Kent Town, 1999. He contributes frequently to the press, to the ACM website, www.norepublic.com.au On Line Opinion,http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/ and Quadrant Online http://www.quadrant.org.au
His more recent books are The Twilight of the Elites, Freedom Publishing, North Melbourne, 2003, and Malice in Media Land, Freedom Publishing, North Melbourne, 2005, A Successful Conservative Party Ready to Rebuild, in Liberals and Power, edited by Peter van Onselen, Melbourne University Press, 2007 , Monarchy or Republic in The Howard Era, edited by Keith Windshuttle, David Martin Jones and Ray Evans, Quadrant Books, 2009 and, with Jai Martinkovits, Give Us Back Our Country, Connor Court 2013 .