Address to the Australian Monarchist League, Sydney

***Check against delivery***

Introduction

It is always encouraging and inspiring, indeed invigorating, to be in the company of a group of men and women staunchly committed to our nation's well-being.

Many of our fellow Australians don't make the obvious connection between their well-being and that of our nation and the maintenance of our Constitutional arrangements.

Just as much as a sugar fix is appealing – especially at this time of day – it is no substitute for a good meal that genuinely caters for our long-term bodily nourishment.

Similarly, a lick of paint may enhance the immediate aesthetic appeal of a house, yet it will be of little value if its foundations are compromised through erosion.

And so it is with our national well-being – too often we are absorbed in talk about colour schemes and renovations with little to no thought given to the foundation which holds the whole show in place.

Our Constitution is the nation's foundation and of the body politic.

The foundation's protection and maintenance are vital/essential – its strength determines the well-being of the whole house.

So designing the foundation, ensuring that specifications are correct, then constructing them accordingly are all steps necessary for the house's longevity.

In Australia we've been blessed with our founding fathers and forebears who did all that for us in Constitutional terms. They designed, they determined the specifications, they voted our Constitution into being.

And for the past century successive generations have built, renovated, altered and repainted the house we call the Commonwealth of Australia.

Whilst most Australians and commentators talk about colour schemes, the design of the entry hall or size of windows, few actually concern themselves with ensuring the protection of the foundation.

This is where the Australian Monarchist League provides such a central role in our nation's well-being by protecting our foundation – the Constitution.

Today, more than ever this role is imperative – because we have in our midst a sprinkling of arrogant, self-appointed pseudo-intellectuals who believe they know so much better than the collective wisdom of our forebears.

Look around the world – ask which countries enjoy constitutional and therefore governmental stability? Which countries’ peoples enjoy freedoms and wealth like us?

Is it coincidence or is there a common thread?

That's a topic all on its own. Suffice to say we've got a great country built on a great Constitution. It's worth protecting.

So when proposals to change are mooted, my instinct is to ask three questions:

  1.       What motivates the change?
  2.       Is the change needed?
  3.       What would be the consequences of the change?

These questions need to be posed for every proposal. It's a test which allows rigorous responsible examination of proposals for change. The test often sees the superficial immediate flush of attraction disappear. And so it is with four recent proposals for change.

Section 44 – citizenship

This week has been difficult and disappointing. The Hon Stephen Parry is a friend and was a valued colleague who brought a level of gravitas to the office of President.

Importantly, as a staunch Monarchist he understood the constitutional and symbolic role of the office which helped to raise the office above the political fray as was intended by our forefathers.

The High Court's recent decision must be respected and accepted by all. Suggestions that the High Court's decision means we must now consider changing the Constitution are ill-advised.

For starters, I can't imagine the Australian people looking favourably on politicians wanting to make life easier for themselves. But more importantly, the notion that you must be an Australian first and only to serve in the Australian Parliament is unremarkable and does not at all undermine our multi-ethnic community.

Indeed, I was born in Germany yet have had not only the privilege of serving as a Senator, but also as a Minister of the Crown and was twice elected by my colleagues to be their Senate Leader.

My good friend, Senator Lucy Giuchui was born in Kenya and now sits as a Senator.

In both cases, we renounced any foreign citizenship because we are proud Australians. We are unremarkable – indeed, as someone who has the privilege of attending literally dozens of citizenship ceremonies each year, each and every person who is granted citizenship accepts it as a great gift and it is.

I for one still hope there is a Parliamentary audit of sorts to ensure that we protect the integrity of the current Parliament. I commend the Prime Minister for referring future arrangements to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters.

The current concerns of the Australian people must be acknowledged.

Now applying the test of three questions, I ask what has motivated the proposed change? It is simply to make life easier for politicians.

I then ask, is the change needed? The answer to that is a clear “no”, given the very clear answer to the law/Constitution provided by the High Court.

And then thirdly, what would be the consequences? We would have people with divided loyalties serving in the Australian Parliament. I believe that to be unacceptable.

Parliamentary Terms

Another proposal for constitutional change that has emerged in recent times is that of extending Parliamentary terms to 4 years, citing amongst other things a lack of business confidence.

I have been open about my opposition to this proposal. It’s important that the Australian people hold us to account – elections should be celebrated by good governments as an opportunity to gain a confirmation of support from those they are sworn to serve. It should not be seen as an inconvenience.

The Menzies and Howard Governments, and for that matter the Hawke-Keating Governments, in general terms did not suffer from a lack of business confidence because of three-year Parliamentary terms. To the contrary, because they were providing strong vision, stable government and delivering in the national interest not only did confidence increase, those governments were re-elected until they weren’t, which was because they had lost their way.

This proposal not only would fail to win popular support, it would be seen as a grab for power by the political class. (On the bright side however, Senators would get eight year terms and therefore I might be persuaded!).

Applying the test, it is clear that the motivation is to make life easier for parliamentarians and it's not needed, as our three longest serving Prime Ministers have shown. The consequence means that bad governments would stay in even longer.

Constitutional Recognition

While some in the community were possibly willing to permit a minor change to the preamble to allow for Constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians, the Uluru Statement has set that cause back potentially irrevocably.

Our Constitution is a rule book. It respects and treats all Australians equally, irrespective of how and with whom they identify.

Should a referendum go ahead, I trust the choice will not be between more useless symbolism vs real action to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians.

I’m honoured to be a part of a Government that is genuinely focused on resolving the genuine disadvantage in Indigenous communities. But piecemeal politically correct symbolism will never achieve that, and for that matter, neither would creating an additional Parliamentary chamber.

This proposal is motivated by identity politics. It is not needed for the advancement of Indigenous welfare and the consequence would be that we would be divided as a nation on racial lines, something that I thought we had sought to overcome with the 1967 referendum.

Republic

And finally, let me turn to a Republic. Almost 2 decades on from the failed Republican Referendum, the Republican Movement – which these days is as much a Green/Labor left-wing front as GetUp – is gearing up for a plebiscite and then a referendum.

Despite this, the Republicans still seem to have no idea as to what model they support let alone would put forward to the Australian people.

Simply put, they need to come up with a robust rationale for change and then a proposal before we are expected to respond.

For most Australians, it's a non-issue and what's more, support for the Monarchy is growing. That said, it's important that we as an organisation not only respond to threats, but also proactively make the case for the Constitution which our President, Mr Benwell, and many of our members and supporters tirelessly do.

There is no doubt that the movement for a Republic is about self-aggrandisement by a few individuals.

It clearly is not needed as the system is not broken. Indeed, it is working exceptionally well and the consequences would be that we would be led into uncharted Constitutional territory.

And might I simply remind you that when the economy was requiring some strong remedial action, the then Treasurer Paul Keating didn't warn Australia about becoming a “banana monarchy”, but a “banana republic”, which in my mind says it all.

Conclusion

As vigilant, caring Australians we should seek opportunities to improve the Constitution, which after all is a living document, to make our Parliament and institutions work even better, but none of these proposals I've mentioned today fall into that category or pass the three-way test.

We must be tireless in our advocacy for our Constitution as the foundations on which our democracy stands.

Thank you for being involved in defending and protecting those foundations.

I look forward to continuing to work with you for the protection of our tried, true and tested Constitution.

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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136 Davey Street
Hobart  TAS  7001

(03) 6224 3707

Senator.Abetz@aph.gov.au

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