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Partisan games will never get us a republic

By Greg Barns and Jim Terrie - posted Sunday, 15 September 2002

Former federal Labor minister John Button recently described how he accompanied frontbencher Lindsay Tanner to an ALP meeting and was disheartened that only a handful of people bothered to attend.

Compare this with a meeting of the Australian Republican Movement in the western suburbs of Sydney last weekend where 150 members enthusiastically and openly debated issues relating to the running of the ARM and strategies on how to deliver a republic.

The republic may not be a front-page issue now. But until it is again, the ARM, an open and democratic organisation, will continue to promote the cause. In fact, the ARM is just the sort of organisation Tanner says he wants it to be.


What a pity that someone of Tanner's erudition should have got his facts about the republican cause in 2002 so wrong.

He says the ARM should be a popularly based, democratic movement driven by people who are known primarily for their commitment to the republican cause. We agree, but if Lindsay had taken the time to investigate or ask, he would have seen that the ARM is just that.

All committee and executive positions are elected in open elections. Apart from a few ex-politicians and one serving MP, none of the 14 members of the national committee are the sports stars, church leaders, writers, media celebrities, or fabulously wealthy, who Tanner complains run the ARM.

And had Lindsay done his homework, he would also have learned that the ARM does not have a preferred model of how an Australian head of state would be selected. Last year it released a discussion paper that embraced direct and indirect election models, and republicans who support a directly elected head of state make up about half of our almost 4,000 members.

Of course, Tanner wasn't going to let the facts get in the way of the real purpose of his critique: it was all about attacking a political opponent, Liberal Party treasurer and former ARM chairman Malcolm Turnbull.

Tanner obviously thought he could get at Turnbull via the ARM. Again he hasn't done his homework. Malcolm Turnbull hasn't been chairman of the ARM for two years and is no longer on the national committee - he remains an ordinary member.


Since the 1999 republic referendum, the ARM has become a transparent, democratic group, has widened its policy platform, and focused on rebuilding its presence across the country. It has an active presence in every state and territory and is building a strong presence in outer metropolitan and regional Australia.

Of course, what makes Tanner's intemperate attack on the ARM all the more curious is that the ALP, the party he represents, backs an Australian republic.

Yet sadly, since the 1999 referendum, Labor - with the notable exceptions of shadow attorney-general Robert McClelland and former leader Kim Beazley - has been conspicuous by its timidity in pushing the republican cause.

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About the Authors

Greg Barns is National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance.

Jim Terrie is national director of the ARM and a member of the ALP.

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by Greg Barns
All articles by Jim Terrie
Related Links
Australian Democrats
Australian Labor Party
Australian Republican Movement
Lindsay Tanner's home page
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