Address to the National Press Club by ARM Chair Peter FitzSimons - "We're getting the band back together"
Following is the transcript of an address delivered by Peter FitzSimons to the National Press Club in Canberra on 26 August 2015.
Thank you for the warm welcome. I'm delighted to be here. I wanted to begin by saying I am, you are, we are Australians. I feel that and I'm deeply honoured to be asked to address you on such a great Australian occasion, discussing this most important of Australian subjects, and from such a podium as this.
I've loved myself being part of the press for the last 30-odd years. I couldn't say exactly when I was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald, but I think it was 30 May 1986.
To be given the chance to speak in such a forum is as humbling as it is thrilling. I note the presence in the audience of many of my colleagues from the press and some of my rugby mates and I thank you for turning up, as I thank all of you for turning up and people watching at home. You will be pleased to hear I don't intend to deliver a dry dissertation on the legal niceties of changing the Constitution, me talking in a learned fashion about constitutional law would be rather like the favourite line I have from an American comedian Richard Little who once said Jimmy Carter as President is like Truman Capote making love to Dolly Parton - the job's just too big for him.
That is not my strength. For my money, if the Republican movement has suffered from one thing over the years it's been a surfeit of deadly earnestness, of high brow wordiness. We need high brow, we have high brow, we have it in spades. But to this point the debate has lacked publicly expressed or low brow passion, and as low brow for me is a personal specialty, I hope you will stay with me. The key thing I wish to say today is we are putting the band back together.
A generation ago Australia had a go at becoming a Republic and for a variety of well documented reasons, most particularly including disunity, even among Republicans, and a Prime Minister who was a very good man but who didn't believe in the Republic. For those reasons, we didn't quite get there.
But that was then, this is now. It's our hope and belief that sometime in the next five years Australia can again begin the formal process towards becoming the Republic of Australia. A Republic that we deserve to be - an independent sovereign nation beneath the Southern Cross we stand, a sprig of wattle in our hand.
We respectfully submit that in the 21st century it is against the natural order of things that a mature and sophisticated nation, multicultural and independent as we are, proud of our egalitarianism and more than ever aware of our indigenous heritage, in this land, right here, not a nation with a history of 114 years or even two centuries, but more like 40,000 years, should still be finding our Head of State from one family of English aristocrats living in a palace in England. Please.
In every other part of our national life we honour those who have a go you mug, who rise on guts and gumption, their talent, their application, three parts elbow grease, two parts sweat off their own brow. We exhort the whole idea of the fair go.
There is only one part of our nation life, one sole part do we say no, no, no - no Australians need apply here, no Australians are good enough to get into this ultra exclusive Head of State job. This is reserved for the progeny of one family alone, not born in this country, not living here, and by hereditary right alone. Please, it does not fit in the 21st century. It is out of kilter.
And this I say, no matter how many of us might admire many members of the Royal Family, led by Queen Elizabeth the Second, we offer by the by sincere congratulations on the fact that Her Majesty will shortly pass Queen Victoria as the longest reigning British monarch, and wish her many years of reign ahead in Britain. Britain needs reign, we do not.
It's time for us to be entirely self governing, and we believe it can be accomplished fairly simply, and with a bit of fun. We propose it starts with a simple question to be put before the Australian people some time in the next five years - do you support replacing the British monarch with an Australian citizen as the Australian Head of State. Bingo, simple as that. We reckon the yes vote for that question will look like Phar Lap at Flemington, like Bradman at Lord's, well ahead of the field and looking good.
Polling commissioned last week by the ARM and conducted by Essential Media show half of us are yaysayers, a quarter of us are naysayers, and another quarter say who cares. The polling shows that 57 per cent of Australians want to have that initial vote done and dusted by 2020, which ties in perfectly with our platform, and the answer to that basic question's always going to romp home as yes. And then we move to the next stage.
Through a process of political engagement with the public, perhaps a constitutional convention, a people's forum - the way they did it in Ireland - we come up with a model. And then simply we build towards a referendum to ask do you prefer the old model or the new model. At that point the situation will be more like Cathy Freeman coming into the final straight, Sydney 2000, say it Bruce McAvaney, she's got a lot of work to
do. We will have a lot of work to do. Cathy did it, she breasted the tape, she was the winner, the gold medallist, and I reckon we will get there at last our self with her as our model.
As to what the model of the Republican should be, I'm here to tell you the ARM, we are like a toy aeroplane convention at St Mary's Cathedral. We are a very broad church with lots of great models that will fly.
Our obvious challenge - once we have everyone inside our broad church is to decide and unite behind one model so we don't splinter like we did last time. As chair of the ARM I'm frequently asked my own view, and I thought you would never ask. It has no more weight than anyone else's, a member of the ARM, but here goes. It can fit into a tweet, but allow me to expand just a tad.
At the moment the system for selecting the Governor-General is very simple. The Prime Minister, the democratically elected leader of the Australian people, makes his or her choice and then writes a letter to Her Majesty the Queen, sends it 15,000 kilometres away to London, seeking from the hereditary head of Great Britain, occupying the most entrenched position of elitism in the world, her approval for this decision made by a democratically elected head of Australia.
I personally propose a single change - the minimalist model with no bells, no whistles and no postage stamp. I say everything stays the same, starting with the title of Governor-General and including the convention that the Prime Minister chooses that position, including their reserve powers, and including the writing of the letter seeking position. But here is the rub. We simply save the price of the postage stamp. Instead of sending that letter external mail to the Queen of England saying Your Majesty is it okay with you, we send it to the Parliament of the people to get a two-thirds majority, to say will you sign off on this.
I believe, when properly presented, my minimalist model - and it is mine, not the ARM's, plenty of people with- this is only my view - is the most likely to succeed as it addresses the foremost concern of the if it ain't broke, don't fix it crowd. Because essentially we are not fixing it, we're just doing one thing. We would be snipping one unsightly apron string that runs all the way around the globe, making sure the whole shebang resides holus-bolus beneath the Southern Cross.
Others within the ARM prefer other models, including having no Governor-General at all, and then of course there are many direct election models. Should the model that I and many prefer gain the adherence of the majority of Australian Republicans, that will be wonderful and it will be hoped those who like other models will fall in behind, and versa. If the direct election model gets up, we will fall in behind them. The important thing is to have unity, I might note, in the presence of Australia's Ambassador to Ireland, His Excellency Noel Stewart, you know I was talking last night about how well their direct election system works in Ireland. At all costs, this time we must avoid a damaging division.
The only thing I would note about the direction election model is that in Australia, it's frequently opposed by those who say they don't want a politician's Republic. And yet by making the Head of State an elected position, automatically for me that makes it a political position, and the Head of State a political figure.
Does anyone think, - if you look at our most beloved recent Governor-Generals, they've all been good. For me personally, two standouts are Sir William Dean, Dame Quentin Bryce - anybody thinks they would have won a direct election? Would they even have put themselves forward? Personally, I doubt it. But by embracing the minimalist model, we make the person holding that position entirely apolitical, above the political fray. I've always loved that line of Charles de Gaulle, the President of France, who said “de Gaulle n'est pas de la gauche, de Gaulle n'est non pas de su-
de Gaulle est au du sud ...” oh, I mucked that up. “de Gaulle n'est pas du gauche, de Gaulle n'est pas de droite, de Gaulle est au de sur”. De Gaulle is not of the left, de Gaulle is not of the right, de Gaulle is above. And for me, that's my vision, for what it's worth, that our Governor-General should be above the whole thing.
So we're now at the beginning of a great new push for the Republic of Australia to actually make it happen. I say we must do it like Ireland did, with the whole issue of same-sex marriage - house by house, street by street, suburb by suburb, powered by the passion that we have for the course, sustained by the logic of our argument. And that argument is that Australia is mature enough to run our own affairs and must be seen to be so.
And it could be fun. Instead of narkiness, going at each other and going at each other, it could be a wonderfully fun thing to do. When I was speaking to the Irish Ambassador's wife last night, Nessa Delaney, she talked to me about the program in Ireland that they had which was phone your granny. And the idea was the young people of Ireland phoned granny and tell her, this is going to be okay, same-sex marriage is going to be work, it can work. And there was this sense of fun, and how inspirational was it, what happened in Ireland?
At the moment we sense the goodwill of so many of our fellow Australians but I'm here to say one thing today - it is that goodwill, your goodwill, is not enough. We need people's active engagement. We need you to sign up to membership, to donate money, to help convince the naysayers this really can work, really be a phenomenal time in our national history. Let a thousand flowers of the Republic of Australia bloom.
From Penrith to Perth, from Darwin to the Derwent, Kununurra to Coonanbarrabran, let everyone who can help come forward, put your shoulder to the wheel, move the whole thing forward. If we have a plea in this coming debate, it is that it would be wonderful if we could be more gentle than last time in 1999.
Back in 1987 when John Howard lost that election to Bob Hawke, I never forget a wonderful concession speech that Mr Howard made. He said I may have lost tonight, but the things that unite us Australians are greater than the things that divide us. And it was true at that time, and I think it's true for most of our history. But I'm not 100 per cent sure that it is true right now.
When I launched the biography of my friend Joe Hockey last year, I was critical of what I called the mad march of Australian politics - left, right, left, right, left, right, I'm left, you're right, I hate you, you hate me. All of that narkiness is so often duplicated in so much else of our discourse. In so many areas we're divided up into the McTavishes and the McTears, the Murdochs and Fairfaxes, the Liberal and Labor supporters, the warmists and the denialists, the believers in same-sex marriage and those who are traditional proponents of traditional marriage.
Couldn't we have just one thing, we Australians, just one thing, where we look forward to the quite reasonable goal - becoming the quintessence of a mature nation, which is to manage our own affairs within our own borders and just agree this is where we are going to get to and just hold hands gently, move forward, get there together as an issue where we first turn to each other and not on each other. Where we nut it out in the great Australian fashion together. It can be done, on this issue, above all issues, and there are already signs that Australia is tiring of the consistent divisions and want to get back to I am, you are, we are Australian.
Last month I was thrilled that for the first time in the not always friendly history of the Murdoch and Fairfax press, the two media empires jointly ran an op-ed piece I wrote calling for exactly this unity on public. My piece ran in the Daily Tele just below Andrew Bolt's piece, together. Brothers together.
I have been thrilled with since with the offers of support that have come from everywhere, from people in all walks of Australian life and across the entire political spectrum wanting to help. One of them was from our Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey, who I'm pleased to reveal will be the co-convener of a new parliamentary friendship group for an Australian Head of State joining former ACT Chief Minister Senator Katy Gallagher. We thank them both. Kate, Joe and I go back a long way. As my wife Lisa knows, when I die, Joe will be one of the eight men that carries my coffin, and if Joe dies before me, I will be one of the 24 men that carries his.
I will allow Joe to speak for himself on his passion for the Republic, but I might note, quite seriously, that he is only one of many, many in the Coalition with such passion, including Christopher Pyne, who has given the most eloquent speech I've ever heard on the Republic. Malcolm Turnbull, who was of course the driving force of the Republican movement, a man to whom the Republican movement owes great debt. Senator Marise Payne, who's a long time activist for the Republic, and the torch bearer of the Republic for the rising generation of Australian politicians, Wyatt Roy, who is the youngest Member of Parliament. Many, many more. I'm also heartened by how many influential and conservative newspaper columnists who've tell me they are of the faith, they believe in the cause, and want to push it this time. This is going to happen.
There are more and more Republicans across the spectrum - politically, in the media, among the public, and not just in the so-called elite but everywhere - rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief. Tinker, tailor, sailor, py, settler, farmer's wife on a dry and barren run. I was trying to think of, you know, female examples, but you are very sexist if you don't think the tinker, tailor, soldier and spy, they were all women.
Watch this space, we are moving forward. How exciting would it be too, if 50 years from now, that you could look back 10 years, 20 years, 50 years, look back upon the time when we became the Republic of Australia and say I was there, I did my bit. I put my shoulder to the wheel on that pivotal moment in the nation's history and helped turn that wheel forward.
And yes, of course, there will be committed naysayers. There will be nervous Nellies and nattering Neds who insist we can't do this, we shouldn't do this, we don't need to do this, we can't do it at this time because there are more important things to do first et cetera.
Those naysayers have been there through all of our history and we love them too because they are part of our history. But they were there in the 1890s when the first real push, serious push came from federation - there were so many who said no no, we can't do that, we can't be more than six colonies of Great Britain on this brown and pleasant land we live in. The nation rolled up its sleeves anyway, they got on with it. They demonstrated we could be more than that.
The nervous Nellies and nattering Neds were horrified in 1931 when the Prime Minister James Scullin would for the first time in our history install a home grown Australian Governor-General in Sir Isaac Isaacs, and not a British aristocrat as was the long tradition. Disloyalty they cried, rudeness to the monarch. Nevertheless, Scullin's home grown Australian choice proved brilliant, it went on.
You know, we used have the Queen on all of our postage stamps, just the way it was in New Zealand. My dear friend Eric Rush, the All Black winger, said he grew up with the Queen on every postage stamp. When he met the Queen at Buckingham Palace, he said I was not sure whether to shake her hand or lick her on the back of the head.
But we grew up with that, and when we first came and- he said that very respectfully, as I do too. But we grew up in the late 1950s, 1960s Australia, up until 1971, everywhere we looked, and when we changed it we started putting Australian symbols on it, there were people shaking their fists, you know, saying that this is not right. The same with the national anthem when we moved from God Save the Queen to our own, there were those saying no, no, we can't do this. We persisted anyway, we got there.
When Gough Whitlam started the process to say about the privy council -here's an idea - maybe our own judges, our own Australian judges can be as good as the English Law Lords, as the British Law Lords. And it took a while, a decade to go through, but there were those who saying if we cut the right to appeal to the privy council, there will be chaos. The answer is, for 30 years we've run our own show, and we've done it very well without problems.
My point is this, that every step along the way of separation, there has been those predicting catastrophe and there have been those who say - as they are saying now - not now, we can't do it. In the end we persisted anyway, and we got there and we have proven we can do it as a nation on our own. This time Australia should no more listen to the naysayers than we did in the past.
The thing that most stuns me in the argument against us becoming a Republic is the notion like the flag debate - which I note is entirely separate from the ARM umbrella - that separating our self from Great Britain disrespects our history. Please.
This is as nonsensical as the notion that the push for the Republic was just a 1999 phenomenon and therefore should never be visited again because we have settled that.
But while it's true that this debate was at its most fierce in 1990 - I prefer not to say 1999, I say before the turn of the last century. In fact, the push for a Republic goes back a lot further than that, even well beyond all the examples I have listed about. And rather than disrespecting our history, Australia becoming a Republic would actually be a wonderful blooming of our history. A quintessentially Australian story of an underdog struggle against long odds, against an established top order, coming good in the end, go Cathy Freeman go, as the British Crown gracefully recedes, an Australian crowd rises and roars.
In fact ,the early settlers in Australia were keenly aware of the American and French Revolutions which we in the air at the time of settlement. The battle of Vinegar Hill in 1804 had a strong Republican favour. Horatio Wills, the great pastoralist who always wrote in his journal, The Currency Lad, 1832, that was all about the Republic - 1850s, Reverend Dunmore Lang and Henry Parkes campaigned for a Republic. The wonderful one when William Wentworth proposed a hereditary upper house in New South Wales and Daniel Deniehy said “what, a bunyip aristocracy?” Australia rolled with laughter, the very idea of Australia creating their own knights and dames was just the most unheard of thing anybody had ever heard of.
Even Ned Kelly's Jerilderie letter had a fair streak of Republicanism in it, and in the 1880s there were 15 Republican organisations across the land. The great Henry Lawson, Song of the Republic –
Sons of the South, awake! Arise! Sons of the South, and do,
Banish from under your bonnie skies those old world errors and wrongs and lies …
Sons of the south make the choice between, Sons of the South choose true,
The old dead tree and the young tree green …
The Land that belongs to the Lord and Queen and the land that belongs to you.
So often another reason given against change is that our fought for King and country and flag. But let the record show it was not always the case. I'm coming to the end of a book that I'm writing on the Battle of Pozieres, and there is a scene at the end of Pozieres, we lost 30,000 men, casualties in the space of six weeks. And as they're coming out, there is King George and the Brits fall back as they do in awe and most of the Australians do too, but one of the Australian soldiers calls out “G'day George, g'day George, hello,how are you, good to see you!”
And you know, there is immediate “what's going to happen here?”, and the King was gracious enough to smile, and everybody smiled, and they would move on. But he then- this digger made a dissertation to anybody that wanted to listen, how it wasn't that a man was born in a palace that he was a better man than anything else, he was just a man.
I love the fact that came out in a diary. Republicanism is in our DNA, it's in the very marrow of our bones. It's always been there, it's just that we haven't got there yet. Now this year in the centenary of Gallipoli, there has been discussion about whether we can do better for a founding story than a defeat where we lost 9000 brave soldiers, killed for no ostensible gain. Some people say that we should - I think Paul Keating is on the record as saying maybe federation. Now for me, if you are going to have a founding story, the key has got to be, the starting point is it has to be a great story, that's your starting point, is a great story. The problem with federation as a founding story is that when you get to the climatic moment, what is the climactic moment? And then the Governor-General, he took out his pen and he signed the bastard, how about that?
What about that? And you know, for me, it doesn't quite get over the line as an inspiring story. Well it is inspiring, but in a different- I don't think it will bring the masses and those of us with low brows.
But for me, I love - in terms of if we were to become a Republic - the story of Eureka is absolutely tailor made. I wanted to have here Professor John Maloney, the author of the greatest book on Eureka that's ever been written, and it's just a killer story. And I'll do it- I had to cut this back from ten minutes because I get carried away with it. But the guts of it is - 1830s and 1840s you've got rising Liberal democracy across Europe, it's pressed down, where do they go? They could go to the Sierra Nevada, to the California goldfields, they go to Bathurst, they go to Ballarat. 1854 you've got this collection of all these great activists for liberal democracy gathered in Ballarat in the one place at the one time, and on 11 November 1854 the Ballarat Reform League makes its claims, and it's got the six basic tenets of Liberal democracy - they want the secret ballot, they want the mail franchise, they want paid Parliamentarians and of course the red coats come for them and they haul up the flag on 29 November, the Eureka flag, and a wonderful story of Peter Lalor, the Irishman who stands up and he makes the great speech.
He gets onto the top, he climbs onto the stump, he sees the sea of faces drawn from all over the world, what you and I would call multicultural, but just for them it was a sea of faces drawn from everywhere. Lalor says I looked around me, I saw the brave and honest men who had come thousands of miles to labour for independence. I mounted the stump and proclaimed liberty. Killer story.
That night 2000 diggers marched on Ballarat. They sang La Marseillaise as they marched through the Australian bush. The next day, the Friday, we had in our history a declaration of independence. Now the Americans have got this beautiful prose, wonderful copper plate writing for their Declaration of Independence, it's under thick glass at the Smithsonian Institution. Ours wasn't like that. Our was a bit of a drunken ramble written on the back of a scrap of paper and nobody quite understood it, but it was a declaration of independence. So the next day, in the greatest Australian tradition of all, the diggers lay about, they drank too much, and they sort of fell into a drunken slumber that night, at which point the red coats attacked.
But it is- it's a great yarn, and after Peter Lalor, who was the one pursued as a traitor, 500 pound reward on his head, he lost his arm in the actual battle. I describe him in my own book as Australia's first one armed bandit, fleeing the red coats who were trying to get him. Within a year he was being sworn into the Victorian Parliament. He had not changed. Australia had changed, the world around him changed. The whole Eureka thing is a light on the hill for Liberal democracy around the world. As Gerard Henderson - a conservative commentator - has pointed out, it's surprising the conservative side of politics in general hasn't embraced this, given that one way of looking at it, the whole uprising was a collection of small businessmen and entrepreneurs rising against the iniquitous over-regulation that was stifling their creation of wealth. This is right up the Libs' alley.
This is wonderful, it's a wonderful story, there's something in it for everyone. So that's what we want, a free standing Republic beneath the Southern Cross with an authority resting solely on the democratic will of the Australian people. Egalitarian, home grown, dinkum, multicultural inspiration. I repeat, the way ahead doesn't have to be dreary and controversial, filled with bitter clashes as it was back in 1999. This could be fun and inspiring. We don't have to storm the Bastille, we don't have to forge the Potomac to take on the Brits.
We Australians of the 21st century don't have to do anything so dramatic. We have to first and foremost get through the apathy, the notion that it is inevitable this is going to happen. No, it won't happen, not without the energy of the people that believe to actually put your energy in, to sign up, to do your bit. And this idea that it's inevitable, it's been going back through our history, the Sydney newspaper, The People's Advocate in 17 June 1854, the independence of the Australian colonies is not a mere abstract idea, it is certainly approaching- it is as certainly approaching as is the dawn of tomorrow's sun.
Again and again and again, decade after decade, it arises, it's inevitable, it's inevitable, it's inevitable. Bob Hawke, 1991, said the Republic is inevitable. Even John Howard said we'll have it in 50 or a hundred years, just not now. You will be pleased to hear I approached John Howard two or three weeks ago, and I said what about you as our patron. I'm pleased to say he considered it, I think for about half a second.
Half a second, but he didn't immediately just say no, under no circumstances. He considered it, because I thought if we can get John Howard on board, you know, it would be game over.
We Republicans, what we need, it's not inevitable and merely wanting it to happen will not make it so. We need engagement. Camera one on me - we need engagement, okay? Email us, write us, tweet us, get on with it, send us your money.
Your membership. But ... we need to achieve the critical mass of engaged Australians and ideally non-critical mass media to make it happen and make it a political imperative. The ALP has committed to putting the Republic question to the Australian people which is a great start.
We don't know if the current PM - and he's a friend of mine, he was my rugby coach, and I like him, I get on well with him, we have never agreed politically - but I don't know if Mr Abbott will be there ten days, ten months or ten years. I wish him well.
But you know, I do believe that he will be our last Monarchist Prime Minister. Not definitely, but most likely. And after that, we'll hopefully get the stars that will align and we will get an Australian Prime Minister and an Australian Opposition Leader who are both Republicans. And at that point, how wonderful would it be if they go hard at each other on every other thing in politics, but just on this one thing, just on the Republic, how wonderful would it be to see the two of them coming together to say no politics on this one, we will just go forward together.
The other thing we have to get through I think is the celebrity worship of the Royals. You know, it's fine to -well, none of my business. If you want to get into all that stuff, go for your life, go hard. But the point is, it will go on. Don't get that mixed up with the governance of our nation. You know, look at Princess Mary in Denmark, can't read enough about her myself, love it, wonderful woman, came from Tassie. But you know, nothing to do with our governance, and the same - should we become a Republic, the Royals aren't going anywhere, they will still visit us, I would hope, like they do the other 32 Republics that there are in the Commonwealth of nations.
None of these need be disrespectful to the Queen and her family, including the latest additions Prince George and Princess Charlotte. This is not a rejection of them, it's an embrace of the idea that Australia is no longer derivative of another nation dependent on the Government of a motherland far over the seas.
For ultimately, it's not about the Royal Family and their children, it's about our Australian family and our children. In the 21st century it is ludicrous that we still have a system whereby none of our kids will ever be good enough to fill that role because they are not born to that family. I am, you are, we are Australian. We must call it for what it is - not right, simply not fair.
Let's do this. If not us, who? If not now, when? We want not just your goodwill but your active engagement. We want you to join up with the ARM.
We thank you, I salute you. Vive la republique, allons les enfants d'australie, and let's bloody well get going.
STEVE LEWIS: Thank you very much, Peter. You did predict a four
minute standing ovation, sorry to disappoint you.
Thanks very much, Peter FitzSimons, for that
entertaining speech. Under you a republic won't be
dull. Can I ask the first question before we move to
other journalists. How are you going to engage the
young people of today? We have some students from a
local school, Radford College, under your timeframe
they'll be voting on a republic. How are you going to
engage the young people for Australia who nowadays
get their news more so from Buzzfeed than they do
from The Australian, or your esteemed journal, number
one; and how do you counter the argument put by
supporters of- some supporters of a republic that the
pro-republican movement shouldn't move on this issue
until Queen Elizabeth passes away. Please.
PETER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. In response to the question, do you
remember Don Lane the television presenter? And he
was red hot in the 70s, red hot in the 80s, I think in the
early 90s he disappeared to America for 10 years and
then came back and they said what have you been
doing? And he said nothing, didn't say anything for 30
seconds. And in terms of how we are going to engage
that - that little joke didn't work, but I will do my best.
In terms of engaging with the young people, it's a very
good question and it's something- it's a real issue. And I
mentioned Nessa, the wife of the - Nessa Delaney - the
wife of the Irish ambassador, the story of in Ireland,
you know, phone your granny. In Australia, it may be
phone your grandson, and your granddaughters,
because the older-- my dear friend Everill Compton,
who's the leader of the Senior
Citizenssomething-something, with a huge amount
of following up in Brizzy, you know, he reports and I think
it's absolutely true, older Australians, over 65, and I think
Essential Media bore that out, we have huge support among
over 65s and it is a challenge to engage the younger
I have two beautiful kids and one other, and ...
... I am joking, I have three beautiful kids, I'm absolutely
joking. But I talk with them about it, and, you know, I
talk about how to engage them. And I have two
particular nieces that are particularly politically
engaged. And I talk to them about it and they are
republicans, they are devoted republicans but their
number one is climate change. I think the next one is
gay marriage, Indigenous recognition in the
constitution, and that is something whereby I'd love us
to achieve all of those things. But something that we
need the energy of the younger generation.
STEVE LEWIS: Queen Elizabeth, the issue of her- while ever she
PETER FITZSIMONS: I have had discussions with Malcolm Turnbull on this.
And, look, with the great- with the most profound
amount of respect for Her Majesty, we are a sovereign
nation. We are 25 million people strong. We should not
be organising our affairs of how we organise ourselves
in connection with the health of a lady - as grand a
lady, as great a lady as she is - living in a palace in
London. I mean, she gets on with her life, we'll get on
with our life. But we can't- I don't think we should wait
until that point. But at the very least we need to have
everything in order ready to rock and roll come the
time that we do achieve that critical mass. I hope we
achieve that critical mass some time in the next five
years, and I hope Her Majesty lives for 15 years. I don't
want to wait for 15 years; I don't think we should wait.
I think we should be seen to be doing this independent
of what's going on in London. It's about us, it's about
Australia, it's not about Great Britain.
STEVE LEWIS: Thank you.
STEVE LEWIS: Our next question from Eliza Borello.
PETER FITZSIMONS: Hi.
QUESTION: Peter Eliza Borrello from the ABC. Thank you for your
very passionate speech. I just wanted to ask you about
PETER FITZSIMONS: [Interrupts] I can sense a however coming on.
QUESTION: [Laughs] I wanted to ask you about your friend Joe
Hockey's passion for this issue. In 2004 when Mark
Latham wanted to talk about it he said that this is a
distraction, he said we have got ...
PETER FITZSIMONS: Joe did?
QUESTION: ... national security to worry about, we have got issues
about schools and hospitals, and you can say today
national security is definitely front and centre again.
PETER FITZSIMONS: Sure.
QUESTION: We have got unemployment with a six in front of it,
we've also got the compounding issues of possibly a
plebiscite on gay marriage and a referendum on
recognising Indigenous people in the constitution. Why
does Joe Hockey think that now is the time to talk
about this? And if I can be cheeky and ask one more
question, did you ask Malcolm Turnbull ...
PETER FITZSIMONS: I'll go to the first question, come back to the second?
QUESTION: Sure you can answer that, sure.
PETER FITZSIMONS: The first question is you'll have to ask Joe. The answer
to the first question is I can't speak for him. But I think
it would be fair to say I have had many conversations
with Joe about the republic, and as long as I have
known Joe, which is 30 years, well he was- I think in the
modern era it was Paul Keating that really put it on the
agenda, the republic, and so whenever the republic has
come up and I have talked to Joe he has been keen on
the republic. And he's been particularly keen, I think, in
the last four or five years. And so he's very passionate
about it. But I say, you know, he's outdone, frankly by
Christopher Pyne. You can't stop the man. He just kept
going and going and going. He's a fixer, he fixes things.
And I want him to fix the republic. So what was the
next question sorry?
QUESTION: So the second question is obviously we know there are
other outspoken republicans in the Coalition, you
mentioned Christopher Pyne, but obviously also
Malcolm Turnbull. Did you ask either of those men to
participate in the way Joe is, and what did they say
when you asked?
PETER FITZSIMONS: I didn't ask either man. For me, it was obvious that Joe
was the one, because I know his passion for it. I
certainly know Malcolm Turnbull's passion for it, but it
wouldn't be- we have a lot of journalists here, you
wouldn't say hold the front page, Malcolm Turnbull
comes out in favour of the republic. Of course Malcolm
Turnbull's in favour of the republic. But the fact that Joe
Hockey, who is I think the Treasurer, the number two
political power in the land, that he is keen on the
republic. I think that is news worthy, and that is
something that engages the population. And it is
absolutely clear to me that this has to be from the
beginnings a serious bipartisan exercise. It's got to be.
And the Libs and the Nats - maybe not so much the
Nats - but the Coalition is filled with people that are
absolutely passionate for the republic, and it needs to
be made clear to the people that this is not- it would
be just great to have one thing that is separate from
party politics, one thing that's separate from Murdoch
and Fairfax, and the na na na na na na na na na, that
we all just get behind it. Are you with us?
STEVE LEWIS: Next question from ...
PETER FITZSIMONS: You can ask me, why can't I ask you?
STEVE LEWIS: Next question from Fleur Anderson.
PETER FITZSIMONS: Yes?
QUESTION: Hello, Fleur Anderson from the Financial Review. You
said earlier that the flag debate is entirely separate to
the republican movement. I noticed that you're
wearing a badge with the Southern Cross on it, and
that also incidentally New Zealand is currently having a
debate about their flag, and that's more about
separating themselves from the perception that they're
somehow another state of Australia.
PETER FITZSIMONS: Yep.
QUESTION: The flag is undeniably wrapped up in our national
identities, and that was one of the things that was a
pitfall in the last debate about the republic. I mean,
how do you think you can go forward and talk about
the flag given that you're a military historian?
PETER FITZSIMONS: Well, I've just got to just- I'm not really a military
historian, I just hang around with them. But look, in
terms of the flag I am also passionate about the flag,
but I have got to be careful of the hats that I'm
wearing. Behind this podium I am with the ARM, when
we talk at the ARM we don't talk about the flag, the
issue is not the flag. I often quote that lovely line from
Jerry Seinfeld when he came to Australia in the year
2000 when he said, I love your flag, Great Britain at
I love that line. But I'm also a director of the board of
Ausflag, but they are separate issues. And I can say in
Ausflag there is no discussion of the republic, and in
the republic there is no discussion of the flag. They are
separate issues and they will be pursued separately.
STEVE LEWIS: Next question from Steph Peatling.
PETER FITZSIMONS: Who called me a figure head in the Herald yesterday.
QUESTION: Well I did say that I thought of calling you the Prince
Phillip of the republican movement, so I think that's a
PETER FITZSIMONS: That will be Sir Prince Phillip to you.
QUESTION: And I should thank you for your ...
... I should thank you for your passionate speech, it
made me feel very ashamed of my five-year-old self
with her seven carefully curated scrap books of
Princess Diana's wedding. Which is still in my mother's
But I just wanted to touch on a point that Eliza raised.
She mentioned that we are also facing the issue of a
plebiscite on same-sex marriage, also a referendum on
constitutional recognition, at some point in the next
five years, your timeframe that you have outlined, we'll
also have I imagine two Federal polls in that time. A
plebiscite, which I think is what you are advocating first
on a republic, would be potentially five polls in five
years. I'm just wondering if you think the Australian
public has the appetite for dealing with that much
change that quickly, and how you put the republic at
the forefront of those issues?
PETER FITZSIMONS: I tend to have one rule: I don't say words that I can't
spell. But I do know what a plebiscite is, thank you. But
yeah, I prefer to use just a question put to the
Australian people, and the answer is on the Indigenous
recognition the ARM is on the record, we certainly
support that. But as we will all appreciate, it is a fairly
long process, the democratic process that we are
engaged in, in the issue of Indigenous recognition in
the constitution. That process is a fair way down the
track and it has the support of the Prime Minister, and
good on him and good luck to him for giving his
support, and I applaud him for giving that support.
So we, the republican movement, to become a
republic, we are further back in that process, but we
certainly support Indigenous recognition. I think on
same-sex marriage I don't think we have a position. But
generally, but generally, as an organisation, we are all
in favour of the 21st century. And I personally am very
in favour of it.
STEVE LEWIS: Joe Kelly.
QUESTION: Joe Kelly with The Australian, Mr FitzSimons.
PETER FITZSIMONS: I love The Australian.
QUESTION: Oh, good. Me too.
PETER FITZSIMONS: You and I will have a little hug together at the end of
this to show the Fairfaxs and Murdochs we're together
on this brother.
QUESTION: I'm looking forward to it.
I just wanted to ask about I guess the approach of
whoever the Prime Minister is in relation to this. Do
you need a Prime Minister in favour of a republic to
succeed in this? Obviously Tony Abbott, a famous
constitutional monarchist, he may win the next
election, how do you think that might affect your plan?
Are you worried about that?
PETER FITZSIMONS: I'm reluctant to say that with him winning the next
election it will put us back, because we don't take a
party political position on it whatsoever.
But yes, If he-
but with Tony Abbott, I don't know. As I say, I like him,
we have always got on well, we have argued about
politics for 30 years, and so I don't agree with him on
so much of his politics. But my point on Tony Abbott is
that, as I said, he'll be there 10 days, 10 months or 10
years, and I wish him well. But yes, we do need to get
this over the line- if Tony Abbott is there for 10 years
we won't get this over the line. But I say it, I wish- you
know, no but I- I just see you reaching, I'll just add one
No no, I- we're not- we take no political position on
Tony Abbott whatsoever. Just the absolute realpolitik,
the reality of the situation is we won't get this over the
line without bipartisan support. And I wish Tony Abbott
well, I hope he stays a long time, good luck to him. But
when we go to bipartisan support, that is when we will
get this over the line.
QUESTION: [Inaudible question].
PETER FITZSIMONS: I don't use words I can't spell.
STEVE LEWIS: We'll quickly move on. Our next question is from Max
QUESTION: Max Blenkin from Australian Associated Press, Mr
PETER FITZSIMONS: Please, that's my father.
QUESTION: I'd just like to ask you a little bit more about your
minimalist model, which I think is even more
minimalist than we considered in 1999. It's one thing
choosing a head of state, what are your thoughts on
how we get rid of one if he turns out to be a dude, or
PETER FITZSIMONS: That would be for the Parliament. If you don't have the
two thirds majority, then you'd have the version of a
no confidence motion. This is where I would say, this is
where I would say, this is where I would say can we get
the constitutional lawyers up here please, quickly,
security, security. And so on that, but it would be a
parliamentary process. It wouldn't be dependant on
one person saying I no longer like that person, but it
would be a yet to be determined parliamentary
process. And that would be when you'd get the serious
legal brains among us, of whom I do not include
myself, to decide the actual process of that.
STEVE LEWIS: Next question from Daniel Hurst.
QUESTION: Thanks very much for your speech, Daniel Hurst from
Guardian Australia, the Australian section of Guardian
which has its origins in Britain. But I take no position on
what you presented to us. I'd like to ask you a specific
question and then a broader question, one is following
up that last question. In your preferred model where
you would need two thirds of Parliament to sign off on
the proposed choice, can you imagine a situation
where Parliament couldn't endorse a proposed person,
there would be some stand-off and how you would
resolve that? And secondly, you mentioned celebrity
worship; what's your assessment of the Australian
people's affinity for the Royal Family and the fact that
there's these periodic visits that seem to get a lot of
PETER FITZSIMONS: it's interesting. Beyond being the president or chair of
the Australian Republican Movement I'm also the
President of the Australian Man Punching Well Above
Their Weight Club. And my wife, Lisa, who you may
know from Channel 9 Today Show, I asked her about
this, I seriously asked her about this whole Princess
Charlotte, Prince George, I just- please explain to me
the fascination that everyone seems to have. And her
answer was instructive to me, which was that the
whole Princess Diana saga was one of the most
compelling stories of our time. It's an amazing story.
And so by her account to me, which helped me
understand it, when Princess Charlotte and when
Prince George, and so when Prince Kate meets the
Duchess of ... Cambridge, Cambridge, Kate Middleton,
it's a great story. And it's the next chapter in that
And so I think a lot of the stuff with the Royal Family is
like that, that everything that happens in the Royal
Family, it's a story well known and beloved by lots and
lots of people. And I say good luck to it. I hope the
Women's Weekly and Woman's Day continues to do
you will of that stuff. All I say is that we Australians
shouldn't get that mixed up, that celebrity following,
with our governance, the way we run our show.
In terms of the first question, the same answer as
before; that is a question of the serious constitutional-
we will sort that. I suppose the headline can read
FitzSimons flubs test on constitutional test, you're
damn right I do. It is not my strong point. But we do
have among our ranks serious lawyers, and we will sort
that out. And it's certainly not for me to put forward
this is the process we're going to do. That will be one
that will be worked out, worked out by the conference,
the Parliament, the people. We will sort out how to do
it. I'm doing the broad brush strokes, not the fine
detail. I have never been a man for fine detail apart
from my books.
STEVE LEWIS: Got a question from Matthew Knott, who I might add is
the winner of this year's Wally Brown Young Press
Gallery Journalist of the Year.
PETER FITZSIMONS: What's his first name? What his [indistinct]?
STEVE LEWIS: [Indistinct]
QUESTION: Hi Peter. Matt Knott from Sydney Morning Herald.
PETER FITZSIMONS: [Interrupts] Oh the Matt Knott, nice to meet you.
QUESTION: There are others of us out there. You're obviously a
very forward looking person who's passionate about
the future but I was wondering if you could take a bit
of a look back over the past 15 years. Many polls have
shown support going backwards for the republic.
What- tell us a bit more about what have Republicans
done wrong in the way they've been communicating
the cause to people who aren't really persuaded by it?
PETER FITZSIMONS: I think that 1999 there were so many of us - we're just
about there, we're just about there, we're just about
over the top of the hill, we can see the promised land
from here. We just fell flat on our face and it took
some time to pick ourselves up, to get ourselves going.
Professor John Warhurst is here who kept the
movement alive through the wilderness years and for
which we thank him.
But it was difficult for Republicans in the last 15 years,
but you know, we always said we'd wait a generation.
And I think we're at that point now. And so it's
wonderful. I mean, the person that preceded me, the
former Premier of Western Australia, Geoff Gallop, and
David Morris, the former executive director, they did a
wonderful job keeping the show on the road.
And all republicans - and I've been contacted by
republicans from around the nation - saying you know,
good luck, go hard, we're going to give it another a go.
And my message back to them is thank you, we are
putting the band back together, we are going to have
another go at this. And this time we will learn by the
errors that we made last time. And the key error I think
that we made last time was disunity. Like one way or
tother(*), we- those who are for direct election and
those for the minimalist model, we just have to get
together, accept that your system can fly, my system
can fly, our system can fly, one way or another decide
between us, get united.
But the question is, too, at the last time, you know,
this time we want the question to be put to the
Australian people to say are you in favour of this? Yay
or nay. We will get a yay. Does anybody doubt that we
are going to get a yay? We're going to get 51 per cent
of the people to say we can have an Australian Head of
State. You know, I think the essential media put it at I
think 57 per cent before the campaign's even begun.
We are going to get a yay. So from the moment that
we get a yay then we move forward to sort out the
model that we want. Luca Belgiornio-Nettis who's the
great proponent of the idea of you get a people's
assembly, you get people from the common walks of
life, that's a possibility. I think they did it in Oregon,
they've done in in Ireland, have they not, Your
Excellency? You know, that work. There's all kinds of
plans of how we could do this.
But the central thing is to decide among us yes, we
want to be a republic, then we'll sort out how we are
going to do it and then we'll get to the actual
technicalities of actual precise details. Are you with us,
Matthew? Let me hear you say hey.
PETER FITZSIMONS: Oh no, no opinion. I think journalists can have an
opinion because it's not a party political matter, you
see, any more, so it's just, you know it's not a thing - I
think you can- I'll sign you up before the end with our
friend from The Australian.
STEVE LEWIS: Fairfax is obviously a very broad church. I mentioned
before we had some young students from Radford
College. We've got a question from one of them now,
from Howard Palmer.
QUESTION: Yep. Hello. I'm Howard Palmer, a student at Radford
College in Bruce. My question, I was actually going to
ask about how you look to get the youth involved in
discussion, but that was asked earlier, so I'm a bit
flustered. But you talked about the- how it's been
inevitable for a long time and you talked about how
Cathy Freeman, and with the amount of time, it's more
like a Steven Bradbury situation, but my question
would be you talk about in the next five years, you look
to have a vote or whatever, but in the next two to
three years, so what are you sort of more immediate
goals for the ARM?
PETER FITZSIMONS: My serious immediate goal is to ask you. You're a
young person, you're interested, you're politically
aware. Can I ask you seriously, you've got the mic ...
QUESTION: [Interrupts] Yep.
PETER FITZSIMONS: ... the nation's listening. How should we engage your
QUESTION: Well, I think obviously social media is a big- everyone's
on social media. I've noticed that - I'm a fan of the ARM
on Facebook, I liked their page. I noticed that I've got
four other people liking the page. But I think the main
problem is that it's just- your presence is big, more big
at the moment, but in terms of- oh, sorry, I'm...
PETER FITZSIMONS: That's all right. We'll come back to you afterwards.
Just- I'll tell you what, we're all forgiven. Just sign up
and we are done.
PETER FITZSIMONS: And sign them up on Facebook, thank you very much
for the question.
STEVE LEWIS: Our next question is coming from Ken Randall.
QUESTION: Ken Randall, Peter, from iSentia. You put it fairly briefly
a moment ago about after the plebiscite, I don't think
many people would doubt your view about the
outcome of the plebiscite - but how do you approach
that next stage? That's what killed it last time just as
much as fracturing.
PETER FITZSIMONS: And that will be determined. I mean, basically when
you put an Opposition Leader and a Prime Minister
together that agree on that and that will be something
we will advise on, but it will be something like a
constitutional convention, a la last time or a people's
forum or combination of the two where you put
together parliamentarians with people from all walks
of life. And you have a process of engagement - and
you look at the way the Kiwis have done it with the
flag, sorting out the way they have come up with their
40 flags. Some process of a democratic engagement
whereby we come up with the model and we choose
the model. But the thing is, I think from the moment
we get the people to say yes, over 51 per cent of us,
yes over 51 per cent of us want to be a republic, then I
think the next part will start to take care of itself, but
certainly a la Kathy Freeman again, who I seem to be
referring to, we will have a lot of work to do, to get to
sort it out and to get unified. So one thing I would like
to do, Phil Cleary, Ted Mac, Mr Mac, I want to come
and see you and I want to talk to you about- Ted Mac
was wonderful, so Ted Mac in the late 80s, so was Phil
Cleary. But this- but both they were direct model
people and one way or another we have to work out
between us that we get unified behind a particular
model that we think will fly.
STEVE LEWIS: Next question from Maurice Riley.
QUESTION: Thank you, Peter, it was a great speech and one of the
finest I've seen.
PETER FITZSIMONS: [Talks over] Thank you, thank you.
QUESTION: So congratulations. My question is do you think the
Wallabies will win the Bledisloe?
PETER FITZSIMONS: Well, we lost the Bledisloe.
QUESTION: Yeah sorry. Do you think they'll ever win it again?
Versus what will happen first, the republic or the
other? I'm not sure time permits, but what would you
do to make the Wallabies beat our good friends in NZ?
PETER FITZSIMONS: Well, I refer to John Eales, the former Wallaby captain,
who was the captain of the Wallabies in 1999, when
you were there for the World Cup win. And John
famously said to the Queen- no, not to the Queen of
England, but in the lead-up, he said we are going to
stuff them on the field and stuff them at the ballot box.
And they were, you know, Eales comes out for the
republic and all the rest.
So in the end, alright, are the Wallabies going to win
this World Cup? I'm very reluctant to say, because at
the Sydney Morning Herald they call me the kiss of
death. If I predict a team will win - and it doesn't apply
to politics, I pick my political issues better - but if I
predict the Wallabies will win they tend to lose.
But I say this, Bob Dwyer, my erstwhile rugby coach,
and I think Alan Jones, one of the few things that those
two agree on- or that I agree with Alan Jones on,
anyway. He has said that you need to win a World Cup
you need world class players in five positions. Okay.
You've got to have the best player in the world in five
of your 15 positions.
I would name David Pocock, Stephen Moore, so
there's two right there. I think Israel Folau on a good
day, and I know like he's just a fabulous player to
watch, so you've got three- Adam Ashley-Cooper is
four. And then I note that he's picked Quade Cooper,
and Quade Cooper - on his day - is the best player in
the world. He's just fantastic. It's the other nine times
out of ten that are not as... but if you had players like
that together, you could really do it.
I might say, I'll just take a quick segue, often if I speak
in places that are not rugby followers, and I'm speaking
around Australia, my recent passion, and it's sort of a
little bit applies to the rugby- republic, is Aussie Rules. I
have come to the conclusion it is the quintessential
Australian game because they talk about embodying
our greatest values. They talk about Aussie rules - as
far as I can see there are no rules to speak of - and you
know, whatever rules they are most people seem to
ignore. Every other sport in the world, there is endless
spooling back and forth - did he put his foot in, did he
put his foot back out?
I love it in an Aussie Rules Grand Final, the bloke tears
along the boundary, ball in the right hand, ball in the
left hand, foot in, foot out, close enoughs good enough
mate, just keep going. There are 36 football codes in
the world. Thirty-five of them have an offside rule.
There is only one football code in the world with no
offside rule - you're an Australian, mate, go where you
damn well please.
But the best of it is the scoring system. They have the
two big polls in the middle, the two little polls outside,
and if you go for goal and you get it, you bloody
beauty. Six points. And if you miss, oh, well, you had a
go, take a point. The only sport in the world where you
get a point just for having a go. That, my friends, is
what we are going to do at the Australian Republican
Movement. We are going to have a go and you're going
to join us. Roll tape. Thank you.
STEVE LEWIS: I know you'd like to finish on a high note, but final
question if I may Sir. Three hundred ...
No no, [indistinct] come on you played- how many
tests did you play?
PETER FITZSIMONS: David Campese and I played 108 tests between us.
STEVE LEWIS: He never got sent off. Final question, 300 kilometres
away today there's a National Reform Summit, a lot of
senior business people meeting with a lot of senior
political people, et cetera, trying to nut out some
reforms for the nation. You've cited a lot of sports
people, a lot of political figures in your speech, you
haven't cited any business figures that I can recall. Do
you reckon the captains of industry, the captains of
Australian industry are behind the republic? They're
traditionally conservative, do they see any merit in
backing a republic? Or do you think they're basically
going to be monarchists?
PETER FITZSIMONS: I have talked to quite a few, and I'm just wondering if I
can quote this fellow, so I think I will.
I think I will. Twiggy Forrest. I talked to him the other
day about it, and he basically said I'm with you. He said
- I won't do the full quote, but he's certainly somebody
who's an absolute standout. I believe Gail Kelly is very
strong on the ground. John O'Neill, who is the former
boss of just about everything as far as I could see, John
O'Neill is a very strong republican. We got- yeah, we
got quite a few business people who are republicans,
and we've got- I had a meeting the other day with Talal
... where's Tim ... what's Talal's ...
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Yassine.
PETER FITZSIMONS: Yassine. I knew that, just checking to see if you knew.
And he is going to host wonderful- from Crescent
Finance, and he is going to host for us a serious of
lunches. And yeah, we are getting a great interest from
the business community. And I think that will grow.
STEVE LEWIS: We might conclude on that note.
PETER FITZSIMONS: Okay. Thank you. Thank you. Thanks very much.