Australian Economy

Republic referendum a reckless economic waste

Since June 1, Matt Thistlethwaite has served as Assistant Minister for ‘the’ Republic. (What republic?) One month since his appointment, Prime Minister Albanese still has not explained to Australian taxpayers why they are funding this fantastical exercise in political overreach.

In late June, when I met with Mr Thistlethwaite in my capacity as an executive of the Australian Monarchist League, I put to him a frank question:

‘Mr Thistlethwaite, have you considered the disadvantageous economic ramifications an Australian republic would incur, and, if you have, will you and the government communicate your understanding of these to the Australian people in a transparent manner?’

Australia’s republicans are adept at championing emotional, pseudo-moral arguments to aid their cause. They suggest that a republic will finally bring about ‘one of us’ for Australia’s Head of State, whatever that means, and that a republic will help us atone for our historical relationship with Indigenous Australians. The poster boy for such claims might be Australian Greens leader Adam Bandt, who recently refused to stand in front of the ‘very hurtful’ Australian National Flag – all the while promoting the virtues of becoming a republic.

Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe then backed up her boss by referring to Her Majesty as ‘the colonising Queen’, despite the fact that Elizabeth II’s closest actual brush with colonisation seems to me to have been Her tuning in for Neil Armstrong’s stroll on the Moon.

I would be very interested to watch Mr Bandt and Senator Thorpe react to a reading of George III’s 1787 instructions to Arthur Philip:

‘You are to endeavour by every possible means to open an Intercourse with the Natives and to conciliate their affections, enjoining all Our Subjects to live in amity and kindness with them. And if any of Our Subjects shall wantonly destroy them, or give them any unnecessary Interruption in the exercise of their several occupations. It is our Will and Pleasure that you do cause such offenders to be brought to punishment according to the degree of the Offence.’

For all the time activists spend reinventing history and manipulating the heartstrings of innocent Australians, republicans seldom traverse beyond the theoretical. They never discuss the practical implications of their ideas because they know that such discussions would confront them with several stark realities, one of which is that the cost of a republic is to Australia’s economic detriment.

Recently appointed Dean of Cambridge Judge Business School, Professor Mauro F. Guillén, has spent years comparing the economies of monarchies to the economies of republics. His 2018 research, conducted during his tenure as Zandman Professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, was astronomical in its conclusions.

Guillén discovered, conclusively, that the economies of optimised constitutional monarchies, such as our own here in Australia, vastly outperform their republican rivals.

Constitutional monarchies, Guillén found, protect property rights. Property rights, he says, can be undermined in the following ways:

  1. When internal social or political conflict takes place within a nation;
  2. When politicians, attached to their authority, remain in power for excessive periods; and
  3. When constitutional and judicial checks and balances erode.

After surveying history and crunching the numbers, Guillén resolved that, on all three counts, constitutional monarchies better protect property rights than republics. Constitutional monarchies significantly reduce national internal instability, whereas republics do not. We need only consider the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, the totalitarian leadership of Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping, and the catastrophic social divisions currently plaguing the French Republic to understand the accuracy of Guillén’s observation and its inherent economic consequences.

Constitutional monarchies also ensure that politicians observe their stipulated term lengths and behave in accordance with their nations’ Constitution and laws. A constitutional monarchy provides an ultimate authority, the Crown, to which politicians and their ambitions are subservient. It may not surprise you to learn that many politicians are deeply dissatisfied with such an arrangement!

Guillén also notes that monarchies are ‘much better than republics at navigating periods of uncertainty’. Here, he references Britain’s then-encumbered withdrawal from the European Union. An Australian comparison could easily be the constitutional crisis of 1975, which the Crown by way of the Governor-General resolved with alacrity, thus preventing the Commonwealth’s economy from destabilising further.

In light of Guillen’s empirical research, it seems to me that Treasurer Jim Chalmers must, for no other reason than ensuring Australia’s economic future, support retaining Australia’s Crown and current constitutional arrangements. We are, after all, still navigating the economic aftermath of the Covid pandemic. Interest rates are rising, the cost of living is inflating, and a recession seems destined to strike sooner rather than later.

But, of course, these are only issues for the hardworking Australian taxpayer. Elitist republicans can more often than not simply hold up in their ivory towers of wealth.

The same hardworking Australian taxpayer, uninterested in the machinations of his politicians, is also expected to foot the republicans’ bill. The even franker question I should have put to Mr Thistlethwaite is:

‘How much would an Australian republic cost?’

To actually try and answer this question, we need to start at costing the referendum. The 1999 referendum cost, in 1999, $66.8 million; more recently, the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey 2017 cost, in 2017, $80.5 million. Adjusted for inflation, these figures increase to approximately $115 million and $84 million respectively.

As the Albanese government has not yet endorsed a republican model – yes, that’s right, taxpayers are funding an office that doesn’t even have a concrete agenda – I can only base my estimates upon the model proposed by the Australian Republican Movement in January, the Australian Choice Model. (I took this model to town in April.) The model involves popular elections for a head of state, to be conducted every five years.

The 2019 federal election cost $372.5 million, as opposed to the 2016 double dissolution which only three years earlier cost $286.6 million. We still do not know the cost of the 2022 federal election, although the Australian Electoral Commission predicted in 2021 that the cost would exceed $400 million.

The Australian Choice Model specifies that in certain circumstances more than one election for Head of State could be conducted in a single term. It also empowers each parliament to ‘develop their own nomination methods to determine their nominee(s)’. With such licence, there seems to me no reason why parliaments could not send out $80.5 million postal surveys to confirm public support for their nominations. Thus, these two additional provisions of the model have the potential to dramatically increase a republic’s recurring expenses.

In any case, that’s more than $500 million in the first five years, and that figure excludes the millions in Commonwealth funding allocated to the respective Yes and No campaigns. Indeed, Mr Thistlethwaite has assured me that, like 1999, the No campaign shall receive funding.

All this is fiscally insignificant compared to the cost of transforming our constitutional monarchy into a republic. To start with, we would no longer have the Royal Australian Air Force, or Her Majesty’s Australian Ship. The administrative revisions to the defence forces alone would be sizeable.

The Royal Australian Mint would need to recall and suitably replace all coins and five-dollar notes in circulation, for The Queen appears on all their obverses. Who might we replace Her Majesty’s dignity with? Adam Bandt? Lidia Thorpe?

Similarly, any street, park, or building championing a royal name would need to be retitled. After all, we couldn’t exactly have a place called Queensland in the United States of Australia, could we?

Do not for one moment think that the Australian National Flag with its Union Jack would escape the republican agenda. Republicans have about as much respect for our Anzacs as I have for the Australian Greens. Activists are hungrily waiting in the wings…

A republic would fundamentally alienate us from the Australia we know and cherish. To facilitate a republic with any hope of success – not that history reports many truly prosperous and democratic republics – Australia would need to be totally redesigned. The alternative is a half-republic, a conceptually and aesthetically incomplete republic that nobody believes in. Such things can and do happen; the French have had fourteen separate constitutions since 1789 for a reason.

In the final analysis, a republic would cost billions and billions of taxpayer dollars. Tell that to Greater Sydney’s poor flood victims, who right now know that billions and billions of taxpayer dollars would be better spent on disaster prevention.

Prime Minister Albanese, how can you support such reckless waste? A republic is so far removed from the real problems Australia contends with today.

To his credit, Matt Thistlethwaite did answer my question with equal frankness. He told me that the Albanese government is committed to nation-building, and to ensuring the wellbeing of the Australian people. I can only interpret his response as another politician asking for trust and permission to spend taxpayers’ hard-earned money – at a time when there’s not much loose change to go around.

It seems to me that Australians crave honesty and authenticity amidst our current political climate. The Australian Monarchist League cuts through the noise to present you with the simple facts. If you’ve enjoyed this analysis and want to start actively defending our Crown, Constitution, and freedoms, please consider joining the League today:

Alexander Voltz is a composer and Spokesperson for the Australian Monarchist League. 

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