Talk by the Hon. Peter Dutton MP, Minister for Immigration To the Australian Monarchist League

A talk to the Australian Monarchist League by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton MP

Good evening distinguished guests, ladies and gentleman. It is a pleasure to be among friends and to speak to you this evening about a subject each of us holds close to our hearts. I must begin by thanking The Australian Monarchist League for inviting me to deliver tonight’s address. It is a privilege to spend time breaking bread with fellow Monarchists, before next week returning to the rough and tumble of Parliamentary sittings.The Australian Monarchist League has for many years made an outstanding contribution to national debate. The League continues to play an important role in upholding our Constitution and defending our flag. The Crown represents all Australians, and this is fittingly reflected in the breadth and depth of the Monarchist movement. Diversity makes us stronger, as we draw support from the young to the old and from every corner of Australian society. We stand together as defenders of the Constitution and of the traditions and institutions which have made Australia’s story one of great success. Our ideals remain as relevant today as at any time in our history. As the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, I have pondered that in some senses the story of immigration and the story of constitutional monarchy in Australia are inextricably intertwined. The forefathers of modern Australia, from the earliest immigrant settlers to the drafters of our Constitution, understood and respected the value of the strong institutions which had been developed in Britain.  They appreciated their vital utility in giving form to a new society in a distant and unforgiving land. The Crown and her conventions, values and traditions have served as the bedrock of our communities from the first days of European settlement.  The Australian nation was born when in 1901 the colonies came together as one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown. Australia itself has never been a colony of Britain.   Australia is a young country, but we inherited at the outset a system of government which has been refined and reformed through centuries of constitutional practice. We are the beneficiaries of the vast accumulated knowledge and experience embodied in the Westminster System of Parliamentary democracy. The drafters of the Constitution, statesman and esteemed legal minds, worked from this most fundamental of bases and drew together innovations from across the globe. These founding fathers crafted a uniquely Australian document which has stood the test of time and served our people well. On this foundation we have together built a prosperous, compassionate and free nation of which all Australians can and should be proud. The integrity and durability of our institutions in a volatile world is demonstrated by the fact that Australia, despite her relative youth, stands as the world’s sixth-oldest continuous democracy. I strongly believe that our political stability and extraordinary prosperity have been made possible by our robust constitutional foundations. The checks and balances inherent in our Westminster Democracy, including an apolitical Head of State, have kept our Governments responsible and accountable and our people free. Despite Australia’s outstanding successes, the chattering classes are again attempting to build momentum for a renewed republic push. Once again they are misreading the mood of the Australian people and once again they will fail. A pirate from Fairfax exclaims that not only is a referendum necessary, but that is a matter of the highest urgency. Some overzealous republicans frame their arguments as if Australians are in some way being grievously oppressed by Her Majesty and her corgis. There seems to be a concerted fake it until you make it strategy to hype a movement into existence. The failed arguments of the past are being retreaded for the present. Australians are being lectured to that we are somehow not free and that we are somehow a second class nation. Australians are also being told that they do not have their own national identity.  This is all, of course, absurd. Republicans fail to grasp that much has changed since our days as a collection of British colonies, and that for many years we have stood sure-footed and independently on the world stage. From the days of Billy Hughes representing Australia at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference to last year Julie Bishop representing Australia on the UN Security Council, we are absolutely confident about our place in the world. Landmark legal and political events such as the 1942 adoption of the Statute of Westminster through to the passing of the Australia Act in 1986 have dramatically reshaped our relationship with the mother country. There is no ambiguity about our right to self-determination. The Queen is the Queen of Australia and a part of our Constitution. Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove, an Australian, is our Executive Head of State. Gone are the days of appeals to the Privy Council in London, gone is the ability for Westminster to legislate for our affairs. There is no risk of David Cameron or the Queen one day turning up and seizing control of Canberra. The contention that in 2016 Australia lacks unity or a national identity is a perplexing one and I cannot fathom how it has many advocates. The Australian national identity is one forged in the fires of war, beaten by the sun, given shape by a century of migration and economic development and held together by shared values. Another republic debate will do nothing for unity and will only divide us. Despite the apparent urgency of the situation, republicans have yet to put together any formal referendum proposal. Specific detail of how exactly they wish to tamper with our founding documents remains hard to come by. History teaches us that when the republican movement is required to transition from vague notions to actual plans, the wheels very quickly come off the Presidential bandwagon. Removing Monarchy from the Constitution is not some mere administrative edit and means far more than simply cutting and pasting in a Microsoft Word document. The Monarchy lies at the heart of the Constitution, especially with regard to unwritten conventions. It is arguable that the extrication of the Crown would result in a document so radically different as to render it an almost entirely new Constitution. What practical and legal implications such a dramatic shift would cause is entirely unpredictable and potentially disastrous. Working through the impact on reserve powers alone would doubtless keep the High Court occupied for years. Despite the best intentions of republicans, negative unintended consequences are almost guaranteed to arise. It is clear to all, including seasoned republicans, that this latest republic push does not have the backing of the Australian people. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who led the republican movement into the 1999 referendum, has made it clear that he has no desire to lead this charge and that there are much more pressing issues facing our nation. Bill Shorten and the Labor Party have, however, stated that a move to a republic is for them a priority issue. “It’s time,” they tell us, rhetorically reliving the battles of the 1970s. It’s a republic by 2025 or bust. The ALP has even dedicated a section of their website to an Australian republic. In true Labor fashion, the page informs Australians they should support a republic because politicians think it would be good for them. The question has to be asked of republicans as to what it is they believe this wholly unnecessary change will actually achieve. Some academics and legislators might feel good about themselves, but how will our lives be better under the FitzSimons or Shorten republic? A republic will do nothing to address the significant challenges that face our nation. A republic will not bring down debt or reduce the deficit. A republic will not foster growth or create jobs. It will do nothing to address indigenous disadvantage or educate our children. It will do nothing to keep our nation safe from the rising threat of Islamic extremism. Moving from our sound constitutional footing to the unknown of a republic is nothing but a gratuitously divisive distraction from the real work of Government. Australians, rightly, fail to see any compelling case for constitutional change. We are not buying what the republicans are selling. While there may be fervent support for a republic in sections of the commentariat and by some inside State Circle, there is no widespread support for change within the Australian community. The Prime Minister has stated that he believes this top-down form of republic campaign will not work and that any referendum today would be doomed to failure. Having politicians and academics sign open letters is mere grandstanding and is no substitute for genuine grassroots support. Stating ad nauseam that Australians want a republic does not make it true. The fact of the matter is that support for the Crown is today at its highest level in decades. Research conducted last year by the Australian National University found that the percentage of Australians who strongly favour retaining the Queen as Head of State is significantly higher now than at any time since 1993. While interest in the Monarchy continues to grow, support for a republic has fallen steadily since peaking in 1998. Public polling also consistently shows, to the bewilderment of republicans and the left of politics, that Young Australians are today among the strongest supporters of the Monarchy. Given all that has in the past been presumed about the political tendencies of young people, it speaks volumes about the state of the debate that they have become the most passionate adherents to tradition. The children of the Howard era have come of age as defenders of the Crown. These demographic changes will shape the republic debate in this country for decades to come. It is remarkable that half of the Australian Monarchist League’s Members are today under the age of 40. It is heartening to see that so many of these young members have taken an active role in the organisation, acting as spokespeople and holding leadership positions. The responsibility falls to all of us to educate our nation’s youth on the importance of the Crown. Engagement with young people will secure the future of the League, the broader Monarchist movement and, ultimately, the Constitution. Politically active young Australians have been attracted to the Monarchist cause by reverence for the Queen, for the constitution and our history. Young people who are less politically engaged have in recent years become enthralled by the stories of young Royals, such as the Duke and Dutchess of Cambridge. The Monarchy as an institution is inherently blessed with a unique combination of continuity and renewal. This quality has allowed her to continue to capture the hearts and minds of successive generations of Australians. In a sense, each generation has had its own Kate and Wills. The Queen has given comforting continuity and ballast to civic life for many decades. During Her Majesty’s reign, she has seen the rise of 12 UK Prime Ministers and 15 Australian Prime Ministers. Her first were those giants of conservative politics Sir Winston Churchill and Sir Robert Menzies. No Australian under the age of 60 has known any Monarch other than Queen Elizabeth the Second. The Queen’s reign will one day end and Australians will have a new Monarch. It will be a profoundly sad time for us all, but also a new beginning. It will represent the next chapter in the history of Australia’s Monarchy. While the individual that reigns as King or Queen is deeply revered in our society, the survival of the institution should not hinge on the identity of the sovereign. I don’t believe it does. It is senseless that that the succession of the Throne should cause Australians to frantically tear up our Constitution. We are often told that a republic is unavoidable and that Monarchists are merely delaying the inevitable. I disagree. There is no reason to believe the benefits of change will ever outweigh the costs. As we face the challenges that lie ahead we must remember a few simple truths. Republican campaigns will only ever be symbolic indulgences. They will never offer real benefits to everyday Australians and will continue to wilt under the spotlight of scrutiny. Monarchists have on our side a century of demonstrated security and prosperity under the Crown. History has made our existing institutions stronger, not weaker. By all measures we are on the side of right and we are doing what is right for Australia. We have every reason to be confident in our arguments and our beliefs. We have every reason to be confident in our Crown. God save the Queen, thank you and good night.