Observing the mainly republican throng in the Great Hall pushing themselves forward to greet their Queen and her consort, Christopher Pearson, elegantly replendent in an Edwardian waiscoat, reflected on the continuing republicanism of the commentariat.
The scene reminded me of a dinner in the same Great Hall on her last visit when three of her former Prime Ministers rushed from their table at the front to pay her obeisance as she returned from the rostrum.
" I thought," each of them had vigorously campaigned against her in the referendum
Beware. As we so often warn you here, never ever stand between republicans and royalty. Otherwise you will be knocked over in the rush.
...sophisticated constitution not appreciated...
Christopher Pearson says that The Australian's Paul Kelly, "in common with almost everyone in theCanberra press gallery, can't quite come to terms with is that the existing Constitution is a very sophisticated instrument, despite having been drawn up in the days of the horse and buggy."
(The Australian ("Republic case overtaken by plethora of trendy concerns,
"It's all very well,"
he says " to talk about just making up our minds to make the change to a republic, but until there's clarity and broad agreement about a preferred model, it's always going to look to prudent majorities like an invitation to sign a blank cheque."
"The Keating-Turnbull model on offer in 1999 was described at the time as a conservative model."
" Even so, as David Flint pointed out on Thursday: `It would have been the only republic in which the prime minister could sack the president without notice, without reasons and without any effective appeal.' It would have `vastly increased the powers of the prime minister and the political class'
Republicanism is one of those issues which the middle class and university students to get righteously indignant about, writes Christopher Pearson.
" They are all evanescent and will shortly be replaced by other enthusiasms. In 10 years they will probably look like the strange, fin-de-siecle fad for Christian Science or the preoccupation with the evils of vivisection after World War II," he adds.Why, he asks, did such a head of steam build up over changes to our constitutional arrangements that were not widely understood, even by their most earnest proponents?"
He says this was partly because Paul Keating used the republic to divide the Coalition and partly because to some uninformed people it looked like a modern reform although Australian republicanism was an idea "with whiskers on it - and mutton-chop whiskers at that." It also appealed, he says, to some Liberals as a symbolic gesture that signalled the new spirit of maturity as a nation.
But some of the republicans went overboard. "Who could forget Thomas Keneally likening the Queen to a colostomy bag on the body politic," he asks, confirming the suspicion there's something unbalanced about people who display that sort of hatred.
Another example of intemperate speech in 1999 that springs to Christopher Pearson's mind was Malcolm Turnbull's accusation that through the defeat of the referendum John Howard had broken a nation's heart.
"It was a silly, maudlin thing to say about the failure of a contentious constitutional change; a variation on the theme of `Baby wants, Baby must have'".
"It also set at naught the feelings of all those Australians with an emotional attachment or loyalty to the crown, as though the only acceptable patriotism was the republican kind," Christopher Pearson adds.
...republicans rush royalty...
He had occasion to reflect on Keneally's and Turnbull's remarks at the parliamentary reception for The Queen in the Great Hall," as a (largely republican) crowd of the government's invited guests elbowed and jostled to make sure they were introduced to the Queen."
" I'm delighted to note that Turnbull himself was there and that the atmosphere was festive. It seems true of the whole tour," says Christopher Pearson.
"If there really were broken hearts in 1999, most of them appear by now to have mended."
He says it's to Kelly's credit he recognises not only that the Queen is widely admired but also the reasons: her dignity and sense of duty.
But Kelly, he says, can't resist the temptation to disparage the referendum campaign to preserve the crown.
"The 'no' case was a grand fraud: it became a popular protest because the president was not elected by the people. The story in 1999 was that the Queen triumphed off the back of a strange alliance of monarchists and 'direct-elect' republicans who put their preferred republican model before the principle of the republic," he writes.
Christopher Pearson says that Kelly, "in common with almost everyone in the Canberra press gallery, can't quite come to terms with is that the existing Constitution is a very sophisticated instrument, despite having been drawn up in the days of the horse and buggy."
"It's all very well," he says " to talk about just making up our minds to make the change to a republic, but until there's clarity and broad agreement about a preferred model, it's always going to look to prudent majorities like an invitation to sign a blank cheque."
He points out that while the Keating-Turnbull model on offer in 1999 was described at the time as a conservative model, as I had pointed out in The Australian on 27 October, "It would have been the only republic in which the prime minister could sack the president without notice, without reasons and without any effective appeal.' And it would have `vastly increased the powers of the prime minister and the political class'"
The `no' case won, says Christopher Pearson, because the public was persuaded the powers the Queen and the governor-general exclude politicians from exercising are crucial in making Westminster-style democracies work.