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The Commonwealth Secretary General’s ruling

  In the meantime, Professor Flint had written  to the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku. His Excellency replied on 18 May 1999. The Commonwealth Secretariat approved ACM releasing his letter, provided the text were published in full.

It reads: “Thank you for your letter of 11 May 1999 which I saw on my return from overseas travel.“You are right in your understanding of the procedures within the Commonwealth when a country changes its constitutional status to that of a republic. On being notified of the change by the government concerned and in the light of an express wish to continue Commonwealth membership, I would then contact all other Commonwealth countries seeking their concurrence for the change. In the normal course of events, this process is not more than a formality, and was most recently followed when Mauritius became a republic on 12 March 1992.”

When Professor Flint released this he said that if Australia were to become a republic, it  would be outrageous if our continuing membership were put in issue. He said that would be condemned by all Australians.But he warned that  were Australia to become a republic, some groups in Australia might lobby other Commonwealth members. They already do so in other international bodies. They could argue that our policies were in breach of Commonwealth principles. “What would happen is impossible to predict,” he said.

 “Let us hope any change did not coincide with similar diplomatic incidents to those where an Australian prime minister once called a Commonwealth prime minister "recalcitrant" or its legal procedures "barbaric", as happened under two previous governments.”  He pointed out that our presence in the important forum for European-Asia economic issues, ASEM, had been  denied by the veto of just one country. The last summit, held in London on 3-4 April 1998, was chaired by  Tony Blair, the United Kingdom Prime Minister and then president of the European Union Council. It brought together the 15 European Union States, the European Union Commission, the seven ASEAN countries (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam), as well as the People's Republic of China, Japan and Korea. 

Professor Flint said it was an important meeting; the second in a series. Australia wanted to be there and should have been there. Our presence was desired by all the other 25 states – except one. We were vetoed. Lest it be thought this is of no importance, the summit itself confirmed the importance of the Europe-Asia partnership. It approved a number of initiatives taken since the first summit in Bangkok. And it laid the foundations for ASEM's future development. Two separate statements were adopted, one of which concerned the financial and economic crisis affecting several Asian countries.The statement on the crisis in Asia stressed the parties' interest in restoring economic stability and the need for swift implementation of reforms in the countries affected.The final overall statement covered the development of political dialogue on important regional issues such as Cambodia, Korea, and the EU enlargement.

All of these issues were of great and continuing concern to Australia. He said we should have had an input. And would have, but for one country's veto. Malaysia decided that we should not be there.

Professor Flint warned that in recent years Australia has been disappointed in some of its plans for our role in international forums — quite often after the holding out by well-known ARM supporters that we would be successful. One was in relation to the secretary-generalship of the Commonwealth itself, the other our candidature for a seat on the Security Council.

He said the ARM and its supporters were well aware that Australia does not have the enormous resources of other countries (and groups of countries) to buy international influence. Nor does it have superpower clout.

As an old western democracy – actually multiracial, tolerant and welcoming – it is too frequently portrayed as insular, intolerant and racist, even by elements within Australia. It is an easier target for international busybodies than those countries with authoritarian governments, indifferent to human rights, where an increasingly intolerant monoculturalism prevails.

Our membership of the Commonwealth, he said , is precious. It is a club in which we play – and have since its foundation always played – a significant role with countries which are particularly close to us. It allows us to compete in the Commonwealth Games. Professor Flint said that  rather than denying the existence of the documented Commonwealth convention that when a realm becomes a republic all other members must agree to its continuing membership, the ARM should be investigating how best to ensure this agreement.

After all, he said, it is the ARM that is proposing change. The onus is on the proponents of such change both to demonstrate and assure Australians that it will be as simple as they claim and that there will be no unexpected results.



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