With the leaders of both Australian Monarchist groups having questionable records of morality and ethics, David Donovan wonders whether monarchists should be more careful about throwing stones at republicans.
Lately, certain monarchists have launched an unseemly tirade of insult, slander, misrepresentation and mock outrage towards republicans in a seemingly worldwide campaign.
The Monarchist Leagues of Britain, New Zealand and Australia have, over the last six months, called for the resignations of the chairs of the respective Republican Movements in each of their countries. In New Zealand, they used the pretext of an alleged error in fact made by the New Zealand Movement in a Parliamentary submission. In Britain and Australia, they called for the heads’ removal because of remarks they deemed offensive to the royal family that were made by supporters on Republican Movement Facebook pages.
In their latest call, made just a couple of weeks ago on the 28th of January, the BML thundered in a press release:
“The British Monarchist Leagues (BML) Chairman has called on Republics Campaign Manager Graham Smith to immediately resign for his repeated failure to remove offensive and threatening remarks from the groups [sic] Facebook page.
In the latest of a string of disgraceful remarks, one of the groups [sic] frequent users, Jon Brown, has commented that Prince Philip is a racist old fool and that the taxpayer was keeping his inbreds in the lap of luxury. Republic has failed to remove the comments.”
In Britain, it seems, making statements critical of the royals is still a treasonable hanging offence.
These calls for resignations, all made over the last 6 months, hint at an orchestrated global strategy by monarchists to depose the heads of each of the major Republican bodies—a task destined for abject failure.
Looking at Australia in particular, the Australian Monarchist League (AML) has a Facebook page and a Twitter account, both of which are dedicated almost exclusively towards perusing and commenting on Republican Facebook pages or Twitter accounts. Perhaps as a consequence of this totally negative approach – or maybe due to a widespread lack of Australian interest in the monarchy – the AML has few followers on either platform.
Foolishly, they recently decided to allege that the chair of the ARM, the highly decorated 37 year veteran infantryman leader at platoon, company, battalion, brigade and division level, Major General Michael Keating (ret’d) AO, was entirely ignorant about Australia’s system of Government. To support this outrageous statement, they used a single off-the-cuff remark in which he self-effacingly describes himself as not being a legal expert. Of course, you don’t need to be a constitutional lawyer to be a republican or a monarchist, though the ARM has a wealth of expert legal talent among it’s membership, including perhaps Australia’s most formidable constitutional law expert and the author of the Victorian Human Rights legislation, Professor George Williams.
Sadly, it is not just the AML that centres its defence of the monarchy on crudely attacking Republicans. The other main Australian monarchist group, Australians for Constitutional Monarchy (ACM) has also made a plethora of false claims about republicans, both recently and in the past. Recently, they include allegations that the ARM is racist, Communist, plans to create a Marxist state, is in cahoots with the IRA and has secret plans to change Australia’s flag—all nonsense.
It seems as if slander, smear and confected outrage is the modus operandi of the defenders of the British monarchy.
So, given that monarchists are so eager to call for the heads of leading republicans, as well as in basely slandering them without cause, it’s worth asking: just what sort of people lead the monarchists?
David Flint: a conflict of interest
The eternal head of the ACM is David Flint. Most people are probably aware of David Flint, as he has made himself extremely accessible to the media over the years. A lifelong academic, his main claim to fame was being given a very senior public service job by his old university chum and NSW Liberal Party right-wing factional ally Prime Minister John Howard. Almost as soon as Howard became the head of Australia’s Government, he asked Flint to chair the Australian Broadcasting Authority, which regulates broadcasters in Australia.
As Chairman of the Authority Flint headed the infamous 1999-2000 ‘Cash for Comment’ Inquiry into the practices of Alan Jones, John Laws and other right-wing broadcasters at Sydney radio station 2UE, after it was alleged they had accepted sponsorships from the banking industry and other institutions in exchange for favourable editorial comment. In 2004, Flint was forced to resign from the ABA after his impartiality had been called into question when it was discovered he had sent a “stream” of admiring letters to Jones both before and during the Inquiry.
In his book Jonestown, a bestselling biography of Alan Jones, Walkley Award winning ABC journalist Chris Masters talks about the circumstances that led to Flint leaving that role:
On the opening day, panel members were obliged to declare any contact they might have had with the parties concerned before the inquiry. Chairman David Flint explained that he had normal industry contact with 2UE Chairman John Conde. He painted a picture of insignificant contact with Alan Jones, saying that they had once been introduced and that, a month earlier, Alan Jones launched a book including a chapter by David Flint. ‘Apart from saying good morning to Mr Jones and his reply to me, there was no contact and no discussion’. The Chairman did not publicly declare his private view that the 2UE breakfast broadcaster [Jones] was a pen pal and soul mate. The stream of correspondence, as he later described the letters between himself and Jones, which were a clear challenge to his independence, went unmentioned at this time.
But his objectivity was in question anyway. David Flint stood prominently alongside Alan Jones as a pro monarchist in the biggest public issue of this time, the republican debate. Professor Flint had also attended James Packer’s October wedding at a time when the ABA was investigating the Packer family’s stake in the Fairfax group.
Soon after the public hearings began the matter was settled by an astonishing own goal by David Flint. The ABA Chairman and Convenor for Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy left observers open-mouthed when he when he went on John Laws’ show to defend an attack by former Prime Minister Bob Hawke and to promote the ‘No’ vote. When he went against the advice of his own Authority and did it again, allowing himself to be interviewed by another broadcaster under investigation, Howard Sattler, David Flint was unsavable. On 8 November David Flint got to his feet and announced that in order to avoid the distraction, destabilisation and delay of a proposed High Court challenge, he would stand down, even though he was confident he had done no wrong. (p. 372-373)
Despite being clearly caught out fabricating the truth, Flint refused to admit guilt or apologise—a familiar tale for Republicans used to dealing with Flint.
Philip Benwell – fugitive from justice
The head of the other monarchist group is Phillip Benwell. He also has a chequered past, having faced charges for embezzlement and false pretences in the late 1970s, according to The Sunday Age newspaper, before fleeing the country to Sri Lanka and fighting extradition for over a decade, before eventually returning to Australia and managing to avoid prosecution.
From the Age newspaper (21/8/2005):
PHILIP Benwell, one of Australia’s leading monarchists, has a secret past: he once fled Sydney to avoid facing a string of fraud charges and fought a 10-year legal battle to stop being extradited from Sri Lanka.
Wanted on 19 warrants for embezzlement and false pretences allegedly committed in 1977 and 1978, Mr Benwell skipped the country ahead of a posse of police investigating a corporate fraud.
As a leading member of the NSW Liberal Party, Mr Benwell had been a Liberal candidate at state and federal elections and had been awarded an MBE for “service to the community” in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list in 1976.
His sudden flight abroad, subsequent arrest in Colombo in December 1978 and imprisonment while awaiting extradition shook the Liberal establishment.
After a long and expensive legal fight against the extradition proceedings, Mr Benwell voluntarily returned to Sydney in the early 1990s but never had to face court.
He has rebuilt a prominent public life with the Australian Monarchist League, an offshoot of the British body of the same name headed by Ulster Unionist peer Lord Molyneaux.
Interestingly, Benwell blamed the whole affair on a vendetta by another pro-monarchy organisation and, indeed, it is common knowledge that there is no love lost between the monarchy groups, largely because of the Benwell’s refusal to agree with David Flint’s foolish claim that the Governor General, and not the Queen, is Australia’s head of state.
The exposé continues in the same article:
He blamed opponents from another pro-monarchy organisation for “a vendetta” against him and said their conduct was “despicable”.
Court documents obtained by The Sunday Age show that Mr Benwell’s legal difficulties began in June 1978 when he resigned as chief securities officer of the United Dominion Corporation, a listed finance company.
After a company and police audit, Sydney magistrate Kevin Webb issued bench warrants for his arrest on 18 charges of fraudulent misappropriation and one of obtaining money under false pretences. The total sum involved was alleged to be $108,431.25.
Evidence was to be offered by 43 witnesses and there were 352 documents as part of the prosecution’s exhibits.
When the NSW authorities discovered Mr Benwell had gone to Sri Lanka, where his family had once owned tea plantations, extradition proceedings were started by the federal Attorney-General’s Department.
Acting on a formal request from Canberra, Mr Benwell was arrested in Colombo on November 27, 1978, on a warrant issued by the Sri Lankan High Court.
He was released on bail pending a hearing of Australia’s application for extradition. It was the start of a long, expensive and bitter legal battle that turned nasty in 1987 when the fugitive was committed to Welikade Prison to await his transfer to Sydney.
Despite the seemingly massive amounts of evidence arrayed against Benwell, and the strenuous and untiring efforts Australian authorities made in trying to extradite him for well over a decade, when Benwell eventually returned to Australia in the early 1990s he somehow managed to avoid facing prosecution. The reasons why he did are not clear, though it should be remembered that the Liberal Party had regained power in New South Wales when Benwell eventually returned to Sydney, and Benwell is – like David Flint – well connected with the highest echelons of the Party. He had, as the article mentioned, stood for for the Liberal Party at both a State and Federal level.
Now, Benwell has seemingly restored his reputation by heading the Australian Monarchist League, an organisation that, according to the Fairfax press, seemingly ignores the old adage: ‘there are only two sure things in life, death and taxes’:
Mr Benwell was never prosecuted after returning to Sydney in the early 1990s and managed to live down his brush with the law by reinventing himself as a champion of the monarchist cause.
Today he heads a 20,000- member organisation that is uniquely structured. Quite within the law, the Monarchist League is not eligible to pay GST, nor does it pay income tax.
It has an Australian Business Number but no formal board of directors. The only official is the national chairman, Mr Benwell, who makes all its official pronouncements and handles the administration from his apartment in the harbourside suburb of Darling Point.
He also travels to Britain and other countries on behalf of the league, whose website sells his book, In Defence of Australia’s Constitutional Monarchy, for $200 a copy.
We can’t pass any judgement on the strength of the charges that were laid against Benwell, nor speculate upon why they were suddenly dropped, and maybe the AML is no-longer a one-man band – the Fairfax article was written in 2005, after all – but the fact remains that rather than fight for justice in Australia, he decided to flee the country to avoid the due processes of the law—something that seems impossible to defend on moral grounds.
Despite their mutual contempt for each other, the two monarchist leaders have much in common—certainly there is a decided whiff about them both. The thought that someone of such flawless character and honourable reputation as Major General Keating should resign after a call from an organisation headed by a former fugitive from justice who fought to stay away from this country is nothing short of perverse. Likewise, to have Australian Republicans’ reputations and characters attacked by a person who has been shown to have misled an official Government Inquiry is so ridiculous it qualifies as nothing short of a joke. It says something about the tactics and the morals of both monarchist groups, and their cause, that both are headed by persons of such decidedly questionable standards of morality and ethics.
Supporters of both groups may like to consider this fact the next time they seek to slander or slur Republicans, or display feigned outrage against a supposed Republican transgression that is simply nothing of the sort. As they say, people in glass houses should be very wary about throwing stones.