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ARM chair Turnbull on the eve of the 1999 referendum (Image via abc.net.au)

Will Malcolm Turnbull deny himself again at the ARM's 25th anniversary dinner this weekend? Managing editor and former ARM vice chair David Donovan believes he will.

THE SIGHT of plummy Monarchist League rooster Philip Benwell commanding former Republican Movement chair and founding member Malcolm Turnbull not to speak at the ARM’s 25th anniversary dinner should be seen as a source of fun and satire. However, such is the low ebb at which Turnbull currently finds himself, Benwell’s comments have been reported by most of Australia’s mainstream media in a solemn and serious manner. And seen the ABC reporting a “revolt” among monarchist Coalition MPs from Mal even agreeing to attend Saturday night’s event.

It is doubtful Turnbull’s stocks could sink much lower and still see him retain his present role of party “leader” and (nominal) prime minister. Despite Malcolm’s messianic self-reverence long being the stuff of scripture, there is now little left other than the denial of all for which he once stood. He has sacrificed his so-called progressive principles over refugees, water, renewables and, last week, declared he had never been in favour of a carbon tax, despite once losing the Liberal Party leadership over his support for an emission trading scheme. These days, the chosen one has morphed into his very own Peter and the cock crows loudly on his leadership.

The republican issue may be the last chance for Malcolm to exercise any independence. To exalt the figure he once was. Unfortunately, it looks like he may call down curses upon himself instead, as that apostle did of old.

As it happens, I was vice chair of the Australian Republican Movement when the organisation celebrated its 20th anniversary five years ago. Well before that function, Turnbull was sent a fancy, embossed invitation, asking him to attend the event as a guest of honour. The executive heard nothing back until a week before the event, when then ARM chair Major-General Michael Keating decided to give the then shadow communications minister a call.

Keating was allegedly given the most ferocious dressing down by Turnbull, who claimed to have never received the invitation. When the ARM chair said it was certainly sent, he was told a written invitation was inadequate; that he should have gone to Turnbull in person as a supplicant and begged him to attend, mindful of all the mind-power and millions Turnbull had previously invested in the Movement. The Major-General, a formidable figure in his own right, gave this proposition short shrift and so Turnbull did not attend the 20th anniversary dinner.

Did Turnbull’s staff, aware of the controversy his attendance would likely call down upon him, withhold the invitation from him? Discreetly lose it? File it in the round file? It seems likely. Now he probably wishes his current staff exercised similar diligent carelessness, because the ARM dinner would appear to be a no-win situation for the former Republican mover and shaker.

Because if he comes out in his speech in strong support of a Republic and says he will be acting to be progress the Movement in 2017, as republicans vainly hope, the rightwing royalists in the Liberal Party will surely rise up and, almost as certainly, cast him down. They have done it before and are itching to do it again.

If Turnbull tepidly declaims that he still supports a republic, but won’t be acting on it until the Queen dies, as he has done so many times in recent years, it will be a downright downer at the dinner and a disappointment to millions of diehard republicans — many of whom are Liberal Party supporters. And so Turnbull will look weaker than ever and his prime ministership will drift on aimlessly — for a while, at least.

Yet if the once great man declares he has cooled on the idea of a republic, as he formerly did on the subject of changing the flag and as the Monkey Pod wing of the Liberal Party are probably now prevailing upon him to do, he will have no place to hide and will simply be crucified.

Will Malcolm deny the republic on Saturday and nail himself upon the Southern Cross?

Cock-a-doodle doo!

You can follow managing editor Dave Donovan on Twitter @davrosz.

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ARM 20th anniversary dinner in 2011: Greg Barns took over as ARM chair from Malcolm Turnbull after 1999 referendum defeat

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