Scone Writers Festival asks the big questions

LISA Wilkinson had words of advice for husband Peter FitzSimons after his first interview in 2015 on heading the Australian Republican Movement.

“If you’re going to do this job properly you’ve got to not play your natural game. Don’t be a loud dickhead,” Wilkinson said, as recounted by FitzSimons at Scone Writers Festival on Saturday in an entertaining session with Upper Hunter local and ABC Radio National broadcaster Phillip Adams.

“It was cogent advice,” said FitzSimons.

“Why didn’t you take it?” replied Adams.

The world’s weirdest constitutional crisis, prompted by the dual citizenships of too many politicians, was more evidence of Australia’s confusion over its place in the world, FitzSimons said.

The constitution requires all elected representatives to be “100 per cent Australian” while the head of state from the British royal family can only be “100 per cent English”, he said.

He believes a majority of Australians support a republic, and a referendum putting the question “Do you think Australia should have an Australian head of state?” was the preferred next step, which Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has committed to doing if Labor wins government.

“The way we have to do it is present the case to the people and ultimately trust Australian democracy,” FitzSimons said.

In a later session on Saturday, Adams and author/historian Don Watson questioned placing trust in Australian democracy because of the influence of social media, the denial of facts and evidence in public debate and the state of politics.

“FitzSimons said we should trust democracy, well I don’t at the moment,” said Adams.

“Hope is what we need, and I think that’s what we’re not given, and it’s not the same as optimism,” said Watson, whose books include Recollections of a Bleeding Heart, about his time as Paul Keating’s speechwriter, American Journeys, The Bush and his recent book, There it is again.

He questioned a media landscape where events on reality television shows became lead items on the news, and where Tony Abbott remains a constant presence.

“He runs Australian debate in a way, and I can’t figure out why,” said Watson.

“You sound like a grumpy old bugger,” said Adams.

“Yeah, I am,” said Watson.

Scone Writers Festival started with a meeting in November, 2013 and a “mission to promote books and to nurture a love of literature, learning and writing”.

Speakers at the three day event included author of The Dressmaker, Rosalie Ham, and producer Sue Maslin who turned the book into a film starring Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Hugo Weaving and Liam Hemsworth.