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Listen to Phil Cleary, fervent republican and (naturally) strident campaigner for a "No" vote, speaking a week before the referendum: "I have no problems voting against this particular model, especially given that I think it'll galvanise republican forces and will put a better one up and we'll get a real republic."

By "real", of course, Mr Cleary didn't mean something like "tangible", or "non-imaginary". If he'd meant that, he and his cohorts would have endorsed the republic that was tantalisingly within reach. No: what be meant by "real" was ideal. According to the radicals, the ideal, wrinkle-free republic would be offered up to Australian voters at some not-too-distant point in the future, once the unreal republic that was actually on offer had been rebuffed. People like Mr Cleary believed, or said they believed, that the government would be kind enough to let republicans have another costly and acrimonious referendum almost immediately, as a reward for sabotaging their own cause the first time round. 

Even at the time, this seemed an implausible argument. Twelve years on, it stands revealed as an outright fantasy. The defeat of the 1999 referendum didn't galvanise republican forces; it pulverised them. And far from radicalising the rest of the population, it gave everyone a chance to mellow out on the whole issue. 

Each wing of the republican movement, during the course of the campaign, had exposed the flaws of the other wing's model all too consummately. The radicals suggested our duly elected parliamentarians couldn't be trusted to select a president. They said that any president who emerged from such a process would be just another politician, and therefore deeply suspect. The moderates retorted that a directly elected president would be the biggest politician of them all. The rest of us were left to reflect that if our elected politicians were so reprehensible, perhaps there was something to be said, after all, for our current head of state, who is so far above politics that nobody gets to vote for her. If even radical republicans were prepared to retain the status quo when they had a golden chance to get rid of it, then how bad could the status quo really be? The radicals' efforts to destroy the republic in order to save it had met with emphatic success.

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