Take a Stance on: An Australian Republic

glamourAh so the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting. I love a bit of good news. Sorry to hear that Kate is laid up with severe morning sickness (otherwise known as hyperemesis gravidarum otherwise known as spewing your guts up until you’re totally dehydrated). Morning sickness, for those who have not encountered it first hand, sucks large hairy balls. And what’s with the morning title? Mine would wake me up at night. If you’re reading this Kate – which you won’t be because all you can do is stare at the ceiling and possibly also because Megoracle is a little off your radar – here’s what helped me: sniffing lemons, cheese doritos, French onion philly dip with saladas, pineapple juice and getting those babies the hell out of me.

It’s nice to know that if this little poppet is a girl, she will still be 3rd in line for the throne (after Charles and Wills), just as she would be if she were a boy.

But perhaps this little bit of royal progression won’t affect us anyway – no doubt the republicans of this country (Australia) will take this good news and run with it – sneerily toward the monarchists. Over a decade ago I voted in a referendum that asked whether we should lose the Royal Family as head honchos without really knowing what it all meant. I voted Aye because my mum is a republican and I was a good girl and always listened to my mum. The Nays had it though and it all turned out to be a bit of a waste of money really. So will we revisit it? And if so, when? And if we do, should I really vote yes? Let’s see…

How/When did the whole Republic Idea Start?

Well, republican sentiments have apparently been bandied about even before Federation (when the self governing states joined to form a nation in 1901), going back as far as the Eureka Stockade (when Victorian gold miners rebelled against British colonists in 1854). In fact some republican reps still use the stockade flag as their symbol. At the Federation ceremony itself, republicanism was acknowledged by some to be the next progression.

Gough Whitlam made a few republican-ish changes to the constitution when he was in power in the early 70’s (before he got ousted by the Queen’s representative, Governor General John Kerr – for reasons that are another story entirely).

In 1986, the Australia Act further separated us from a British administration by eliminating any leftover ability for the UK to legislate with effect in Australia, or for an Australian court to appeal to a British court.

Then in 1993, the Keating Labour government laid the foundations for really significant constitutional change – to become a republic and to elect an Australian head of state to replace dear old Lizzie. Keating’s  goal was to conduct a referendum (which you have to do when changing the constitution) and have it all in place by 2001 – the centenary of Federation thank you very much. But he was voted out of office in 1996.

John Howard replaced him and carried the issue forward using a more conservative Constitutional Convention approach, in order to develop a suitable republican model which could go to referendum in 1999. At the 1998 convention, 152 delegates spent 2 weeks discussing the whole can or worms and coming up with a bipartisan election model – whereby a head of state or president would be elected by a two-thirds majority of Parliament.   The convention also made proposals to add a preamble to the constitution to better reflect the spirit of Australia (the existing preamble is very dry and talks about God and the British Empire). The republic idea won majority support 89 to 52 with 11 abstentions and a referendum was called.

The referendum, held in 1999 after a massive advertising campaign and the distribution of over 12 million pamphlets, resulted in 55% of voters giving the republic the old don’t-come-Monday. The preamble question only got a 39% yes vote.

What did the referendum ask us to vote on?

1) Should Australia become a republic with a head of state elected by Parliament – as opposed to the Queen and a Governor General?

2)Should the constitution be altered to include a preamble? (note, I don’t remember reading the new preamble, nor can I find it anywhere – if anyone can shed light on this I would be very grateful).

Why didn’t it get through? 

To alter the constitution, a referendum is required to be approved by a majority overall as well as a majority of voters in a majority of states (jeepers does that even make sense?). Neither question achieved this. Why? Some say that Aussie’s were happy with the status quo, others say that the bipartisan voting of a head of state was too problematic. Others say that it was the wording of the questions, not the actual issue at hand, that put people off voting yes. But there are lots of opinions. Maybe not everyone’s mum is as smart as mine.

It is interesting to note (well I think it is), that metro areas were mostly in favour of a republic while rural and regional areas were strongly opposed. Also, areas of higher socio-economic status were more in favour of a republic that lower socio-economic areas. Make of that what you will…

What’s going on with the debate these days?

Well PM Julia Gillard says she thinks that Australia would benefit from being a republic, but that Australians have a deep seated affection for Queen Elizabeth, meaning that we should revisit the whole thing once Liz drops from her perch. Opposition leader Tony Abbott was once an Executive Director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy and doesn’t see any good reason for the change.

Both the republican and monarchist movements are still active, but some commentators have remarked that republican rhetoric  seems to have weakened. Paul Keating popped up a month of so ago to reinforce the idea, but he seemed to be drowned out by the hype of the Charles and Camilla visit. And the feverish exuberance over the Kate and Wills wedding – even if it was slightly overshadowed by Pippa’s bottom, there is no denying a renewed enthusiasm and fascination for the Royal family.

What are the key arguments for each side?

Monarchists:  the-crown-jewels

  • If it aint broke…our system of Government works so why change it (ahem – if only they’d stop trying to govern in minority whilst slinging mud across the floor of Parliament but that’s a megoracle opinion)
  • Republicanism denies Australia’s historical link to the Mother Country. Our British links are a fundamental part of our identity and heritage. The Government represents this heritage.
  • Electing an Australian Head of State to replace the existing role of Queen and her Governor General (GG) will change very little for the average Australian – and only a little more for those not so average. The largely ceremonial role will remain much the same and an Australian president will still act mostly on advice of the PM. The change would be more symbolic than functional.
  • There is huge (taxpayer) expense involved with red tape, changing of currency, stationery etc, not to mention another referendum.
  • We are already an independent nation, regardless of labels such as constitutional monarchy, commonwealth, Queen’s council etc.
  • Change can induce anxiety and anger among those who are happy with the way things are travelling.
  • Some dislike the whole idea of more elections, referendums and the palaver that comes with them. Voting for president could be just another partisan (fervently opinionated) factor to add to an already firey political climate.
  • Red white and blue is far more tasteful than green and gold (again, my opinion).

Republicans: cork hat

  • Australia is a culturally diverse country with immigrants from all over the world. The average Australian has evolved from those plummy sounding people on old wireless broadcasts to people to whom the Queen means little more than a nice old lady in aqua. 
  • An Australian Head of State will be an Australian who lives among us, loves Australia and whose priorities and allegiances lie with Australia.
  • The particular GG to President change may have little impact on most Australians, but the act of changing the constitution itself could have lasting reverberations. For instance, indigenous groups are largely in favour of a Republic, mostly because it may pave the way to further constitutional reform and a newly defined relationship with a system that has largely failed them.
  • Similarly but in a more general vein, many view change – any change – as a good thing in itself and a symbol of hope and expectation for the future.
  • Some view a republic as an acknowledgement of the atrocities, pain and hardship faced by Indigenous Australians and a positive step toward reconciliation.
  • It will enhance democratic participation and increase accountability of those in power.
  • Business and commerce is becoming internationally competitive and the way Australia positions itself as a nation is increasingly important to our economy. The Queen is more interested in promoting British trade and business (although I haven’t noticed the Queen being a particularly powerful promotional tool).
  • There is really no extra cost involved as currency and stationery will be changed one day anyway when QE dies and Charles takes over. The Head of State will continue to use the same offices as the GG.
  • It is not a denial of our English heritage but the next step in the evolution of a nation. It is a recognition of our democracy and our diversity. Monarchists are clinging to the past and not looking to the future.
  • We can have a styley new flag (or hold a competition to design a new one and laugh at all the entries.

What do I think?

Well if becoming a republic simply means having an Aussie as a Head of State instead of the Queen – if it means having a local as chief ribbon cutter (which let’s face it is the cornerstone of the republican campaign), then it all seems like a lot of huff and puff (not to mention dollars) over very little to me. Isn’t this just about renaming GG to President? If we’re going to go to all the trouble of changing the constitution then I’d be looking for more bang for my buck thanks very much – like some constitutional acknowledgment (yes preamble but more than that – something practical as well as symbolic) of our traditional owners that is arrived at via consultation from them. And something that actually officiates and helps facilitate the multiculturalism that all the pollies bang on about while sending desperate people to live in grotty tents. Something more gutsy, you know…

And I wouldn’t mind seeing a little bit of compromise maybe – I mean I’m as fond of the Royals as the next person and this next lot coming through seem quite cool really. It’s be nice to keep a special place in their hearts, although I can’t substantiate this with any remotely credible or intelligent suggestions. Maybe we could be a sister country or something. I mean, Charles lived here for a few years and the Queen really likes it, and we have all that history it would seem rude to turn our backs on it entirely.

What do you think? 

You tell me!

Categories: Opinions

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10 replies

  1. Your getting over exited Meg , Australian became a Sovereign Independant and Federal Nation 26 years ago when the Australia Acts came into effect . Those Acts completey severed Australia from the British State . Shouldn’t there now be an Australian Citizen as our Head of State ? It is a symbolic thing – but symbolism matters – doesn’t it ?

    • You’re right Lejon, symbolism does matter, but I feel that if we go the enormous expense of another referendum and all the other costs that would come with a yes for the Republic, I would like to see more than symbolism. Having said that, I don’t know what practical changes can be written into the constitution, but one day I might be brainy enough to read the thing and find some appropriate amendments. Maybe it’s something that has nothing to do with a republic at all, just an opportune change. Symbolism (sorry days etc) is a bit overdone maybe…?

      • Enormous expense ? – its minimal . And just as well that argument was not used ( or not used effectively ) to stop the Referendums on Federation eh or we would still be six separate British colonies . There can’t be more than symbolism Meg as being a Republic has only one simple meaning and that is having a head of state that is not a monarch . If you want to change our method of governance , our grundnorm then that is a major undertaking best kept for a different discussion / referendum .

  2. The 1999 referendum cost $66 820 894, which is probably peanuts as a relative figure but I can think of better things to spend it on, and I just can’t see why a few things can’t be discussed over time, then a number of things decided upon in one referendum…

  3. Very cheap nearly half price of Federal election , 2007 Federal election cost over 163,000,000 . Tell me instead of Federating the Australian colonies – what would you have spent the money on ?
    And the problem with adding other issues is the complexity rises exponentialy and the slightest fear or confusion makes people turn conservative ie they ‘ vote NO if they don’t know ‘ . And guess what ? Then it has to be done all over again – and bang goes another 66 million . The reality is we will eventualy have our own head of state nothing surer – the question is how many 66millions is it going to cost ?

    • I agree with Federation, I agree with a Republic too, but I don’t agree that the public are so easily confused. From what I have read, it was the question of Parliament voting in the head of State that went in favour of a no vote, more than confusion…and if the issues in question were well defined, widely discussed…it’s just a thought. What about an Aboriginal head of state? To me that would be a little more than symbolism…Just another thought.

      • Yeah well all good . But people can and do get confused which is not being derogatory it just recognises that not many people really get into these sort of issues too deeply . Best to use the KISS principle ( Keep it simple stupid ) . An Aboriginal as first HoS would be good but first get the idea of having an Australian Citizen ( which could be an Aboriginal ) as our HoS accepted first .

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