14 June 2022

Don't let the republic pass us by again when the Queen's reign ends

| Ian Bushnell
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The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh

Time to go. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh on tour in ’54. Photo: Canberra Airport.

Take a look around you, Australia.

We’re a kaleidoscope of people now, with folk from around the world making their homes and lives in this country that started as a penal colony, ignored the existence of a culture tens of thousands of years old and when the colonies came together to form a nation sought to keep it white and British.

We’re still pretty Anglo-Celtic, and I am proud of those origins, but who can doubt that our country is not the better for the migrants who have found safe harbour here and given so much to it.

Yet after coming so far and forging our own path in the world, we still hang on to the vestiges of British power and the Crown for reasons that are more sentimental than practical, more Women’s Weekly than political reality.

It’s part of our unfinished business.

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The election of the Albanese Labor Government has given new impetus to the Republican movement, with the appointment of an Assistant Minister for the Republic.

It has also given us a more culturally representative Parliament that better reflects the changes that have swept the country over the past few decades.

Even the Queen’s representative, Governor-General David Hurley, acknowledged that when Her Majesty departs the time would be right for Australians to discuss whether the monarchy should remain part of the nation’s future.

It was a statement of the obvious, but the shock jocks and monarchists were quick to round on him as if he had uttered some sort of treason.

Anybody who watched the Platinum Jubilee celebrations could not have missed that the sun is setting fast on the second Elizabethan era.

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In Canberra, the new government even followed through on Scott Morrison’s lame gesture of renaming Aspen Island in her name. How many will bother to heed the change?

While the monarchy has refashioned itself from being a symbol of Imperial power with a bloody history to being a more benign institution supporting a range of good causes from saving the planet to mental health, its relevance to Australia in the 21st Century is zero.

Whatever affection there is stems from carefully crafted media images of the Royal family, forget Andrew and Harry and Meghan, that have nothing to do with Australia’s political and social order.

It is pure celebrity schmaltz that has no real role or purpose in this country other than to cultivate a following and sell magazines.

Those who argue that the Crown somehow offers some sort of protection against tyranny can only believe that the Reserve powers the colonially framed Constitution grants to the unelected Governor-General and exercised so infamously in 1975 against the Whitlam Government should remain, along with the monarchial ties to the Motherland.


Aspen Island has been renamed in honour of the Queen for her Platinum Jubilee, but who will heed the change. Photo: Region Media.

It should be remembered that the British monarch would not and cannot intervene in the politics of the United Kingdom.

A lid has been put on that particular can of worms, so destructively unleashed on the nation in 1975, as part of a gentleman’s agreement that it’s best not to go down that path again.

We should also remember that for millions of Australians, Britain is not their Motherland.

The many who were not around in 1975 may argue if the system ain’t broke why fix it? Yet the issue remains unresolved.

If ever the nation opts for a republic, those reserve powers will have to be dealt with.

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There aren’t many who will say that the Queen has not conducted herself with dignity and respect in a role she inherited, or that even the much-maligned Charles has not won some credibility in his latter years.

The pin-ups, of course, are William and Kate, and some might want Australia to linger for some brush with the Camelot they might offer.

But does some romantic attraction for the fairy tale pageant that the monarchy has become justify the status quo?

Not even all Britons are agreed on that, and certainly not the Scots.

We came close in 1999 only to have John Howard skillfully divide republicans to thwart the referendum. That cannot be allowed to happen again.

Of course, it is hard to see with all that Mr Albanese has on his plate that the republic will be anywhere prominent on his to-do list.

But the transition will begin when the Queen goes. It may take some time, but Australia has grown up a lot in the past few decades and the step towards being a fully independent nation truly respectful of all its people has to come.

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Well if we are prepared to ditch the monarchy why do we still have English as the official language? Why not force our kids to learn the 100s of Indigenous dialects and eliminate English as a form of communication altogether. We seem to forget we have things to be thankful for having been founded by England and gifted the language, systems of government, economic structures and institutions of law and order that go with it. The least bit of gratitude we might show is to retain a largely symbolic Head of State.

Republicof of Australia? Has a nice ring to it just like Republic of Congo, Peoples Republic of China, Republic of Cuba, Republic of Ireland, Republic of South Africa.

I’m sure we’d love to be more like any one of those.

Peter Graves8:37 am 14 Jun 22

Better like the Republics of Germany and France – two leaders of the EU in its current time of stress.

Remember the un-elected Queen intervened to support the coup by Kerr and Fraser on 11 November 1975. With the active support of the-then Chief Justice of the High Court and one of his other Justices.

So, I guess you will say “no” if there’s a plebescite on whether or not Australia should become a republic, purplevh?
By the way, nice cherry picking on 5 of the 159 of the world’s sovereign states which use “Republic” as part of their name – but let’s take a closer look at each.
I’m not sure why you have highlighted the Republic of Ireland as a negative? Oh, maybe you are referring to the years of religious unrest in the “other Ireland” = Northern Ireland, which happens to be part of that constitutional monarchy often referred to as the United Kingdom.
China and Cuba? Unlike Australia they are not democracies. so a red herring.
South Africa? I assume you are referring to their history of overt racism. South Africa became a republic in 1961. However, the system of white Afrikaner Nationalism (apartheid) was introduced in 1948 – when it was known as the Union of South Africa and was a dominion of the British Empire and a constitutional monarchy. Granted that abhorrent system prevailed until 1994 – so constitutional monarchy or republic, it made no difference.
Democratic Republic of Congo? I’ll concede, we would certainly not want to become a republic like this one – I’d be intrigued to see how you think Australia would emulate the Congo if it became a republic. Maybe if we stay a constitutional monarchy we may one day emulate the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?
So by all means, purplevh, raise your objections to Australia becoming a republic, but lose the emotional claptrap and distortion of the facts to suit your narrative.

Our current system isn’t broken. It has served us well.
I can’t see any valid reason to change.

@kenbehrens The system doesn’t have to be broken for improvements to be made – though there are those who would contest that the ghost of 1975 remains, and while it does the system is not fully functional.
The Queen of Australia is an anachronism, especially in a modern democracy where the people or their elected representatives should have sole responsibility for enacting the laws which govern us. Under the constitution, royal assent is required (by the Queen or her representative) of any legislation passed by the parliament before it becomes law. Under S59 of the Constitution “The Queen may disallow any law within one year from the Governor-General’s assent …” Those “royal” powers are hardly the hallmark of democracy.
Some would argue that the powers vested on the monarch or their representative are merely ceremonial. Nevertheless, as 1975 has shown, if the powers exist, they can be used.
On a lighter note … as an avid cricket fan, I find nothing more galling than sitting at the MCG during a Boxing Day Ashes Test and listening to the Barmy Army taunt the Aussie fans by singing “God save YOUR gracious queen” and there’s no come back, because for the moment, she is our queen.

HiddenDragon8:04 pm 13 Jun 22

The shock jocks might have rounded on David Hurley for his surprisingly frank comments in London, but they, and others on the right, including the Sky after dark team, will eventually be faced with a choice between an institution which they instinctively support and a new monarch whose interventionist instincts and views, particularly on climate change, are anathema to them.

That might be dismissed as a relatively short term inconvenience, given the age at which Charles will succeed (and the prospect that he might be more inclined than his mother to abdicate when infirmity gets the better of him), but for the fact that his heir has also conspicuously embraced many of the issues and causes which send the right into meltdown – so another cycle of temporizing will not be an easy option for the Australian right in response to a new republican push.

Very insightful assessment of the right’s conundrum on the republic question, HiddenDragon

Yes, we have settlers from around the world who came to Australia – attracted by it being a stable constitutional monarchy. Many migrants/refugees fled the persecution, backwardness, corruption, tribalism, political and economic instability of republics and have no desire to recreate what they gladly left. Changing to a republic betrays those migrants who came to Australia because of what it is. No other republic has anything to offer or inspire us and becoming a republic will not solve a single one of our problems. Republicanism is just an opiate for boredom and a distraction from real problems. Also, can any advocate for a republic guarantee we won’t get an Australian version of President Trump as our head of state?

Peter Graves2:25 pm 13 Jun 22

The Governments from which refugees may flee are usually dictatorships. “No other republic has anything to offer ………” – really ? And truly ? You do realise that the American President is both the Head of State and Head of Government – a fuundamental mistake made several hundred years ago by the American Founding Fathers that has blown back several times on America.

You do also realise that both France and Germany are republics ? Don’t you ? Currently the de facto leaders of the EU too.

Check out how Germany chooses its President too –
“The Federal President is elected by the Federal Convention, which is convened by the President of the German Bundestag. He is responsible for preparation and organization prior, during and after the Convention. The Federal Convention consists of the Members of the Bundestag and an equal number of members elected by the parliaments of the Länder.”

I’d be happy with that method of choosing an Australian President – elected by members of the Commonwealth and State Governments. Not just the Commonwealth’s, though.

German President? I wasn’t aware there was one or still a need for one. The only German President (not Chancellor) I can recall (without googling) is Hindenburg, who appointed Chancellor Hitler.

I suspect that the key factor that attracts settlers from around the world is our democracy – most of them probably don’t even know that Australia is a constitutional monarchy when they chose our shores as their destination. Whether or not we get a Trump-like figure (e.g. Clive Palmer) as our head of state, will depend on the model we adopt for choosing the president. However, at least the Australian people will determine who that is, rather than currently having no say in who is foisted on us by the archaic system of heredity of another country. Also, there are many who would argue that having Charles as our head of state is nothing to get excited about.

Peter Graves8:37 am 14 Jun 22

Yet you make negative comments about Republics. Please keep up to date with the democratice elections of German Presidents over the past decades. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_presidents_of_Germany

The issue with any foray into pursuing an Australian Republic is that it requires a change to the Constitution, which can only be achieved by a referendum. Howard derailed the last attempt to make the change in 1999, by skillfully (deviously?) manipulating the debate through the wording of the referendum question “To alter the Constitution to establish the Commonwealth of Australia as a republic with the Queen and Governor-General being replaced by a President appointed by a two-thirds majority of the members of the Commonwealth Parliament.” Even avowed republicans, such as Phil Cleary, campaigned against the “Yes” case because of the proposed method of appointment of the President – he favoured (US style) election by the people … hmmm Clive Palmer spending multi millions to campaign for President?
The SSM debate showed the power of a plebiscite – which while not being binding on the Federal Parliament, allowed a simple “Do you support …” question to be put.
Perhaps using that precedent it’s time for the people to be consulted on whether or not a move to an Australian republic is supported. Given that this is not a matter which requires immediate resolution, to save money, the plebiscite could be conducted at the same time as the next Federal election.

The problem with this sort of discussion is once again there’s no presentation of what the change could or should look like.

A directly elected President comes with a whole new set of problems for proper governance and a President elected by other politicians would lend itself to being mere symbolic change coming with its own challenges.

If the change doesn’t bring real and tangible benefits, why do it?

swaggieswaggie10:24 am 13 Jun 22

Lots of negativity as you expect from this author but a well written article would ponder the alternatives – none of which hold much appeal. Having said that a debate and referendum once Charles in on the Throne would be in order,

Stephen Saunders9:19 am 13 Jun 22

The practical need is to disconnect the white British Christian Palace. Why do we need to search for grand ARM “republican” “models”?

ANY elected head of state WILL be political. But we could go back to 1999. A mild G-G (head of state) favoured by 2/3 of a joint sitting.

Even then, it might take decades more, to disconnect the 6 state governors from the Palace. Nobody ever discusses that glitch

The Queen has been almost a grandmother to the world but when she goes I refuse to acknowledge Camilla as our Queen.
And the role of Governor General, never has there been a more pointless role in this Nation, they have all be nice people I am sure but the money that is wasted on feeding a GG and a further Governor in ever Australian State needs to end. It is a complete waste of money.

Capital Retro3:19 pm 13 Jun 22

It will be Charles as King, not Camilla as Queen. Charles is a dingbat warmist and really the best asset the ARM movement has.

Kevin McGarnickle3:36 pm 13 Jun 22

Refusing to acknowledge Camilla as the Queen, if it eventuates, is pointless and won’t change reality.

The best asset for the monarchists is fearmongering; ignorance and mendacity.
Who can forget their successful slogan in 99 – ‘We’ll vote No in November, and let the people have their say’.
Of course the monarchists had precisely zero intention of ever letting the people have their say in the election of a president.
Not sure that the current leadership of the monarchists is quite up to the very low standards set in 99. We’ll see. Hopefully this time the republican cause won’t be set up to fail with division deliberately sown in the republican ranks by a mean and tricky process.

Capital Retro3:07 pm 14 Jun 22

But Prince Charles supports climate change action so won’t most Australians vote for him? (so to speak). That will require us to stay in the Commonwealth.

The pope also supports climate change action but many Australians, baptised as Catholics, have chosen to no longer go to church on Sundays. So what’s your point, Capital Retro?

Capital Retro7:23 pm 14 Jun 22

I was only speaking figuratively, you know what I mean.

All a Republic means to me is appointing some toff to cut ribbons with a salary exceeding the Prime Minister’s

Yes, Futureproof, but at least they would be our toff – not a representative of a British toff.

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