Should Australia be a Republic? The question has fluctuated in and out of public discussion for decades. The issue is not as vitriolic as asylum seekers or polarising as the carbon tax. Nonetheless, Australia’s choice of governmental structure is important, and is growing increasingly out of touch with our national identity.
Firstly it is appropriate to define what a Republic is. Simply put, a Republic is a democratic nation in which the highest public office is held not by a monarch, who inherits the position by birth, but instead by a citizen, chosen on merit.
Unfortunately, various myths about Republics warp the public’s perception and understanding of what they actually entail. Some of the most common misconceptions include the notion that many Republics are failed states, and the fear that becoming a Republic would damage our alliance with Britain. Some of the most popular misunderstandings are far more trivial, such as the belief that Australia would face expulsion from the Commonwealth Games or be forced to change the nation’s flag.
Well frankly, these examples along with many others are just plainly wrong. At the last Commonwealth Games 32 of 53 competing nations were Republics, and like them, Australia can continue to compete in the Games regardless of our political structure. Further, Australia can become a Republic and keep our current flag just as easily as it can remain a constitutional monarchy and change the flag. The USA, Germany, Brazil, France, Switzerland and in fact the majority of world’s nations sit in direct conflict with the claim that Republics breed failed states. Finally, Britain hasn’t held a grudge against Australia for claiming parliamentary independence or removing the Privy Council as our highest court of appeal, so it’s probably a safe bet that they wouldn’t kick up too much of a fuss when we stop recognising their Queen, who only visits us on trips named after precious stones.
Many more trivial arguments used against the implementation of a Republic can be cited, but by far the most popular and damaging assertion adopted by most Australian’s is: “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?” It is a simple and effective mantra that perpetuates complacency and laziness while simultaneously removing any feeling of obligation to strive for something better.
Before accepting this constitutional cop-out, every Australian must ask themselves the following:
Is it not broken that after a century long battle to recognise the indigenous inhabitants of our country we continue to deny them the opportunity to represent their nation at the highest level?
Is it not broken that in an age where civil liberties are at the forefront of our nation’s social agenda, we allow our sovereign leader to be selected by a system that perpetuates gender inequality and male dominance?
Is it not broken that despite having one of the most diverse multicultural populations in the world, our head of state will only ever be a white, Anglo-Saxon member of the Church of England?
How can we, as a nation, honestly boast that our society is one that promotes hard work and perseverance, that with diligence and tenacity any member can get anywhere in life? When what we are really saying is you can get anywhere except the top job. That is reserved for the firstborn non-Catholic member of an extremely privileged English family.
Australia is a certainly a functionally independent nation. The Queen, by convention, defers almost all of the power vested to her under the Australian Constitution. By all means our current system works and has been successfully working since its inception. However, just because something works doesn’t mean it cannot work better.
Australia’s Head of State is an extremely important position. Its importance is reflected in the wide powers vested to it in our country’s governing legal document. The significance of the position should be reflected in the respect citizens prescribe to it. However, Australians in 2012, are more likely to get information about our Head of State and her family in US Weekly then through a serious media outlet. As a nation we denigrate the position by focusing on the glitz and glamour of the Royal Family while forgetting that they are the people in line to legally head of our country. It is time for the position to be given the reverence it deserves. However, the appropriate appreciation will not be granted by the Australian public until it is held by our leaders and our by our Constitution in a manner that is deserving of such recognition.
In a century that will more than ever before be shaped by the Asia Pacific region, there has never been a more pertinent time for Australia to accept its geographical significance. Becoming a Republic will have the effect of removing any lingering guise that we are merely a Pacific offshoot of the British colony. It will help us, as a nation, to forge our own unique foreign relations in South East Asia and develop an economic presence that is reflective of our unique position in the modern world.
Over the past century, we have progressively wrested control of our nation’s affairs from the British. We have federated, adopted control of our own military forces, removed all linkage and influence between the British Parliament and our own and have vested full judicial power in the High Court of Australia as our final court of appeal. Removing the Queen as our head of state is not a radical or risky step. It is simply the final step in our nation’s progression to being an independently sovereign state.
Fergus Kinnaird is an undergraduate student at Bond University studying Law and Commerce.