For and Against / An Australian Republic10 August 2015
What do you want your country to value?
This is the central question of the debate of Australia’s constitutional future: the debate between remaining a monarchy and becoming a republic.
Should we value tradition, with the stability it offers, and accept the hierarchy, religiosity and the stagnation of our national culture that come with it? Or should we take a risk and choose a fresh start: to better craft our nation a distinctive culture that embodies our values of egalitarianism, secularism and multiculturalism?
What would Australia look like if we as a nation chose change? What could the Australia of 2050 look like as a republic?
An Australian president, whether directly-elected or chosen by parliamentary consensus, would provide our future republic with a single key change that would help propel our laggard nation into its future: a focal point for our own unique national culture through the opportunity for an Australian to hold the highest office of our nation.
Our current national culture can be summed up in one visual: a white man wearing thongs and a “Fuck off we’re full” t-shirt with an Australian flag draped around his shoulders, listening to the Triple J’s Hottest 100 while cooking a barbeque. We cling to this facsimile of national identity on days like Australia Day due to our lack of cultural identity.
Imagine if we didn’t have to, because instead of Australia having a vacuum of culture – caused by the highest office in our land being occupied by an uninterested foreigner – our nation would fill that role with one of us: an Australian who could, as our symbolic national leader, help us find and form an identity of our own to celebrate.
Imagine an Australia day more diverse than barbeques and beer: a day where we celebrate curries, souvlaki and pasta as much as the much vaunted snag.
Imagine a fulsome celebration of Indigenous culture, instead of tokenism, when an Indigenous person serves as our head of state.
Imagine a flag of our own flying from buildings and cars in celebration, instead of a flag defaced by the symbol of a foreign nation being draped over the shoulders of drunken bogans.
Imagine being represented on the national state by someone who truly represents our varied people. Consider the possibilities of a head of state who is gay, or who came to our country originally as a refugee, or who is disabled.
Imagine any of the millions of deserving Australian citizens who represent our country’s modern face in that role rather than the foreign, conservative, Anglo-Saxon, Anglican family who currently occupy it.
Imagine feeling unashamedly proud of being Australian. These thoughts could be the reality of Australia’s 2050, if we the people choose that future by choosing to become a republic.
The year is 2050. Australia is a republic. An octogenarian Jacqui Lambie is our president and Canberra has never been cooler: a booming metropolis where, if you’re a pollie, you’re treated like royalty. So to speak, that is, because ‘royalty’ is a dirty word. So much so that the ‘R’ in RAAF and RAN has been dropped in favour of a ‘P’ for Presidential.
Similar acronymic substitutions have occurred at what once were the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Royal Women’s Hospital. But no one notices – let alone cares – because those things are in Melbourne and who lives there these days? Yay Canberra.
Oh, and racist bogans are still a thing.
This scenario is as absurd as it is disconcerting, but elements of the republican campaign are redolent of this sort of farcical, slippery-slope logic. So I’m fighting fire with fire. The only thread of reason I will extract from Jacqui’s presidential dystopia is that an Australian republic – in any form – would be a politicians’ republic. And Australia doesn’t want that. Let me briefly explain why.
Firstly, let’s look at our head of state. Formally, this is the Queen. Accusations of apathy or ignorance towards Australia on the part of Her Majesty or her family are insulting and wrong. I need not spell out the extent of their comprehensive knowledge of each of the Commonwealth countries, not least of all Australia. Even former prime minister Bob Hawke, himself not of the monarchist camp, praises the Windsors for remaining “absolutely committed to the Commonwealth”.
In practical terms, though, our head of state is and always has been the Queen’s viceregal representative, the Governor-General. Last time I checked, Sir Peter Cosgrove was Australian. As was Dame Quentin Bryce. The highest office in the land – that of Governor-General – is open to all of us.
Perhaps by 2050, we will be fortunate enough to appoint an Indigenous Australian as a worthy head of state. It is important to understand, though, that whatever is holding us back from recognising our First Peoples and other minorities in this way spawns not from some fault intrinsic to our constitution but from the prejudices of individual Australians. In the eternal words of Macklemore, a helpful if somewhat unexpected citation on constitutional monarchy, “No law’s gonna change us; we have to change us.”
Australia is one of the most successful multicultural societies on earth. For republicans pining for a more distinctive national identity, this is it: a rich and diverse composite of different cultures and ethnicities. Why do people come to Australia? Because of the protections and freedoms they are afforded under a democratic system of government that we and the Commonwealth inherited from Great Britain.
It is only right that we acknowledge and pay tribute – symbolically at the very least on flags and in our constitution – for that enormous bequest.