Friday, 07 June 2013 22:23

Republic of Australia: To be or not to be, that is the question.

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This is likely to be the penultimate election before Australia becomes a Republic.  The following comment is unnecessarily long and boring, even for me as I reread it, and I apologise and suggest that if you have something more rewarding, that you turn to it.  Otherwise, I would really hope that you might make some comment of your own in reply, establishing your considered views so the rest of us can better assess ours.


Just so that there is no confusion, I am a monarchist.  No particular reason.  I was born under a monarchy and I live under a monarchy and have found no reason to change.  I have, over the years, pledged my allegiance to Queen and Country several times, and all in exchange for favours extended.  I have, it would seem, taken the Queen’s shilling.  I have several good traits among my many, many failings; loyalty, mateship, integrity, respect for our laws, respect for the rights of others and a willingness to defend my country in times of peril and war.  I also try to live by the golden rule of doing unto others as I would have them do unto me.  And what is perhaps more damning, I believe in all of those virtues.

Fourteen years ago, in November of 1999, we went to the polls for a double referendum to amend the Constitution of Australia.  The first item was for Australia to become a Republic, dissolving our ties with the British monarchy and having an Australian as our Head of State.  The second item was to add a preamble to the Constitution.  Both failed.  That is not particularly surprising, for the voters of Australia have a healthy suspicion of politicians and many believed the shove towards independence would turn out to be only a ‘politician’s republic’.  Even Sir Robert Menzies understood how difficult it was to move the people when he once quipped that getting an affirmative to a referendum was a labour of Hercules.

The vote to become a republic failed for many reasons.  Not the least of these was that it was a foregone conclusion.  Opinion seemed to be massively in favour, it was supported vigorously in and by the media and it was such a certainty that the only arguments seemed to be in the details.  We all know that is where the devil lurks.  And the problem was the two camps demanding a Republic just couldn’t agree on the details and so some of them voted it down.  They will not make that mistake this time.

The problem that exists with those who would change our lives to suit themselves, is that they do not take no for an answer.  They simply bide their time after a setback until they believe the moment is ripe once more to make a renewed push.  In other words, they shall not stop until they get what they want without regard to how steadfastly you may oppose them, and once that aim has been achieved, there will be no going back   For example, the referendum to change our constitution to recognise local and shire councils, upon which you will be required to vote at this coming election, has been introduced and failed twice before, in 1974 and again in 1988.  This is the third attempt.  However, if it is defeated this time around, it is not likely to matter for it shall simply be included in the drafting of a new Australian Constitution as the push to take us to a Federal Republic rises from the ashes of its earlier defeat.  Such people simply will not take no for an answer. 

When he took his seat in our Federal Parliament, Malcolm Turnbull, who was the original Chairman of the Australian Republican Movement, seemed to find no irony in swearing an oath to ‘be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her heirs and successors according to law’.  He is once again speaking out in favour of our becoming a republic—at a fundraiser for the ARM, which should give you some idea that it is not about to go away.  Our federal treasurer, Wayne Swan, has now claimed it to be inevitable in his recent push for a republic.  Miss Gillard has said she will not push for a republic for as long as our Queen sits on the throne.  She made no mention of heirs and successors and the Queen is now eighty-six years of age.  Kevin Rudd, on assuming government in 2007, somehow managed to alter the required oath-taking for his ministry from the usual pledge to Queen Elizabeth II, to one of allegiance to the Commonwealth of Australia, its land and its people.  Considering that the oath is given before the Governor General, the representative of the Sovereign, it seems rather strange; and as he did not have the power to make such changes until his investiture, one has to wonder how it came about and why the need for such stealth.  At any rate, it would seem the juggernaut has begun its procession and we will fall under its wheels, and there is not much those who are happy with the status quo can do about it.

So, what benefit will there be for us in becoming a republic?  None.  Well, we will, of course, now have an Australian as Head of State to whom we will likely refer to as the President of Australia, but that’s about it.  It will not put any more money in your pocket (quite the opposite, actually).  It will, I suppose, engender more employment as we will need more and even more parliamentary committees to advise the Senate and to design all of our new symbols and icons.  We will likely need more employees in our government printing offices, for every piece of stationery, application form, explanatory brochure, well, just about every sheet of paper within our government will have to be redesigned and printed, and all at once.  There will be very few instances where we can legally overlap the two until the next printing.  All of our public buildings will need some kind of facelift to remove all traces of our former identity and to declare our new status.  We will need a new flag (and that will make those people happy at last) as we can no longer portray the Union flag in the corner of our hoist.  We will have to decide on whose (Australian) heads will now adorn our coinage, and print new banknotes as well.  As happened when we changed over to decimal currency there will be a time limit on the use of our present coins and notes, so you might want to be ready to empty those piggy banks.  There will be an urgent need for Constitutional lawyers as we tread that minefield of rewriting the Constitution in its entirety.  We cannot simply cross out where it says The Crown or Commonwealth of Australia and replace it instead with Federal Republic of Australia.  Those other terms are legal entities bound up in Common Law and precedent.  We will have to basically start from scratch.  It will be an exciting time for our politicians, and a very expensive time for the rest of us.  It will cost many billions of dollars in my personal estimation, but what the heck, we will now have an Australian as Head of State and our passports will be proudly stamped, Federal Republic of Australia and life will go on pretty well much as before.

The plural, lawyers, has two spellings.  In the UK English it is spelled £awyers and in Australian and American English, lawyer$.   The billions of dollars that I predict this unnecessary change will cost you and I will mostly line the pockets of our legal profession.  We seem unable to have even a Senate inquiry that does not cost in the millions of dollars and Royal Commissions usually begin at ten million, (the current Royal Commission on child sex abuse is expected to top one-hundred million) so you may well imagine how much the arguing over each word and sentence of the new Constitution will wind up costing us.  And each of those will be ultimately challenged in the Supreme Court.  Don’t plan on having a great deal of money left over to lavish on your own personal projects.  Those supporting a republic will pooh-pooh the notion that it will cost anything at all while claiming that the monarchists will exaggerate, inflate, conjure up and even lie in order to defeat the God-given right to be an independent Australian, master of his own destiny, or words to that effect.  I can only refer you back to any past scheme of any Australian government, to its proposed costing of the scheme and its actual tally at day’s end.  Presumably, only monarchists tell fibs.

How much does it cost us now to be part of the British Commonwealth?  Nothing, actually, other than the cost of the Governor General and we would have to pay a similar or greater amount to any Presidential Head of State (either elected by consensus of Parliament or appointed by a Prime Minister).  We have to pay for when the Queen comes to visit but we also pay for when any other world leader drops in for a cup of tea and a biscuit so, not much to complain about there.   However, I am opined to side with The Honourable Wayne Swan, MP when he suggests a republic is inevitable, like it or not.  That being so, I cannot but wonder what some of the side effects are going to be and will we be happy with those side effects or just accept them as collateral damage.

Our special relationship with New Zealand, for instance, will change on our becoming a Republic whether they remain a part of the British Commonwealth or opt to follow us down the road to an independence we and they already enjoy.   There will no longer be an ANZAC alliance, nor can we count on them to join with us should the world or we go once again to war.  We will be unable to justify our current visa and benefit arrangements between our two countries unless we offer similar arrangements to, say, Indonesia or New Guinea and other countries of Oceania.  In fact, we will have to redefine all of our current arrangements and trade deals, redraft and likely renegotiate our agreements with all other countries of the region.  We cannot just leave them in the name of a partnership when that partnership has been dissolved and is no longer a recognised entity.  There is certainly going to be a lot of travel expenses showing up on our politician’s credit cards, the poor buggers.  I wonder what will happen to our expats and their families when their current passports have expired if they were not born in this country.  How easy will it be for them to resolve the issue, and for how long will that window of opportunity remain open?  Bob Hawke froze knighthoods but there are still honours granted by the Queen and will the AC (Companion of the Order of Australia) still apply?  I suppose also we shall have to think about changing street and place names.  Queen Street is no longer appropriate and, in the absence of a monarch, conjures up the wrong kind of image one would think.  Will we have to come up with a new name for Victoria and Queensland?  Perhaps even New South Wales is no longer appropriate as we bend forward in our cultural cringe.  We cannot continue to use our Coat of Arms, needless to say.  And who will still want to drive down the New England highway?   I have no idea what the media is going to do.  Consider the amount of money they earn over our infatuation with the Royals, each hint of scandal, the pregnancies, the coughs and colds and the ceremony, pomp and pageantry.  No more.  I mean, for instance, can you even tell me the names of the children of Queen Beatrix?  I doubt it and I would be surprised if you knew the name of her spouse.  How about any other Royal family?  We do not care and if we have no connection nor tie to the Windsor family, then we shall likely lose all interest there as well.  We will be able to read such fascinating things such as speculation as to which Australian politicians dye their hair I would imagine, so all is not lost.   I do not doubt that you can think of several, more-valid, changes that will become a necessity over the course of events, but I am already depressed and I won’t offer more, even in jest.

There is just one more thing I would like to insert here.  Because we are writing anew our constitution, assuming we become a Republic, you and I do not have a vote as to what it says or what it contains.  It needs only to be passed by our politicians.  This means that anything they would like to see installed there is not likely to be under our scrutiny or open to debate by the public.  One such proposal has already been mooted, and that is to recognise our indigenous people.  Remember, we are all Australians, but if you mention a second group of citizens, then you effectively have a two-column constitution, and what applies to one will not necessarily always apply to the other.  Is this really a good idea?  Is that the way we want a new Republic to start out?  “…the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, will offer up all of their rights unto the leader and gladly so”

So, if we get no practical benefit, if it is going to cost us an obscene amount of money and we are going to lose so much of our history and tradition in the process, why are we in this unseemly haste to bring it about?  I suggest it can only be because those clamouring for it want to see their names in the history books and possibly their likeness on our currency, if only on some commemorative coin.  I just don’t think that is a good enough excuse, but then I am one of those hated, dreadful monarchists.  I am going to go out on a limb here and predict that, Republic: To be or not to be, will be the main election issue at the next election, regardless of which Party wins this coming ballot.  What do you think?  I really would like to know.

David Edwards

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