On Monday, March 29, I attended Peter FitzSimons’ Republican seminar in Orange, NSW, and to be perfectly honest, left utterly disappointed by his reasoning and attitude. Mr FitzSimons may be one of our most accessible and popular historians, and he certainly has a flair for humorous and energetic public speaking, but he failed to propose any solid reasons why Australia has such urgent and dire need to change from our current system and any benefits such a change would bring.
He repeatedly referred to ‘the sense of Aussie pride’ we apparently stand to gain, apparently because of some great stain on our current system of government, which just happens to be one of the world’s most stable. A republic would also allow Australia to ‘have its own identity on a national stage’; which came as a great surprise to me, considering that the ‘Aussie way of life’ and Sculture is one of the most recognisable in the world. We don’t currently have some nationwide identity crisis, but FitzSimons and his lot are so offended for whatever reason, so caught up in this non-issue of identity, that they are trying to conjure one, oblivious to the real-world problems we actually face.
He is a supporter of the ‘minimalist model’, which essentially replaces the Queen with the close equivalent of a governor-general. without really changing anything. The (few) problems he can name with our current system — such as the possibility of another Whitlam-style dismissal –will all still be there, and will arguably be more prevalent as the governor-general, no known as ‘president’, takes on an inevitably more political role.
When asked for the ‘practical reasons’ for becoming a republic, Fitzsimons, the very Chair of the Republican Movement, could find no better response than his rather distorted conception that ‘national pride’ demanded it, plus the fact that an Australian kid will be able to grow up and become the head of state. What he failed to mention is that we have had Australian-born governors-general for more than half a century.
However, the biggest disappointment of the evening was Mr FitzSimons’ casual disregard for the phenomenal cost, should his vanity project be put to another vote, as in 1999. The bill will run to hundreds of millions of dollars, bet on it. At, say, $500 million, the price tag being bandied about for the promised same-sex marriage plebiscite, that will be more than the nation spent on cancer research from 2009-2011. FitzSimons’ further argument — that our Collins Class Submarines also cost a phenomenal amount — was so lacking in logic I began to wonder if his red bandana had been too tight for far too long. As we are a ‘wealthy country’ and can ‘afford it’, taxpayers should indulge the republican whim and ongoing inferiority complex.
That half-a-billion dollars could literally (in the actual sense of the word) be spent on anything else and make a meaningful difference to a huge number of people. In a country where we still have homeless veterans, large percentages of youth unemployment, the highest skin-cancer rates in the world and remote Indigenous communities without basic amenities and healthcare, there is only so much we can spend solving these issues, and another referendum will only take money away from where it could be spent (or returned to those productive Australians from whom it was taken. What a novel idea!).
Look, I’m all for change where change is due, but becoming a republic is simply something that doesn’t benefit Australia in any tangible way, no matter how much it makes Peter FitzSimons feel better about himself.