Australia Day is upon us once again and, inevitably, talk of a republic rears its head. I have made no bones that I am a republican, by which I mean that I support having the Governor-General replace the British Monarch as our head of state, rather than merely representing the Monarch. However, I hasten to add that under no circumstances would I support an elected president. The only change under the system I favour would be symbolic.
As I also acknowledge, it’s not an urgent priority. And neither is it a Left vs Right battleground. There are no social or economic principles at stake. Some people like classical music, others do not — and perhaps it is instructive to consider pro- and anti-republican sentiments the same way.
That said, and having disclosed by sympathies, let me report that recent developments at the Australian Republican Movement (of which I was once a member) drive me to despair. Since Peter FitzSimons, the man beneath the red hanky, took over I have been repeatedly urged to resume my membership. Back in June last year, after the Brexit referendum, he phrased it thus (emphasis added):
For, irrespective of the wisdom or otherwise of the Brexit move, it puts into stark relief the ludicrousness of Australia persisting with a now outdated constitutional structure.
Let me count the ways …
From our first days as a nation, our constitution and our flag proudly proclaimed us to be a part of the British Empire. Is it not obvious to all, right now, that very shortly the last country left standing from that once mighty empire, or even heavily linked to it, will be England herself?
If Scotland and Northern Ireland bail out on the United Kingdom, as is now mooted to happen, can you imagine the global humiliation of Australia still insisting that, as for us, we can still do no better than find our heads of state from one family of English aristocrats living in a palace in London?
Yes, shout it loud and proud, those Australian monarchists who still believe: “Goodbye, Great Britain, here in Australia we are so lacking in self-confidence we’re happy to stay with ‘Little Britain’!”
Let us acknowledge Brexit for what it is, a political opportunity to galvanise the Australian people to not only be masters of our own destiny, but to be seen before the world to be exactly that!
The logic was so specious, the aroma of egomaniacal self-promotion so strong, I could not resist responding to FitzSimons:
I am a republican, although I really dislike that term because all I want is for an Australian to be our Head of State. But I would only support a minimalist model similar, with slight amendments, to that put to the referendum in 1999.
I would vote against a model that involved an elected president.
I believe the ARM should be working to build support for that minimalist model, rather than trying to get support for a threshold question, with details to be worked out later.
However, I have great difficulty supporting a campaign that is built on the sort of misinformation you are propagating.
Firstly, Australia is already independent from Britain, we just share the same Head of State. It’s this outsourcing of our Head of State to which I object.
Secondly, your suggestion that Scotland now looks like going where we dare not is spurious. If Scotland gets a second referendum (highly doubtful in my view, they having rejected independence only two years ago) and it passes they will certainly retain their allegiance to the British monarchy. That will put them in pretty much the same situation Australia is in.
And thirdly, any proposal based substantially on the idea that we should support it or, otherwise, Australia will be a ‘laughing stock’ or a ‘pariah’, or ‘humiliated’ on the world stage is built on very shaky ground and I would be loath to support it.
I have largely ignored more recent ARM solicitations, although yet another arrived just this morning, further hardening my resolve not to have anything to do with ARM, at least in its present incarnation and under its current leadership.
From Tim Mayfield, ARM’s national director, came an invitation to preview the latest ARM ad campaign. Watch it and weep!
Also turning up unbidden, a “conversation kit” so that FitzSimmons’ acolytes will have FitzSimons-approved responses at Oz Day barbecues. There are no prizes for getting the talking points down pat, but perhaps there should be. Red bandanas for the better students, perhaps?
I also note that in a press interview today, Bill Shorten expressed the view, in support of the republic, that Australia would become “independent”. Could anything be more calculated to discredit the idea of the republic than Shorten supporting it?
The “arguments” as advanced by ARM are childish, specious and divisive and I will not be a party to them. I am content to wait for the republic until its time comes naturally.
Happy Australia Day!