THE STRONGEST ARGUMENT I have heard recently for an Australian republic was delivered recently in Davos by Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the World Economic Forum.
His speech said all that a republican Australian needs to hear about the argument for a President to represent the country overseas.
Like many Australians, I reckon we need a statesman or woman to represent us overseas — not a politician. Mr Abbott demonstrated clearly in Switzerland that he is not a statesman. His trivial reference to insouciant domestic politics was demeaning to himself and an insult to all Australians. His audience looked bored and bewildered. Many of them would disagree with what Mr Abbott was saying about the Australian economy. Most of the audience members relish Australia's economic performance since the global financial crisis. Our triple A ratings are envied around the economic world.
Abbott himself seemed out of his depth, as he also did when he met with fellow prime ministers Netanyahu and Cameron. It seems true, in these distinguished gatherings, what has been written about him in the past, that he is a schoolyard bully. His body language appears, if not stilted, then aggressive and domineering. His Davos speech certainly showed he was talking down to his audience in his newfound slow delivery manner, on a subject he clearly knew less about than they did.
I well recall my feelings of embarrassment at being an Australian overseas when then Prime Minister John Howard kowtowed to then U.S. President George W. Bush. I felt the same when Kevin Rudd, as Foreign Minister, stepped out of line to criticise his government colleagues when he was in the States.
These men, for their own gain, cannot leave alone the chance for a subtle (or not so subtle) dig at their political opponents back home. This leaves them vulnerable to criticism and is unbecoming in a country's leader on the international stage.
While I admire Quentin Bryce and several former Governors-General, and I think Peter Cosgrove will probably do an admirable job, I find that the post of G-G does not hold the gravitas a president of an Australian republic would shoulder. After all, the Governor-General is representing the Queen to the Australian people not the Australian people to the world. A President could therefore represent the 'big picture' Australia internationally without reverting to petty jibes and political point-scoring, thus remaining politically unbiased.
The President of Australia would be to Australia and Australians what the Queen is to Britain — and should be to Australia but she cannot be because of vested interests elsewhere. That in itself should be reason enough to establish an Australian as head of state, let alone what politicians do in our name, to reinforce the notion of a respected apolitical Australian head of state.
A president would be 'of the people' and not of a political party. He or she would be 'for the people' and not for a political party or some vested interest group.
So, to be above politics, the president would need to be selected 'by the people' at an election by popular ballot (leaving politicians out of the selection process except to allow them their one democratic vote each). It probably goes without saying, that the job description for president should indicate they would remain apolitical in that role. The selection criteria would have to include restrictions on former politicians running for election to the office, and all contenders declaring their political affiliations before their nominations were accepted.
For those readers about to cry 'political bias' on my part — well, it is true I don't like Tony Abbott as prime minister and nor did I like John Howard in the post. But neither did I like Kevin Rudd or Paul Keating as prime ministers, though at least the latter two (while Prime Minister) represented Australia in a statesman-like manner. So, for me, it is not a party political thing, but a representative stance — one which should hold honour above all else.
Therefore, it wasn't so much what Mr Abbott said in Davos about Australia or the world economy or free trade (let's make that fair trade) or Trans Pacific Pacts, but what he said about himself with his choice of subject matter. And that is obviously a decision he made – or could blame his minders – but, either way, it reflects badly on him as Prime Minister of Australia.
This demeans us all in the international eye.
Perhaps he will lift his game at home – like he learnt to slow his speech – when the cameras are turned on Brisbane later this year and he is there as chair of the G20. Maybe or maybe not.
But either way, it would still be better to have a home-grown head of state to represent all Australians.
This is as good an excuse as we need to reignite the republic debate in Australia.
Michael~John Shea is a freelance writer who lives on Queensland's Sunshine Coast and concentrates on writing unpublished novels.
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