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A poet’s manifesto: The Republic of Australia (Part 2)

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(Image via nationalunitygovernment.org)

Timoshenko Aslanides continues his manifesto for The Republic of Australia — a modern, revitalised and vibrant sovereign nation in which innovation and culture would flourish.

Read Part One 

AN AUSTRALIAN REPUBLIC would create a setting of vibrant Australian culture in which academic scholarship, science, technology, industry, manufacturing and finance would all thrive. 

Such a cultural and political environment would welcome, consume and promote our published work and manufactured product and champion our inventions and innovations throughout the world.

Indeed, many are the areas of expertise in which Australians have begun to research or made significant discoveries.

These include fuel cell and other forms of renewable energy including solar energy, innovation in medical (and other) nanotechnologies, telomeres and their function in the human aging process, safer nuclear fission and even fusion, quantum computing and communications, robotics and machine learning, gravity management, portable laser weapons and weapon systems, propulsion systems on land and under water and more. With free imagination, major breakthroughs in these fields are not only possible but achievable.

This is what a lively and wide-ranging artistic culture can do. Imaginative literature stimulates and nourishes the imagination from which so much of technological consequence and national wealth can flow. It does this because great fiction can preface great facts; great poetry can distil national feeling and great prose can present the historical developments on which most progress is necessarily based. This is why symbols and symbolism – terms used, paradoxically, to disparage the proposal for an Australian Republic – are so important.

Also important is the recognition of Indigenous Australians in our Constitution. Doing this without writing race into that document is not easy but it can be done  despite protestations to the contrary by the “expert panel”, whose deliberations are reported by Professor Anne Twomey in her paper, The preamble and Indigenous recognition (2011).

The present preamble, 'Whereas the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia …' is not actually a preamble at all, but a throat-clearing introduction to an Act of the British Parliament containing the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900.

Nevertheless, the expert panel decided against recommending the insertion of a preamble into our Constitution for two reasons.

Firstly, the difficulty in finding an acceptable form of words that is neither a history lesson nor a catalogue of ships and, secondly, the problem of 'too many unintended consequences from the potential use of a new preamble in interpreting other provisions of the Constitution.' 

My article, 'Preamble for All of Us', featured in Quadrant, shows how both these issues can be dealt with. But where is a poet when a lawyer needs one?

Instead of removing the section of the Constitution which enables the power to legislate on the basis of race, this expert panel actually wants to expand its legislative reach so as 'to secure the advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.' 

Surely all mention of race should be excised from, not added to, the Constitution? Nor do I like the expert panel’s seemingly dichotomous distinction between Aborigines and Australians. All such attempts to expand the subject of race in our Constitution will fail. That said, I would like to live to see this constitutional first: an Australian of Aboriginal descent sworn-in as President of The Republic of Australia, having been duly appointed by a two-thirds majority of the House of Representatives in our national Parliament.

I say "appointed" because I think that statesmen are appointed whilst politicians are elected. So, our president would be appointed to a defined ceremonial position by a two-thirds majority of the parliament, whilst our politician prime minister continues to be elected to that executive position as a result of being the leader of a political party elected to office by the Australian people.

This is not to say that an outstanding Australian prime minister could never have statesman-like qualities; rather, that the direct election of our president would make him or her a politician, ripe for inevitable conflict with a directly-elected prime minister. Who would trump whom in a constitutional crisis?

Establishment of a republic would also signal the resuscitation of projects long delayed or indefinitely stalled such as the funding of university programs to recruit and keep talented professors, lecturers and tutors.

Primary and high schools throughout Australia could be provided with graded introductions in Australian civics and teachers could be retrained to use evidence-based methods of teaching language and literature within the context of a more Australian-focussed national curriculum. 

Real reform of our tax system, both as it affects working and retired people (as well as addressing the apparent paucity of tax contributions from some large national and multinational corporations) might well prompt unions and employer groups to better appreciate that their mutual interests are best served by cooperation rather than confrontation.

Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 could be revoked in its entirety so that its subtle effects of self-censorship and the dampening of unfettered imagination are eliminated  ethnic and other minority groups could be reassured that the removal of protections against being “offended” are in the long term interests of their ongoing adaptation to a developing and mature Australian culture.

We could even contemplate abolishing the States and the various local government councils and replacing them all with some forty provinces of local administration, thus reducing our three tiers of government to two (federal and provincial). Certainly this would be quite complicated not least because the States would have to agree but the payoff in increased efficiencies, more-focussed regional development and better national integration could be huge.

But before we consider that last suggestion, let us at least finesse some basic symbolism by carefully unfurling and proudly raising a new flag with an Australian design which demonstrates that we know who we are, confirms that we accept the reality of our location in Oceania and illustrates what we want to become (or continue to be): a sovereign, independent, locally engaged, regionally aware and globally involved, modern, democratic Republic of Australia.

Timoshenko Aslanides is an Australian poet. You can read more from Timoshenko on his website.

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