An Australian Republic: about more than just an Australian head of state

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An Australian Republic is about more than just an Australian head of state, says David Donovan and Mike Keating. At its core, about the sovereignty of the Australian people and the nation taking the final step towards full independence and nationhood.

An Australian Republic is about making the Australian people sovereign in their own land

In a recent ABC Q&A about the Republic, former New South Wales premier Bob Carr spoke about his “ultra-minimalist” model for a Republic, in which he would just change a few words of the Constitution so that the Queen was replaced with an “Australian head of state”. Most Australians will have heard republicans talk about the need to have an Australian as head of state, not a foreign monarch. Of course, installing an Australian head of state is just a part of the reason why becoming a Republic is so important for our country.

An Australian Republic is, at its core, about the sovereignty of the Australian people and about taking the final step towards full independence and nationhood. A Republic will ensure we have an independent Australian Constitution, unconnected to any British legislation, which rests on the will and authority of all Australian people. By the people being at the top of our constitutional tree, we will preserve and strengthen our democratic system of government and ensure its continuing strength and stability.

Of course, the sovereignty of the Australian people in Australia will be enhanced by having an Australian head of state who embodies the sovereignty of the people, and who is chosen through a process that reflects values that are at the core of the Australian ethos, such as fairness and equality. Australians are diminished by having a foreign monarch as our head of state, appointed under an unfair and discriminatory process over which we have no control.

Unfortunately, when Republicans call for an Australian citizen to be our head of state, some monarchists – usually the ones from the group Australians for Constitutional Monarchy (ACM) – assert that, actually, the Governor-General is our head of state. But then spokespersons for the other main monarchist group in Australia – the Australian Monarchist League (AML) – insist that Elizabeth Windsor is, indeed, our head of state. In fact, the two groups disagree so violently over this issue that they refuse to even talk to each other.

It is a confusing state of affairs.

Constitutional experts continue to line up to support both options, though by far the majority support the ARM’s (and the AML’s) position that the head of state is the Queen. In any case, most Australians don’t read the erudite opinions of experts and find the whole discussion pretty bland.

So, what’s the story?

The Australian Constitution, in Sections 2, 60, 61 and 68, makes it explicitly clear that the Governor General is the “Queens representative in Australia”. Remember how the Constitution ain’t broke?The monarchists can’t have itboth ways.

If you don’t read the Constitution often, have a look at page 2 of your passport. It clearly states that the Governor-General is “the representative of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second”. Can’t get much clearer than that! Why keep mentioning the Queen if the Governor-General is the head honcho? It doesn’t make sense.

If you want more proof, take a look at the Australian Government website. The DFAT Protocol Guidelines 15.1 (Head of State and Governor-General) state very clearly:
“Australia's Head of State is the Queen of Australia, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Under the Australian Constitution, the executive power of the Commonwealth is vested in the Queen and is exercised by the Governor-General as the Queen's representative. The Governor-General is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister of Australia. The Prime Minister is Head of Government.”

The truth is that the Governor General acts as a sort of de facto head of state because the monarch – whom we share with about 15 other countries – lives and spends almost all her time in Britain, and hardly any in Australia. The Governor-General’s job is to represents this borrowed foreign monarch in her absence –– not us the Australian people. It is important to remember that the Governor-General’s power comes from the Queen, not from the Australian people. That makes the incumbent member of the aristocratic, Church of England, English-German, Windsor family our head of state —whether we want that or not. This is a matter about which we have no say — except by becoming a Republic, of course.

Anyway, if you are sick of arguing the semantics and definitions of ‘head of state’, think of it this way. Whatever it is our borrowed monarch does, we don’t want or need her to do it anymore. We have more than enough suitable Australians to fill the top job, and the Australian who does will be able to representusunambiguously to the world and not also be representing other nations.

The head of state issue is a very important reason for an Australian Republic, but can’t be looked at simplistically, semantically, or in isolation. The reasons for an Australian Republic are manifold, and entwined in notions of sovereignty, equality, national identity and democracy:

An Australian Republic is about our place in the world. It’s about creating an unambiguous national identity. It’s about the way we see ourselves and the way we are seen by others. It will remove our ties to a British monarch who must be born into a particular family, must be Anglican, must not be married to a Catholic, must not be illegitimate and can only be a female if she has no brothers. An Australian Republic will have a Head of State who embodies and reflects Australian values, and who will devote their full and undivided loyalty and attention to Australia and the Australian people.

A Republic will honour our Indigenous heritage and culture with its timeless connection to the Australian land and sea. It will acknowledgeour British heritage and recognise its precious gifts, including our political and legal institutions.It will also celebrate our immigrant heritage of opportunity and endeavour, and its vital contribution to our national identity. An Australian Republic will respect our diversity, yet unite us as one.

And an Australian Republic will create a fully and truly independent Australian nation with an Australian as Head of State.

(This story was originally published in On Line Opinion.)
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