Discussions about an Australian Republic generated by the Queen's Jubilee have neglected the compelling social justice arguments for a Republic, says Brisbane writer Ynes Sanz.
IN ALL OF THE RHETORIC about the republic prompted recently by the Jubilee's bread-and-circuses, the compelling socio-political arguments for an Australian republic have been neglected. Australia under a monarchy cannot be a just and equal society, since by definition it is based on the belief that some human beings are better than others by virtue of birth, family or money. Being subject to a monarchy is damaging to our collective self-image, and is built on, and encourages, values that many people would call 'un-Australian'. It prevents us maturing into a secure, well-regarded and self-respecting society.
Support for a monarchy keeps class discrimination alive in Australia. Some sections of Australian society enjoy copying the outmoded social institutions of the British 'upper classes'. Examples include the awarding of honours, and events such as Queensland Premier Newman's and Governors' Garden Parties, $1000s-a-seat dinners and Hunt, Debutante or other Balls. Such events are economically beyond the reach of many and, by using money as a social filter, reinforce a self-serving social structure.
The views and behaviour of certain 'born to rule' elements who gain political power, mostly, but not exclusively, on the conservative side of politics, illustrate what happens when such attitudes are supported by a discriminatory system that has its roots in a class-based society. Examples include taxation policy that protects the wealthy, treatment of and attitudes towards social service recipients, such as single parents, and education funding policy which purposefully perpetuates educational and professional elites.
Subscribing to someone else's model brings the risk of ending up with the baggage that comes with it. Ironically, even in Australia, you can find a sort of nostalgia for the days of the British Empire, and the kind of denigration or stereotyping of people different to the colonisers that breeds blatant racism, which has always been part and parcel of colonialism. In Australia, cruel, disrespectful and discriminatory policies were put in place quite soon after colonisation. Today, other kinds of discriminatory policies are shamelessly used to control the lives of some of the indigenous First Peoples of Australia but not applied to others in the community. The treatment of immigrants and refugees throughout the country's life has been tainted by this long history of racist and paternalistic attitudes.
Support for the monarchy, and all that it implies, prevents us moving on. Australia is still a relatively young country with some identity and maturity questions that are unlikely to be resolved until we cut the apron strings and stand as a nation in our own and others' eyes. This process will not be complete until we choose a leader who measures up to an Australian yardstick. An equitable society not only opens doors to education for everyone, including those overcoming disadvantage ― but it also creates pathways to leadership. It opens doors to public office for people with the qualities we respect and need for good of the country's government and standing, regardless of where or how they were born or raised.
As well as being damaging to our personal and national sense of who we are, there are real financial, social and political costs that we pay for clinging to the old ways. Our support and loyalty to a Royal Family and a country which has perpetrated great injustices worldwide is damaging to the way other countries and cultures view us, linking us to the shame of Britain's colonial past as well as present British foreign policy ― over which we have no control.
Domestically, the presence of a wealthy 'master class', which clings to the monarchy and is unashamed, or even proud, of this legacy is a damaging impediment to the advancement of the poor and marginalised in our society. Debate about a republic versus a monarchy at a theoretical or legal level may not feel as urgent as bread-and-shelter concerns that many people are preoccupied with. However, the implications of our not being a republic do affect the quality of our daily lives. The assumptions underlying support for the monarchy and status quo permeate every level of our society and suggest that, here too, it is acceptable for there to be 'haves' and have-nots'. Indeed, our financial and labour systems and political structures depend on the built-in assumption of an underclass. This gives comfort to those who see money as conferring power rather than community benefit.
The idea that we are a classless society will remain a lie while some member of a moneyed European family rules over us because of a mere historical precedent ― not because they are judged by the Australian people as best qualified to do so. Advocates of an Australian republic should not keep silent and give comfort to myths about Australia. We are not 'a classless society'; people do not get a 'fair go'; there is no 'even playing field'; and 'The Lucky Country' is only lucky for some. The present swing to the right in Australian political scene means we are unlikely to see a spontaneous improvement in any of this anytime soon.
Change towards Britain and the Queen has been visible in small ways over the last half-century. Today, Australian leaders such as Prime Minister Gillard have moved beyond the embarrassing sycophancy of Sir Robert Menzies ― and we may never see another Governor-General wearing a top hat. These days, too, Australian accents are acceptable on radio and TV. However, in other ways we are remarkably acquiescent.
We usually define domination based on unequal power, subservience, money, or fear as 'bullying', and we encourage the victim to stand square and speak out, not to go quietly. On this issue, we seem to have rolled over and let political expediency dictate that it is put to one side indefinitely, despite the fact that it goes to the heart of the sense of self of every Australian individually, and to our collective international standing.
It is hard to see how we can achieve social justice, participative democracy or international standing on our own merits, so long as each Australian continues to be a 'Prisoner of Mother England'. Hopefully, these are matters that can still move people to action.
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