NSW ARM member Daniel Fleming has a plan to get the Australian Republic back on the mainstream political agenda.
THE 29 August Sun-Herald poll has put the republic issue back on the front page as a major Australian issue. And fortunately, despite the headlines, the survey illustrated that sixty three percent of participants favoured a republic. However, there is a division amongst supporters; twenty-nine percent favoured a republic immediately, while thirty-four percent believed we should wait until the Queen dies. This sentiment and the political flux of today means that it is time for us republicans to renew our advocacy for a republic. We can not expect politicians to embark on a republic campaign because they will be risk averse during the next three years. Therefore, it is we republicans who must foster a new movement based on passion and conviction. We need to put the “movement” back into the ARM. The Australian people will be the movement, but they must be engaged in the process from the beginning. The 1990s debate was driven from above, but that support will not be forthcoming anytime soon. Greg Barns, on 28 July in SMH, strongly argued for political leadership on the republic. But the attitude of Julia Gillard was discouraging. She explained that “community activism” is needed to “come forward in order to create the kind of environment where a republic referendum would be successfully concluded.” The key word there is “successfully”. We can have a referendum again, but if we fail again the movement will face long lasting discredit.
Australians rarely pass referendums. George Williams notes that Australia has had 44 referendums since 1901 and that only eight have succeeded. Of the 44 referendums, 25 were put by a Labor government. But Labor has only succeeded once in achieving a yes vote in a referendum. This was in 1946. The non-labor parties have succeeded seven times, which is a better record. Thus, it should be no surprise that labor is resistant to the idea of a referendum, and given the liberals are lead by a monarchist we can’t expect movement from the coalition. But there is another fact to consider alongside these statistics. Williams notes that Australians have never voted ‘yes’ to a proposal after rejecting it on a prior occasion. So a second referendum on the republic seems doubly difficult. Community activism is needed. In reply to Gillard, Barns correctly replied that “community activism and consensus do not appear suddenly from the ether.” He cited the campaign for Federation in the 1890s and the leadership of Keating in the 1990s as good examples of leadership. And it’s true, we do need political leadership. But the “movement” will need to increase the pressure on parliament before this will occur again. To succeed we will need to engage Australians in town halls, work places, on the internet, and in the media. We will need music and art to promote the ideals of an Australian republic and to inspire our fellow citizens. The benefits of a new republic will need to be explained. So what can we do in 2011 that will build the a movement? I suggest we connect with the ideals that have inspired Australians in the past and that challenge the underlying precepts that support the monarchy. One way to do this is to appeal to the ideal of equality. Royalty is inherently un-equal and we should point this out. I argue that for Australia to live up to it ideals, all Australians must have an equal chance in life, including an equal chance to be our Head of State. We can also argue that a republic will strengthen democracy in Australia because we will have democracy at the highest echelons of our nation. For how can we be fully democratic when we have an unelected head of state? Our head of state must be a citizen who can symbolise the nation and its identity.
Australians want to be more engaged in their own political system. One important lesson can be learned from Australian politics this year. The deposing of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister illustrated that a vast gulf exists between perception and reality in Australian politics. Many Australians seem to genuinely believe that they directly elected Rudd to be Prime Minister. It was common to hear the cry “we elected him” we he was deposed. Australian voters felt deprived of being able to decide on whether he ought to stay or go. This speaks to a desire for Australians to directly vote for their leader. Although the ARM is not committed to a model, we could highlight the fact that a new republic may create the opportunity for a directly elected President. This possibility would attract the support of those who feel disenfranchised by Australian politics as it stands today. We will have to make our own success as a movement. In order to find a method for the future we will have to look back to the failure of the 1999 referendum. We can also look to other nations and historical eras for inspiration. These include the Indian independence movement, the American civil rights movement, people power in the Philippines, Solidarity in Poland and the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine. It is in such examples that Australia will find a way to peacefully make a new republic with mass support.
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