ANZAC Day reminds us that Australia's nationhood has been tempered through blood and tears. "We have reached a level of maturity that enables us to confidently take the next step in our nation’s development", says David McKenna.
It is often said that our maturity is determined by life experience. Life’s more bitter experiences can, in time, give us strength and honour. If that’s the case then Australia has reached a considerable level of maturity. ANZAC Day is a fitting reminder of that fact.
The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps fought Australia’s first major military action overseas between 1914 and 1918. And since the atrocities of World War I, we have experienced a number of other wars and national calamities.
Only eleven years after WWI, we experienced the Great Depression. This was a momentous economic downturn and it hit Australia particularly hard.
Shortly after the Great Depression we entered the Second World War, where almost a million Australians served.
Five years later, came our involvement in the Korean War and then the Vietnam War through the 1960s and ‘70s. We participated in the Gulf War in 1990, followed by our current action in Afghanistan and in Iraq.
These adversities have helped forge a strong and cohesive Australian society. The ANZAC legend itself has shaped a national narrative around mateship and defending our freedom. Undoubtedly, we have matured as a nation since our Federation in 1901.
Additionally, Australia is enjoys quite a positive international reputation. The 2000 Sydney Olympics was a resounding success. The Melbourne Commonwealth Games in 2006 was also a hit, with Australia easily winning the medals tally. That same year, we also hosted the G20 meeting of the world’s major finance ministers. In 2007, we hosted a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation members, which resulted in an important declaration on climate change. And we are now lobbying for a seat at the United Nations Security Council. Even our economic success is envied around the world as we enjoy one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world. Our renowned social cohesion was further boosted by the ‘Sorry Statement’ in Federal Parliament in 2008.
Despite a maturity borne of adversity and success, our system of government is still a constitutional monarchy.
So, why are we not a truly independent nation? Why are we not completely democratic? Our maturity as a nation and our international standing surely demands nothing less.
If our history tells us anything about constitutional change, it’s that there must be bipartisan support for it. Of the eight most recent referendums, all have failed. Under the current Coalition leadership there appears little prospect of reaching any consensus.
However, we need more than just our leaders agreeing on an Australian republic. The public itself must be included and fully consulted. Unfortunately, surveys have shown that the level of knowledge of our Constitution is fairly low in the community.
The Senate addressed this fact in its 2004 report 'Road to a Republic', where it recommended
“that constitutional reform needs to be underpinned by increased awareness and understanding within the community of our constitutional system. Such objectives can be best realised by an inclusive approach which engages as broad a cross section of the public as possible. To this end the Committee is of the view that a new structure and program needs to be established on a permanent basis, with initial focus on general constitutional education and awareness.”
The report goes on to recommend a Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Constitutional Education and Awareness. This committee has yet to be established.
The next referendum will not be won with a winner-take-all attitude. We cannot treat the next republic referendum like an election — with winners and losers. We should aim to achieve a significant majority of Australians supporting an Australian republic, not just 51% of voters and a majority of the states.
We have reached a level of maturity that enables us to confidently take the next step in our nation’s development. Our history has brought us to this point.