However, changes do not occur without impetus. Republicans are continuing to help provide that necessary push—perhaps gentler than we would like, but still there.
UNITY IS strength and we should never lose sight of the main objective: an Australian head of state. The great majority of Australians, be they descendants of the original inhabitants, or early colonists, or from the splendid variety of newer Aussies, agree that our head of state should be an Australian citizen.
Some people erroneously argue that our Governor-General is our head of state, so there is no need to alter the status quo. The Governor General, of course, is but a representative of the British monarch, who is officially our head of state.
Under a republic, Australia would remain a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and that the British Monarch would remain the titular Head of the Commonwealth. However, it is a fact that of the 54 countries in the Commonwealth only 15 still retain the British Monarch as their Head of State. Except for the UK, in each of those countries, the position could be viewed as an anomaly and an anachronism.
When the issue becomes centre stage again, hopefully soon, the question for a plebiscite should be the one question that has never been asked of the Australian people: "Do you want an Australian citizen as head of state? Yes or no?”.
Once that has been answered in the affirmative, then there are many ways of electing our head of state. This should be open to a full, thorough, and informed, discussion.
The possible selection procedures are well known. Much tolerant discussion of varied interpretations should proceed before any vote is taken. Tolerance and unity are the positions that all republicans should take into the future.
The lesson of the 1999 referendum – that disunity amongst republican-minded Australians brings defeat – must not be ignored. In the past few years there have been three Republican Gatherings in Australia attended by representatives of different republican groups. The aim is to strengthen the links and be unified for the next step.
What we must remember is that what our generation does now will be the inheritance of future generations. We must get it right for their sake.
(Betty Smout is the Deputy Convenor of the Queensland branch of the Australian Republican Movement. This article was originally published, in a slightly different form, in the February 2007 edition of Armlet.)