Remember November, because November is the "republican season" in Australia, writes history editor Dr Glenn Davies.
NOVEMBER IS always a time of remembering.
The Feast of Saints is held at the beginning of November and is now widely observed across the world to remember those recognised as today’s saints — known or unknown, mighty or lowly.
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
And of course, Remembrance Day has been held each year on 11 November for almost a century to remember the Armistice of the Great War
As I’ve written before, November is Australia’s "republican season" — a time of year full of republican symbolism, as well as republican remembering. In Australia, the republican season includes the anniversary of the 6 November 1999 republic referendum, the 3 November 1997 anniversary of the voluntary postal election for the 1998 Constitutional Convention, as well as the anniversary of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s dismissal on 11 November by then Governor-General John Kerr in 1975. The latter event remains the most dramatic event in Australia’s political history and began the modern republican movement.
But as ARM National Chair Peter FitzSimons wrote:
'Nothing has changed since 1975 to stop this happening again. And next time, it might not be an adviser to Queen Elizabeth having these kinds of secret meetings on Australia’s internal affairs, but a courtier of none other than King Charles.'
Winterton was a first-rank constitutional scholar and pioneer of the modern republican debate. He spent most of his career at the University of New South Wales, was a prominent republican scholar and writer, a member of the Republic Advisory Committee in the mid-1990's and a key delegate to the 1998 Constitutional Convention that crafted the minimalist republic model rejected in the 1999 referendum. More than anyone else, he produced the model that went to the people in the 1999 republic referendum.
Republicanism emerged as an issue of major public debate during the 1990s. Australians have long discussed the idea of replacing the constitutional monarchy with a republican constitution, even during the 19th Century, before federation in 1901. In the 1960s, republican activity was restarted by authors Geoffrey Dutton and Donald Horne. At the same time, the student magazine Oz lampooned the monarchy. A decade on, the dismissal of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam by the appointed Governor-General on 11 November 1975 outraged many Australians.
The 1975 Constitutional Crisis drew attention to Australia's constitutional arrangements and, since those turbulent days, several notable Australians have declared a commitment to an Australian republic. There were many Town Hall meetings and calls to "maintain the rage". During these years, the Australian Labor Party edged towards declaring itself for the republic. This it eventually did in 1982.
In the 1990s, the popular definition of "republic" was simply the removal of the British monarch as head of state. This was seen as the last step in Australia’s political development. On 7 July 1991, the Australian Republic Movement was established, with the author Tom Keneally as the inaugural chair. The Australian Republican Movement was formed as an organisation with the single goal of Australia becoming a republic no later than 1 January 2001.
As Keating came to power in the early 1990s, his support for the republic and issues of national identity was widely known, and he continued to campaign for it throughout his time in office and beyond.
The Republic Advisory Committee published its report in 1993, in which it stated:
'... a republic is achievable without threatening Australia's cherished democratic institutions.'
On 7 June 1995, Prime Minister of Australia Paul Keating formally announced his support for an Australian Republic in a televised speech to Parliament entitled 'An Australian Republic The Way Forward'. This was the culmination of nearly a decade of discussion on constitutional change. In the course of his speech to the House of Representatives, he announced his government’s intention to transform the Commonwealth of Australia from a constitutional monarchy into a republic.
Keating proposed a minimalist plan for a republic, concentrating on the single task of installing an Australian as head of state, one with the same role as the governor-general. The intended transformation was targeted to occur before the centennial celebrations in 2001. The president of the Commonwealth of Australia would be nominated by the prime minister after consultation with all parties and elected by a two-thirds majority at a joint sitting of Parliament.
The 1998 Constitutional Convention helped to strengthen the debate for a republic as a major issue in the late 1990s. However, the debate became caught up in an argument about the best selection method for the Australian head of state and it was on this crucial issue Australian republicans divided.
Throughout most of the 1990s, Malcolm Turnbull led and funded the Australian Republican Movement. Even though Turnbull has played no active role in the Australian Republican Movement since the 1999 republican referendum defeat, for many Australians he is still the face of the call for an Australian as head of state. It is his name that many ordinary Australians first mention when the republican argument is brought up.
It’s a great time to be an Australian republican. The momentum is building. In every state and territory as well as federally, our premiers, chief ministers, Opposition Leader and Prime Minister support having an Australian as head of state. And in October 2017, Federal Labor Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten appointed Matt Thistlethwaite as Shadow Assistant Minister for an Australian Head of State.
And now New Zealand has a republican Prime Minister. Perhaps they might become a republic before us?
Australians need a head of state of our own, someone who can lead the dignified part of our national life away from the day to day screaming match of Parliament and Q&A. How can we keep chucking out MPs with dual citizenship when our head of state isn’t even a citizen at all?
In any case, November is a great time to be an Australian republican.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
Be independent. Subscribe to IA for just $5.