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Colonial wounds: Australia must prioritise Indigenous Voice over Republic

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Anthony Albanese outlining the vision for a Voice to Parliament (image via YouTube)

As the mourning period for Queen Elizabeth II nears its end, Australia remains a nation divided on the monarchy issue with an unhealed colonial wound, echoed in the Voice debate, writes Belinda Jones.

THE TWO issues are inextricably linked. 

Even though we knew this day would come, the death of HRH Queen Elizabeth II came as something of a shock. Her mother, HRH The Queen Mother, lived to 101 years old. Her husband, HRH Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, until his 99th year. Throughout her life, the Queen had enjoyed good health but her health declined rapidly after she lost her “strength and stay” in April 2021.

As a nation, we were quite unprepared for the Queen’s death. We had no London Bridge plan as the UK did, well, not one the nation was privy to. And privately, we had not considered how profound the moment would be.

Unlike the United Kingdom, Australia did not have an official mourning period, just a single National Day of Mourning announced for 22 September 2022, though you wouldn’t think so by the media’s coverage. To be fair, it seems like most of Australia’s media is in London at the moment, in a 10-day period of mourning, completely oblivious that the nation is exhausted by the saturation coverage and the Queen hasn’t even been buried yet.

There was no public plan for what we should do or when we should do it upon the Queen’s death. We didn’t expect to have even one day off, it has caught many unawares. We didn’t expect Her Majesty’s death to reignite old colonial wounds for First Nations’ people or refresh calls for an Australian Republic as bitterly as it has, but that is exactly what it has done. 

And with those passionate arguments come robust debate and a diversity of views, some preferring to observe the mourning period before prosecuting their respective arguments, others preferring not to wait but to seize the day. The Australian Republic Movement announced it would be 'pausing all campaigning during the mourning period', the Greens preferred not to wait, as is each their respective right to do so. 

Both holding differing, equally compelling arguments which resonate with a divided nation and illustrate the complexities of the discussion. Both sides were grieving: one for the life of a beloved woman and the other for the injustices of the institution she represented.

“If you say that people should be allowed to grieve for the one, you must allow grief for the other”, ethicist Simon Longstaff said on the ABC's Q+A.

Observance of the gazetted public holiday on the 22 has also received a mixed response from businesses, weary of difficult times and government mandates. They appeared to be caught unawares too.

There must have been a plan, perhaps the Governor-General kept that secret too, as he did with Morrison’s secret ministries? He certainly didn’t share it with the Australian people. If there was no plan, then it might be a good idea to create one for next time and let Australians know in advance.

Many Australians would still be largely unaware about what happens next. Over the coming months and years, we will likely see the Investiture of HRH Prince William, the Prince of Wales at Carnarvon Castle in Wales and the Coronation of King Charles III in Westminster Abbey, London. 

The latter will probably be a gazetted public holiday in Australia if history is any guide.

Simultaneously, the Albanese Government is preparing the nation for its first Referendum this century for a Voice to Parliament. Queen Elizabeth’s death has reignited the Republic debate, but the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, says it’s “inappropriate” to discuss a Republic now and remains steadfast in his resolve to focus on a Voice to Parliament this term, refusing to be drawn on what may happen in future terms.

The Leader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton, on 2GB, trying to eke out some political advantage told radio audiences on Thursday that “I don’t agree with a Republic” and, then accused “the usual subjects” of trying to “eke out some political advantage from the Queen’s death”

A Twitter spat erupted between Senators Pauline Hanson, Jacqui Lambie and Mehreen Faruqi which may result in a censure motion in Parliament and a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission.  Did I mention the Queen is not even buried yet?

The current parameters being set by some of our so-called leaders on the discourse of the forthcoming referendum or referendums leaves a lot to be desired.

The planets have aligned a heady mix of a weary nation still dealing with a pandemic, the social upheaval of the death of a Queen and ascension of a new King, a recent change of federal government, colonial history, truth-telling and evolving social issues on a collision course with destiny. 

You don’t have to be Nostradamus to see we have a few bumpy years ahead.

We are a nation with hearing perfectly attuned to every utterance of the Kings and Queens in a land far, far away yet unable to hear the Voice of the people of the land we are standing on. That fact beggars belief and questions our very identity as a nation.

We find ourselves on the precipice of change and for many that is unsettling in itself.

Change can come quickly, like the death of a Queen, or it can come slowly, like a coronation or referendum, one way or another, it always comes.

You can follow Belinda Jones on Twitter @belindajones68.

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