Royals, republic models and listening to the Australian people

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'Australia becoming a republic is about dumping the monarchy — and about writing a new page in our own nation’s history.'

Michael Cooney 

DAVID MUIR is striking on an incredibly powerful point when he writes:

'Even the British royals … would recognise and accept that it’s not about dumping them and disowning our history. It’s about us writing a new page in our own nation’s history.'

But I think he’s only half right.

Australia becoming a republic is about dumping the monarchy — and about writing a new page in our own nation’s history.

You see, the Windsor monarchy in Australia is not just “the royal family”. The Windsor monarchy in Australia is a national institution. And, as a national institution, it is deeply flawed.

We should become a republic because of the benefits a republic would bring to our nation: because it would create a new, national institution, which could give our public life more of the dignity and decency we so desperately need, a presidency above politics to speak for us all and listen to us all.

We should also become a republic because of the costs the monarchy imposes on our nation.

I don’t mean the costs of flying a foreign prince and his wife around Australia for rest days on private farms, or flying the same prince to Vanuatu on a delegation to discuss climate change. Those costs are far from trivial, but the monarchy costs us much more.

The monarchy is an institution which demonstrates that in Australia, what matters ultimately is the privilege you inherit, not the work you do yourself. Every meritocratic instinct we have and ever egalitarian dream we share is put to the test and found wanting when we allow our head of state to be chosen by laws of succession that rely on heredity.

The monarchy is an institution which puts religious discrimination and national preference at the heart of our constitution. There is no more important institution in Australia to prove that here, not all religions are equal and not all national origins are equal, than the crown.

And the monarchy is an institution which conclusively and formally locks every Australian out of the decision about who should be our head of state. One day, we will wake up and be politely informed by our radio news or our smartphone alerts that we have a new head of state. It will probably happen while we sleep. Not only will we not be asked before it’s announced — we’ll barely be told.

This is totally indefensible. It is a scandal against the ideals of our shared national community: a scandal against democracy and diversity, against equality and merit, against non-discrimination on nationality and against freedom of faith.

And a republic would fix it. 

So I do disagree with David on this point — a royal versus republic framework isn’t meaningless.

But I do agree with his wider point — a royal versus republic framework isn’t enough.

Yes, it’s absolutely essential, as David says, that we offer Australians a greater voice in Australia’s politics.

This is why the Australian Republic Movement wants Australians to decide the republic’s future, with two national votes in 2020, to answer the two essential questions:

  • Who should be Australia’s head of state, an Australian chosen by Australians or a King or Queen chosen by heredity?
  • Who should choose Australia’s head of state, the people or the Parliament?

These issues should be decided by a simple national vote. They do not need complicated consultation. They do not need an elite convention. They just need to be asked.

When the people have their say, the Parliament should then listen and get on with it, preparing a referendum question for 2022 to put into the Constitution exactly what the people have asked for.

Like David, I prefer a president elected by the people and, like David, I’m pretty sure that the people will choose this option when we ask them to decide.

And I promise this: whatever the people choose, I will campaign for.

Because again, I agree with David: 'Engagement comes with being able to influence outcomes'. And it’s exactly because I want every Australian engaged with the campaign that I want every Australian able to influence our republic.

'The monarchy ... demonstrates that what matters ultimately is the privilege you inherit, not the work you do yourself.'

To be perfectly honest, I think republic supporters think and talk far too much about the referendum last century and not nearly enough about modern campaigns. I spend most of my professional time applying the lessons of Obama, Sanders, Brexit, Trump and marriage — not of a 20th-Century referendum campaign that began before I owned a mobile phone. 

To take a practical example, any analysis of young people’s votes that compares their level of support to older voters, but doesn’t compare their level of opposition to that of older voters ignores levels of undecidedness. And this misses the biggest change in campaign thinking in the past 15 years — that the challenge is not to change the minds of swinging voters, it is to persuade undecided voters. And this is even truer in a proposition campaign like a referendum, by contrast with a two-party preferred contest like an election campaign.

But yes, there are a couple of relevant learnings there. And yes, I have learned the key lesson of 1999 and the Australian Republic Movement has learned too.

The people must be at the centre of the campaign.

And so we pledge to listen to the people. All the way. I reckon every Republican who is also a democrat will do the same.

Michael Cooney is National Director of the Australian Republic Movement. You can follow Michael on @cooneymj.

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Royals, republic models and listening to the Australian people

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