April 25, 2011

Horse 1179 - Advance Australia Where?

The 25th of April is ANZAC Day which is a commemoration of arguably one of the most important dates in the forging of the identity of Australia as a nation. Tonight on ABC1 will be an episode of Q And A which asks another question of identity, which is whether or nor Australia needs to retain the monarchy. This in itself has been sparked by a Royal Wedding of someone who might not even end up being King of Australia if the pages and story of future history is written that way.

In research this I looked up the phrase "Republic of Australia" and actually came up with a fun result. I had made a blog post about this five years ago:
In principle my view hasn't changed at all in five years, but I'd thought I'd revisit this anyway.

The question of the monarchy or switiching to a republic is basically one of switching symbols and little else. Apart from this question I can see no logical argument which becomes the basis to make a change and if that's the only real basis, then as far as I'm concerned, it's very very very weak indeed.

The Commonwealth of Australia is a sovereign and independent nation. Since the last vestiges of rule from the United Kingdom were closed up with the Statute of Westminster 1931 (ratified in 1942), and the last few holes cleared up with regards the States and legal appeals to the Privy Council with the Australia Acts of 1986, there is absolutely no mechanism for either the parliament of the United Kingdom or the Queen herself, even if she did sit in her capacity as Queen of Australia, to pass, block or enact any laws in Australia at all.

Seeing as Australia is a sovereign and independent nation, then what possible benefits can we derive from becoming a republic? I can see precisely nil; in fact can see potential problems if we do.

If Australia does become a republic, then presumably there would be changes to the way the country is run. If a President is an elected official, them presumably this creates a mandate for them to exercise certain powers. The current Governor-General does have limited powers under the Constitution, but they have never been adequately defined and in my opinion nor should they be defined in future. The King–Byng Affair in Canada in 1926 and Australia's very own Constitutional Crisis in 1975 prove that the position of the Governor-General needs to be a fluid affair.

Currently Australia is viewed as a relatively small and harmless country, with left over cultural ties to the United Kingdom. I don't necessarily see anything wrong with that, though if Australia does become a republic, what sort of message does that send to the rest of the world?
Australia's biggest military ally over the past 60 odd years has been the United States; prior to this it was the United Kingdom. Does switching to a republic show the world that Australia as a nation is drifting towards the United States in terms of aspirations? If so, how does that affect the world's view of Australia? If we've seen especially over te past 10 years a general sort of animosity being shown to the United States and its foreign policy, does Australia realy need to throw its hat into that ring? I tend to think not.

If it is a matter of identity, then apart from military acheivements and defeats, Australia tends to define itself by its sporting acheivements. This is usually manifest on the cricket field, though the two brightest highlights that brought the nation together in my lifetime were probably Australia II winning the America's Cup and John Aloisi scoring the winning penalty in a shootout to send Australia to the World Cup for the first time in 32 years. In that respect, changing to a republic or keeping the monarchy is an enitrely irrelevant question.

Personally I would prefer that the country did nothing in moving towards becoming a republic. The system of government which we have in Australia has served us well for 110 years and I don't think we'd gain an iota by changing anything, but the potential to really foul things up is there. I don't see Canada or New Zealand particularly jumping at the chance to become a republic and I would suspect that the reasons are identical.

If anyone actually can come up with a plausible reason for making the switch, then I'd like to hear it. In fact I dare you to tell me. Maybe there's something I haven't thought of, but I doubt it.


emily's nephew said...

A reason? As a sovereign country Oz should have an Australian national as its head of state - not a foreigner - as a sign of growing up.

Symbols are important.

See Bob Carr's post on the topic for a workable 'minimalist' republican model that won't scare the horses. :-)

Rollo said...

Growing up? Is Australia somehow a childish nation?

Or perhaps is it better to recognise where we've come from as a nation, and remain part of a great Commonwealth family?

I think part of where we've come from does most definitely include recognising the traditional keepers of this land as well.