Making the republic about the Australian people

| June 7, 2013

Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan and Liberal frontbencher Malcolm Turnbull have launched a collection of essays arguing for Australia to become a republic. David Morris, National Director of the Australian Republican Movement, explains why it is vital to involve the Australian public in this debate.

I don’t underestimate how difficult it will be get the nation’s unfinished business and great bipartisan project – an Australian republic – on the agenda.

This is despite the fact that many say to me that it should be easy.  “Just come up with a model” some say, “it’s all about how you select the Head of State, fix that and the rest will follow”. But that’s the old top down approach that worked so well, never.

The Australian Republican Movement has learned from the past. We have learned from repeated examples of political leaders who thought they had clever policy initiatives all stitched up but then couldn’t implement them because they hadn’t adequately consulted. So we are listening to what Australians say.

A fully independent Australia, a republic, has to be a grass roots celebration of being Australian. It must not be imposed from above, as the British monarchy is currently imposed upon us with no broad public consent.

Something as fundamental as who we are, how we want to be seen in the world, has to start with a good old fashioned Aussie barbecue conversation. So, in our new campaign, we are asking Australians who do we want to be? Still tied to the apron strings and unwilling to trust our own?  – or – A proud, free, fair and independent nation able to stand on our own two feet?

It’s time for republicans to come together to restore this great cause to the public agenda in time for our next Head of State to be one of us, an Australian who can represent our identity, our values.

To get the conversation started, we should begin with first principles, not jump straight to the end point and try to determine a ‘model’ before the public has had its say. We need to identify what the founding principles should be for the republic.

Two of the founding principles of our current constitution certainly need to be updated. One was the racial exclusivity of our 1901 document. That is unacceptable in today’s Australia and those offending clauses should be removed and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians recognised in our constitution in a way they were not a century ago. The other was the underlying concept that we were a realm of the British Empire. We were not founded as a fully independent country, but have developed independent institutions over the course of the last hundred years. The Empire is now long gone.

All the way along, there have been those who resisted, who said we should not abolish legal appeals to the UK, that we should not end Westminster’s ability to legislate for Australia. There were even those who resisted us having our own national anthem. And there will be those who will resist this, but the world has changed and it is time we took responsibility for ourselves.

In the 1990s most Australians wanted to make the move to a republic but many were divided on how to best select the Head of State; and in the absence of a proper process to resolve those differences, the referendum in 1999 was defeated 54.87% to 45.13%.

To resolve this, the Australian Republican Movement proposes that a plebiscite should be held on the principal question of whether Australia should become a republic. After a successful plebiscite all Australians must then be given the right to choose from a range of selection methods for an Australian Head of State generated through informed community discussion and proper democratic engagement.

We need to turn the republic debate upside down, a bottom up conversation to hear from all Australians how we should define our nation today. Let’s make it happen, because a republic is about all 23 million Australians, our identity and our values. A republic puts the Australian people first.



  1. Fred T

    June 7, 2013 at 4:19 am

    How can you talk about

    How can you talk about Australia becoming a republic without specifying WHAT SORT of republic? Do you mean a constitutional republic with a largely ceremonial Head of State like Ireland? Or a parliamentary republic with the President in Parliament like South Africa, or a semi Presidential republic like France where you have a PM and a President, or a republic like the USA where there is an executive presidency? Or an absolute republic like Libya was under Gadhafi? Or a republic like China, or like North Korea? (The latter is more a sort of absolute monarchy really.)

    Let’s face it, we are already a sovereign independent nation except for the fact that in a colonial hangover we have no choice but to accept the Head of State of Britain as our Head of State. A shared Head of State is no Head of State at all.

    The “republic” word is laden with bad vibes, means different things to different people, and has huge negative connotations. Surely the issue not so much that of a republic, as simply achieving a Head of State who is one of us. Why not simply talk of the Head of State issue and promote the Governor-General as our Head of State in lieu of the foreign monarchy.

    It is simply a specious argument to have a conversation about a “republic” without saying what kind you want.

  2. Fred T

    June 7, 2013 at 4:47 am

    The Head of State issue.
    It is a totally specious argument to have a “conversation” about a “republic” without saying what sort of republic you mean. Do you mean a constitutional republic with a ceremonial Head of State like Ireland? or a semi-presidential republic like France where they have a PM and a President? Or do you mean an executive presidency like the USA?

    The very word “republic” has huge negative connotations for many people. Surely it is better to speak of the Head of State issue.

    We are already a sovereign independent federal parliamentary democracy. The only thing left about our independence which is ambiguous is that we share a Head of State with a country on the other of the world, and at that, a Head of State selected by hereditary succession which is anathema to Australia’s egalitarian ethos.

    Let us, rather, focus on the Head of State issue and make the Governor-General our Head of State in lieu of the undemocratic monarchy.