Monday, August 1, 2016

Republic Needs to Be Back on the Agenda

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull once remarked that to have Prince Charles as king as Australia’s head of state was unthinkable.

Now, with the Queen at 90, he may be rethinking the unthinkable.

But will Australians really countenance a continuation of our head of state sitting upon a throne on the far side of the earth? Will it not be time at last, then, for Australians to have a head of state who as Paul Keating put it simply, is “one of us”.

All too often when the matter of a republic is discussed, the argument is that there are “more important things” to deal with, and that “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it”

Yes there are always crucial matters in people’s lives to be debated and dealt with, like the economy, climate change, education, health, welfare and the environment, but is it not crucial to our development as a nation and people that we create at last our full own identity?

Walk down any city street and you will see we are no longer an outpost of any long-faded British Empire. You will see the faces of people from throughout the world who have come to call Australia home, in an ongoing and largely unsung triumph of multiculturalism.

What is the relevance to us as a people of a British monarch, then, other than that we can’t be bothered enough to change it?

Why do we still have the flag of a colonising power in the top left hand corner of our own? Are we still so short of maturity as a nation that we need that reassurance? We seem more interested in almost everything else beyond our own identity and place in the world.

Well, it’s time we grew up.

The North American colonies went to war with Britain for their independence, and India under the determined and lengthy nonviolent strategy of Mahatma Gandhi wore down British resistance to letting the “jewel in the crown” go its own way. Next year the Indian republic will be turn 70.

Given the opportunity back in 1999, we Australians couldn’t even vote for a republic. Yes there are questions about how the debate was framed by then prime minister John Howard, but the case for a republic was vigorously pushed by the then leader of the movement, Malcolm Turnbull.

Has he really changed his spots? Or has he put his own views to one side for the time being to allay the more conservative wing of his own party?

 When the reign of Queen Elizabeth II comes to a conclusion in the not too distant future, as it must, our choice then is a clean break with the past and the birth of a new republic with all the vibrancy and optimism of modern Australia, or to cling on still to the apron strings, for no better reason than fear of change, or that we simply can’t be bothered thinking about who we are and our proper place in the world, socially, economically, and most tellingly of all, geographically.

When Charles is finally crowned, either by abdication or the passing of the current monarch, he may choose another name as king, or else become King Charles III, and among other titles, Australia’s Head of State.