Sunday, June 2, 2013

Rumblings of an Australian Republic... uh, again

In 1999 a referendum was put forward to the Australian people on the question of whether or not Australia should become a republic.

Without a proper model, the referendum failed, and republicans were left to lick their wounds and ruminate ever since.

Firstly, it's important to note that those of the republican movement are actually a sour, jaded, and unhappy bunch of people.

I first corresponded with one or two of them from the Australian Republican Movement for a research assignment at university - I found them to be very patronising about the types of questions I was asking them, and it was generally an unpleasant experience.

Each to their own, I suppose.

For me personally, it influenced my own view on whether or not we should dispose of our model of the constitutional monarchy.

Up until then, I was all for a republic - I figured that yes, perhaps Australia is ready to elect its own head of state, and that yes, all of the arguments that the republican movement is making make sense.

I was left questioning their argument, which suddenly turned out to be somewhat a weak proposition for change.

Just recently, our Treasurer Wayne Swan has again brought up the issue of an Australian republic, and republican movement stalwart Malcolm Turnbull has also thrown his support behind the renewed gusto.

It follows the release of a book of essays today from prominent Australians - and everyone is getting teary-eyed and excited at the prospect of reinvigorating the debate.

Julia Gillard for one only believes a move towards a republic would be possible only once Queen Elizabeth II passes; as presumably, Australians would find Prince Charles far less popular.

They would then seemingly not have to contend with the current popularity the Queen.

So, there's many ready and waiting to pounce on the constitutional monarchy and replace it with an as-yet undetermined model.

Now, let's back up a moment.

Australia currently has an elected Prime Minister - would Australians also be required to elect a President, or will the new leader fulfill both roles?

Given how easily the Labor party disposed of Kevin Rudd, putting our political parties in absolute control, including the head of state, is a truly frightening prospect, and would entrust far too much power in them.

It would be a slippery slope to despotism, or at least a coporatised political system as in the United States, so I suppose that model is squarely out.

The problem with the republican movement in Australia is that when one actually goes searching for the model they are proposing, it's buried deep among a pile of rhetoric and simple battle cries of how Australia should have its own identity.

So I don't even know exactly what they're proposing - the best that ARM can propose is that we simply get rid of the Queen, and keep the Governor-General model in place.

What's the point?

Republicans counter this fact by saying that they are 'fiercely democratic', saying the monarchists are just making it up, and then go on to give a multitude of different possible republican models, with no clear answer.

Yes, it's all well and good to be fiercely democratic, but if you've cared to even take just a cursory glance at Australia's big political parties, from whom of which we choose within 'democracy', you will quickly find the choices presented aren't exactly democratic.

Political power in Australia is still a playground of the elites; from the 'born to rule' sentiment of those in the Liberal Party, to the shadowy power-plays of those in the union movement that control the Labor Party.

By and large, the Crown is largely a symbolic institution, with some reserve powers that are invested among the Commonwealth nations - a sort of constitutional 'safety belt' which has proven itself to be an incredibly stable form of government since 1901; 112 years.

112 years is a long time for a form of government to last, especially in a young and geographically isolated nation such as Australia.

Compared with that of say, the Soviet model which crumbled after about 70 years, our own little constitutional monarchy and Westminster system, whilst not perfect, has proven itself to be a solid form of government.

And, as the ARM tell us, if the republican movement is merely about symbolic change, there isn't much point to changing anything; it would be akin to changing from white curtains to grey curtains, while proclaiming that grey curtains somehow work better.

All in all, the republican movement in Australia is quite simply an act of intellectual masturbation.

Australia is facing a gamut of up and coming challenges in the future, and all the while, we have these 'prominent' Australians and intellectuals agonising over what words to change in the Australian Constitution all for the sake of tinkering with symbolism.

They also argue that young Australians are 'bemused' that Australia is not yet a republic; I've personally found that to be false, as many people I've spoken to my own age hold fears that Australia would end up looking more like America - a seemingly trite argument, but it goes to show how Australians recognise the fact that things are currently working fine.

The thought of periodically electing a new 'Queen' or 'Crown' for Australia, as some republicans have proposed in the 'Copernican Models' (don't you just love the names!) is rather daunting.

Why even call them 'Crowns'?! Argh!

Not only would you be asking Australians to elect a Prime Minister from the political parties, you would be asking them to elect a head of state as well - just on what criteria would candidates be put forward? What is the point in foisting a big administrative burden on the country by having a 100% symbolic election for someone that would supposedly have zero political power?

You would essentially be introducing a fourth tier of government, and it would open up a whole new front of political elitism.

It makes absolutely no sense - and when you put these sorts of questions towards republicans, they will reprimand you for somehow being backwards, uneducated, a monarchist, naive, and anything else to make themselves look infinitely smart and wise.

Once you dig into their models and try and work out what it is exactly they want to do, when even not a single one of them can agree with the other on a model to adopt, it becomes apparent that they are trying to sell you snake oil.

So don't believe the hype.

Australia is already self-government itself just fine with a stable constitutional monarchy, and while it's a nice idea to make Australia even more like America, it wouldn't make Australia more just or a more progressive country.

Especially if cretinous republicans are put in charge.

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