Australia is a constitutional monarchy, one of the members of the Commonwealth. The Queen of the Great Britain is formally the head of Australia. The queen is just a symbol of the country, she doesn’t rule it. All the powers belong to governor-general as her representative in Australia. The question about changing a status of the country from constitutional monarchy to republic is very loudly debated during the last decades. The constitutional monarchy is not an appropriate form for the modern political situation. In recent times parliamentary democracies are replacing monarchies, the republican form of government prevails in the modern world. It’s not an easy thing to transform the monarchy, even the constitutional one, into a republic, as it’s necessary to change all the political institutions, to insert amendments into Constitution, and to change the entire political system.
Nowadays we can observe the attempts to transform Australia into the republic. There are a lot of people who stand for this transformation, there are not less people who are against it. The analysis of the contemporary political and social situation in Australia is necessary in order to make the appropriate conclusion whether Australia will become a republic.
The constitutional referendum hold on the 6th of November, 1999 that dealt with the adoption of a republican governmental form, became the climax of the process of transformation. If the proposal had been accepted, the Queen of Great Britain, all her representatives and the governor-general would have been replaced with the president of Australian origin. The president must have been elected by two-thirds of the Australian Parliament. Australians were not ready for such a radical step and that’s why they “voted 55 to 45 percent against this proposal, with majorities in all six states and the Northern Territory rejecting it (only the Capital Territory, where Canberra is located, registered a majority in favor)” (Higley, 2000, p. 137). The second referendum proposal was to add the preamble to the Constitution and not less 10 per cent among those who voted against the referendum, wanted to have the British Queen as the Head of state.
Referendum took place in 1999 but the times have changed since than. Australia requires its own Head of state, Australian population must have a possibility to choose the Head of state among the Australians, their own people and to do it democratically. The times when the British Queen was the symbol that united Australians have passed and now the Queen is not an effective leader of the Australian society. The only way to change this situation is to change the form of government – from the monarchy to republic.
Now in Australia there is so-called Australian Republican Movement (ARM), which claims the ideas of a republic and does everything to reach this ideal. One of the main members of this movement is Tom Keneally, a very famous person in Australia. He explains the necessity of transformation from the economical point of view: “There was a time when I was a kid when almost all of our trade went to Britain – all our wool, our beef, our butter. We were given a relatively good return, so Australia and New Zealand had relatively high living standards. Britain joined the European Community, which in my opinion was the right thing for them to do. Suddenly we had to make new friends.” (Keneally, 178)
The World War II showed us that Great Britain wasn’t able to protect the whole Empire. The both countries, Great Britain and Australia, need their own independent foreign policies. The countries must take into account their inner policy and plan their foreign relations accordingly.
The Uniqueness of Australia
There are a lot of peculiarities, which should be taken into account before changing the form of the state power. Australia is a federation of states, so a republic is impossible till all the states agree for this transformation. If Eastern Australia, for example, votes against the republic, all the rest of the country has to accept it and find new ways out of the situation. The religious division between English Protestant and Irish Catholic immigrants on the territory of the country can also influence the process of transformation. “Monarchists argue that the support for republicanism is rooted in Irish opposition to the English and their monarchy, tied to the historical conflict between the English state and the Roman Catholic Church” (Blainey, 1992). So, before transforming the political system, it’s necessary to combine different points of views on many subjects in different regions of Australia.
Australia has a unique history, unique traditions and customs. The period of history, when it was closely tied to the Great Britain is finished now. Close ties are possible in the contemporary political situation but the cooperation should be realized in a form of equal partnership, but not the monarchy ruled by the British Queen. Jennie George, the president of ACTU insists that the head of Australia should be an Australian citizen. She gives a lot of reasons to support her thesis. She states that “to have an Australian Head of State at the pinnacle of our system of Government. Whilst this has important symbolic significance I think it is more than that. It does go to our sense of self worth as a nation to acknowledge that we want one of our own citizens to fill that position. It is appropriate that every Australian can aspire to it. And that it not be an hereditary position.” (George, 87)
The Principles of Democracy
Having a monarch from another country as the head of the state is unacceptable in modern situation. The times have changed. A considerable part of the Australian population was born overseas and doesn’t belong to native population. Great percentage of Australian population was born in non-English speaking countries, and this means they have no links to Great Britain. Past history and close connection with Great Britain became a significant epoch in the history of Australia, but this history is in the past now and it’s necessary to move forward. It does not mean that all ties should be severed. It only means that past model of relations should be changed and they should be transformed to the new level where both countries will interconnect as independent entities. This will be a very simple thing to do as Australia was built on democratic principles adopted from Great Britain. Being a pioneer in liberation and democratization, Great Britain became an example for many countries of the world and became an ideal of democratic society and Australia is not an exception. Unfortunately the idea of Monarchy, even the constitutional one, which is headed by the representative of other country contradicts the very idea of democracy. Ben Tellet, one of the leaders and founders of the trade union movement, has expressed his ideas about Australian federation “If them is to be one destiny, there must be unify, there must he… equality of the individual as citizen; there must he democratic administration… We must have a share of sovereign power; we must have sovereign authority. But the only sovereign power, the only sovereign authority that a free people will accept, is the sovereignty of the people themselves and the sovereignty of their will” (Tocsin p. 67). Despite his speech was told in 1898, it’s still up to date and can be applied for present situation.
Future of Australia
There are different views on the form of new Australian state. Most of people, who are preoccupied with the future of their country, insist on a republic, but there are different models of this republic. It’s evident that there is a growing necessity in great constitutional changes for Australia in order to become an independent republic. First of all The Bill of Rights should become an integral part of the Australian Constitution.
Historical necessity and experience of the progressive countries of the world show that rights and freedoms of the citizens need additional protection in our age of globalizations and rapid technological progress.
The wish of all members of the Australian community is necessary in order for changes to occur. Unfortunately, there are many Australian citizens who show low political consciousness and are not preoccupied with the future political reforms. Taking care of high life standards people pay little attention to the political component, which is a concurrent of public consciousness. Those, who are in power, should take better care of making the people aware about the present political situation and the necessity of changes in the political structure of the country. Statistics has shown an interesting tendency. More than half of the respondents want to change the head of the country for the citizen of Australia, despite the answers of the same respondents about the model of the country were different. This results one more time prove that the time of changes has come and the British domination, even formal, should be changed now. The changes must definitely include the better response to the needs of the population through the inclusion of the citizens in the process of election. The institute of presidency is such an electoral unity, which give the citizens of the country an opportunity to express their desire through the process of voting.
There is another opinion on the same problem. The number of historians and politicians state that the question about the head of the state is a secondary one in comparison to the question about the switch from monarchy to republic. “Australian republicanism in the 21st century will be defined as much by the way in which we become a republic as it will by the model we eventually choose. The essence of our republican democracy is not the nationality of our head of state; it is the democratic process we put in place to discuss issues of constitutional change.” (McMillan, 1983)
The Model of the Australian State
The defeat of the republic referendum of 1999 hasn’t reflected real needs and desires of the population. It has shown a low level of political awareness of the population and prevailing of the economic needs in the society.
Situation requires an open dialog, where different models of the future Australian state will be presented and discussed and population of the country should become not idle watchers of this process but active participants of the discussion. The model of republic should also be adapted to the needs of the citizens. The most popular model, presented by Paul Keating in 1990s was based on the nationalistic ideals. The main argument put forward by the advocates of the republicanism was based on the ideas of “independence, identity, and maturity. This nationalist republicanism emerged as a response to the history of Australia’s colonial relationship with Britain. The change to a republic was represented frequently as breaking away, casting off, standing on our own two feet, or being more truly Australian” (McKenna, 2001). As the failure of republican referendum has shown, these ideals appeal for not the entire population of the country and there is a need in the change of the strategy in the process of democratization. The republic as a form of the state can not be equaled to national liberation. Both notions are important but they should not be mixed up in the minds of people. The process of independence, regarded as one of the components of the future Australian republic, should not be mixed up with the process of democratization. The process of independence is a separate process and in 21st century it can not depend on the model of the state. “Don’t say we need to become a republic to establish our identity on the world stage. The world stage exists only in the theatre of the Australian republican’s imagination. The republic is not a performance for a domestic or foreign audience” (McKenna, 2001). The term “Republic” should be regarded in context to the process of the democratization of the society, i.e. giving the citizens of the country more opportunities to take an active part in the ruling of the country they live in.
Monarchy is a past for the contemporary world. There are less and less countries, which use monarchy as their ruling model. Australia should give honor to the past and be thankful to British Empire for all good things it brought to it but at the same time it must look in the future. And this future is a republic, which reflects the processes of democratization, which takes place all over the globe. Australia will make its choice for the democracy. It’s only a question of time.
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Journal of Democracy – Volume 11, Number 3, July 2000, pp. 136-150
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