Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Twenty years on on from 'breaking the nation's heart'

NOVEMBER IS always a time of remembering. November is Australia’s "republican season" — a time of year full of republican symbolism, as well as republican remembering.

In Australia, the republican season includes the anniversary of the 6 November 1999 republic referendum, the 3 November 1997 anniversary of the voluntary postal election for the 1998 Constitutional Convention, as well as the anniversary of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s dismissal on 11 November by then Governor-General John Kerr in 1975. The latter event remains the most dramatic event in Australia’s political history and began the modern republican movement.

Recently there have been claims the British monarch was involved in Australia’s 1975 constitutional crisis. But as ARM National Chair Peter FitzSimons wrote:
'Nothing has changed since 1975 to stop this happening again.  And next time, it might not be an adviser to Queen Elizabeth having these kinds of secret meetings on Australia’s internal affairs, but a courtier of none other than King Charles.'
The Feast of Saints is held at the beginning of November and is now widely observed across the world to remember those recognised as today’s saints — known or unknown, mighty or lowly.

This is followed on the 5th November with Guy Fawkes Night, which remembers the survival of James I from Guy Fawkes’ assassination plot when he attempted to blow up the House of Lords:
Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
And of course, Remembrance Day has been held each year on 11 November for almost a century to remember the Armistice of the Great War

Early November also sees the anniversaries of the 2014 memorial for Prime Minister Gough Whitlam (1971-1975), as well as the 12 November eulogy delivered for Professor George Winterton. Winterton was a first-rank constitutional scholar and pioneer of the modern republican debate. He spent most of his career at the University of New South Wales, was a prominent republican scholar and writer, a member of the Republic Advisory Committee in the mid-1990's and a key delegate to the 1998 Constitutional Convention that crafted the minimalist republic model rejected in the 1999 referendum. More than anyone else, he produced the model that went to the people in the 1999 republic referendum.

Republicanism emerged as an issue of major public debate during the 1990s. Australians have long discussed the idea of replacing the constitutional monarchy with a republican constitution, even during the 19th Century, before federation in 1901. In the 1960s, republican activity was restarted by authors Geoffrey Dutton and Donald Horne. At the same time, the student magazine Oz lampooned the monarchy. A decade on, the dismissal of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam by the appointed Governor-General on 11 November 1975 outraged many Australians.

The 1975 Constitutional Crisis drew attention to Australia's constitutional arrangements and, since those turbulent days, several notable Australians have declared a commitment to an Australian republic. There were many Town Hall meetings and calls to "maintain the rage". During these years, the Australian Labor Party edged towards declaring itself for the republic. This it eventually did in 1982.

In the 1990s, the popular definition of "republic" was simply the removal of the British monarch as head of state. This was seen as the last step in Australia’s political development. On 7 July 1991, the Australian Republic Movement was established, with the author Tom Keneally as the inaugural chair. The Australian Republican Movement was formed as an organisation with the single goal of Australia becoming a republic no later than 1 January 2001.

In December 1991, Paul Keating was sworn in as prime minister of Australia after deposing Bob Hawke as leader of the Federal Australian Labor Party.

As Keating came to power in the early 1990s, his support for the republic and issues of national identity was widely known, and he continued to campaign for it throughout his time in office and beyond.

In April 1993, Prime Minister Keating appointed the Republic Advisory Committee, led by Malcom Turnbull, to examine options on how to achieve a republic with minimal constitutional change.
The Republic Advisory Committee published its report in 1993, in which it stated:
'... a republic is achievable without threatening Australia's cherished democratic institutions.'
On 7 June 1995, Prime Minister of Australia Paul Keating formally announced his support for an Australian Republic in a televised speech to Parliament entitled 'An Australian Republic The Way Forward'. This was the culmination of nearly a decade of discussion on constitutional change. In the course of his speech to the House of Representatives, he announced his government’s intention to transform the Commonwealth of Australia from a constitutional monarchy into a republic.

Keating proposed a minimalist plan for a republic, concentrating on the single task of installing an Australian as head of state, one with the same role as the governor-general. The intended transformation was targeted to occur before the centennial celebrations in 2001. The president of the Commonwealth of Australia would be nominated by the prime minister after consultation with all parties and elected by a two-thirds majority at a joint sitting of Parliament.

The 1998 Constitutional Convention helped to strengthen the debate for a republic as a major issue in the late 1990s. However, the debate became caught up in an argument about the best selection method for the Australian head of state and it was on this crucial issue Australian republicans divided.

Throughout most of the 1990s, Malcolm Turnbull led and funded the Australian Republican Movement. Even though Turnbull has played no active role in the Australian Republican Movement since the 1999 republican referendum defeat, for many Australians he is still the face of the call for an Australian as head of state. It is his name that many ordinary Australians still mention when the republican argument is brought up.

Australians need a head of state of our own, someone who can lead the dignified part of our national life away from the day to day screaming match of Parliament and Q&A. How can we keep chucking out MPs with dual citizenship when our head of state isn’t even a citizen at all?

Sunday, September 01, 2019

National Wattle Day and the spirit of the Australian republic

Australians may have made a home for themselves amongst the gum trees, but it is the wattle tree that has found its way into Australian republican symbolism.

1 September has many names. Some welcome it as spring’s dawn, a time to celebrate nature’s renewal. For others, it is National Wattle Day — a time when the smells of spring are in the air as well as Australia's vivid gold blossom.

In Australia, the wattle is the largest genus of flowering plants. In Australia, you could plant two or three different wattles for every day of the year and still have plenty left over, for Australia has more acacia species than the year has days. These acacias are extremely diverse and found in habitats from rainforest to arid lands.

I have written before on how Wattle Day is celebrated annually on the first day of spring. A sprig of Australia's national floral emblem, the golden wattle – acacia pycnantha – is traditionally worn on the first day of spring. The green and gold of wattle leaves and blossoms were declared our national colours in 1984; in 1988, the wattle was adopted as the official national flower; and National Wattle Day was formally declared on 1 September 1992.

In 1993, the Australian Republic Movement gave its support to Wattle Day celebrations being held throughout Australia on 1 September. Wattle captures something crucial to the success of the republic — feeling for country. It is a unifying symbol.

September 1 is the 27th anniversary of the declaration of National Wattle Day, as well as the 26th anniversary of the Australian Republic Movement giving its support to National Wattle Day celebrations throughout Australia.

Wattle Day has been celebrated annually on the first day of spring since 1910, when a sprig of the golden wattle is traditionally worn. However, the first known use of wattle as a meaningful emblem in the Australian colonies was in Hobart Town in 1838, when a resident suggested wearing a sprig of wattle to celebrate the golden jubilee of the landing at Sydney Cove. In this seemingly small gesture lay a suggestion of an independent Australia.

Wattle is a broad and inclusive symbol of an egalitarian, classless, free citizenry. It grows in all parts of Australia, differing varieties flowering throughout the year. This democracy of wattles – the fact that they grow in all states – was the overpowering reason why the wattle and not the waratah was chosen as the floral emblem in the early twentieth century.

Wattle celebrations first arose as occasions when earlier generations of Australians stood up and said: “I am from this land. This place is home.”

It is a symbol that comes directly from our land. Wattle is Australian and represents us all. Like the Southern Cross, the appeal of wattle is not first and foremost to the idea of nation — but to the idea of place.

The future Australian republic will also project a sense of feeling of place.

At the moment, the Australian Republic Movement is focused on achieving an Australian as Head of State. However, the republic is not just one person.

The spirit of the future republic will be embodied in not just the Head of State but in place.

Wattle touches all levels of society.

Early pioneers and World War I diggers were buried with a customary sprig of wattle. Then Governor-General Sir William Deane took wattle blossoms to Switzerland to commemorate young Australians who died there and Prime Minister John Howard wore sprigs of wattle at ceremonies after the Bali bombings.

Terry Fewtrell said in a 2014 Australia Day speech that:
“...wattle has journeyed with us in kitbags, pockets and letters to places that become synonymous with our shared story; be they Gallipoli, Kokoda or Swiss canyons."
Australian athletes wear wattle-inspired green and gold uniforms and those honoured with an Order of Australia receive awards with an insignia designed around the wattle flower.

Let’s all take a moment this National Wattle Day and reflect on the wattle flower which symbolises an egalitarian, classless, free citizenry.

So, when the blaze of wattle lights up the Australian landscape each year, let’s all remember that the wattle is a symbol of our land that unites us all.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Vale, Tim Fischer - an 'unexpected republican'

The Australian Republic Movement was deeply saddened to hear of the death of former Deputy Prime Minister, the Honourable Tim Fischer.

Mr Fischer was the Leader of the National Party from 1990 to 1999 and was the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade from March 1996 to July 1999. He was the member for Farrer from 1984 to 2001 and from 2009 to 2012 was the Australian Ambassador to the Holy See. 

His life is a story of personal sacrifice and tireless service to his country. From serving in Vietnam, to serving the nation in state and Federal parliaments for 26 years, his humble, intensely warm yet passionate demeanour endeared him to all he met. The Australian Republic Movement recognises in particular his service to the cause of an Australian republic.

Australia has a long history of advocating for an Australian republic; indeed, there were republicans before there was a Federation. Through the 1990s Fischer was involved in the discussions of what Donald Horne called in 1992, the ‘coming republic'.

In March 1995, the alternative model to then Prime Minister Paul Keating government’s two-thirds majority parliamentary vote was backed by the Federal Leader of the National Party, Tim Fischer — that is, a ceremonial president elected by popular vote. In the process, Fischer added legitimacy to a republic and his comments were a tacit acceptance that a republic, sooner or later, was inevitable. Fischer’s entry into the republican issue, along with Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett and a former Governor-General Sir Zelman Cowen, who proposed that upon Bill Hayden’s retirement as governor-general in 1996 that Keating should allow the Parliament to vote in his successor rather than choose his own candidate, meant that the conservative side of politics was now involved in a genuine dialogue about the republic.

A vocal advocate for a fair and informed debate during the 1999 referendum, Mr Fischer went on to develop and present potential options for constitutional reform to achieve bipartisan support for an Australian republic after he left political office, including playing a leading role at the Corowa Conference in 2001. In July 2001, Fischer stated:

At one o'clock this day, the Oddfellows Hall is opened following a $750,000 Federation grant at Corowa. That's where in 1893 there was a key public meeting and process which re-railed the federation process. That's a precursor to the Corowa People's Conference set down for early December which involves Richard McGarvey, Zelman Cowan, Jack Hammond QC, and the Corowa Shire Council. And Treasurer Peter Costello will open that hall. And it's an appropriate time to launch.

Fischer was looking at re-railing a process for constitutional change.

As a former minister for trade, he fought fiercely for Australia’s interests and Australian jobs, and decried Britain’s attempts to use the British Monarchy in its delegations to deprive Australia of those same opportunities.

In December 2017 the Australian Republic Movement established a high-level advisory panel, comprising a diverse group from politics, business, academia, media and the law. The group of eminent republicans included former parliamentarians from across the political divide: Labor leader Kim Beazley, Victorian premier Steve Bracks, Nationals leader Tim Fischer and Liberal Senate leader Robert Hill.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison saidhe was an all in conviction politician.” This integrity and resolve were underlined when he came out in favour of an Australian republic.

Mr Fischer will be remembered as a statesman and champion of Australia. 

The former deputy prime minister and Nationals leader died aged 73 at the Albury-Wodonga Cancer Centre on 22 August 2019, surrounded by close family members. A State Funeral for the Honourable Tim Fischer AC will take place at 1.00 pm on Thursday 29 August 2019 at the Albury Entertainment Centre, Swift Street, Albury, NSW.

Vale Tim.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Bjelke Blues - Stories of Repression and Reistance in Joh Bjelke Petersen's QLD

Very excited to have my “Taking it to the streets” chapter on the history of street protests in Queensland being launched tonight at Kurilpa Hall, West End.

Bjelke Blues includes forty-five short stories & memoirs by Queensland writers. Stories of corruption & violence. Stories of repression & resistance.

More than 250 pages that peel back the rotten banana that was life in this state under Gerrymander-Joh - Plenty to feed the chooks with - Historian Ray Evans will launch the book. Several of the writers will read from their stories - including Nick Earls, Anne Jones, Jeanelle Hurst, Paul Richards, Nicky Peelgrane & Warren Ward.

Brisbane 2019

Tonwville 1985

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Happy Constitution Day, Australia

Happy Constitution Day! Today marks 119 years since Queen Victoria provided Royal Assent for the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900.

Constitution Day in Australia is observed annually on July 9 and acknowledges the day the Constitution of Australia was approved in 1900.

This day commemorates when the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act was passed by the British Parliament and given Queen Victoria’s Royal Assent. On 1 January 1901, the Commonwealth of Australia was officially established when this Act entered into force.

Constitution Day is not a public holiday in Australia and is arguably the least known of the notable days in the Australian calendar. In 2000, the commemoration for the centenary anniversary of the Constitution of Australia was established. However, the commemoration was not widely held after 2001.
The National Archives of Australia revived the observance in 2007, as this is where the original Constitution of Australia document is preserved.

Copies of the Act, the signed Royal Assent and related documentation have been dubbed Australia’s "birth certificates". However, unlike Australia Day, Anzac Day or Melbourne Cup Day, Constitution Day is linked inextricably to a set of defining documents. It also commemorates the outcome of a democratic process — the votes of 573,865 people in the six Australian colonies, in the referenda of 1899 and 1900.

The Constitution of Australia is the first national constitution anywhere in the world to be put to a popular vote. As it did in a number of areas of social reform around this time, Australia led the world in constitutional development.

 The Constitution of Australia has a special status in that it can’t be changed in the same way as other laws can be changed. It is a supreme law — that is, it overrides other laws. The Federal Parliament can change ordinary laws, such as the Marriage Act, by passing amendment laws, but it can only initiate proposals for changes to the Constitution. The approval of the people of Australia is necessary for any change to the Constitution, just as the approval of the people of Australia was a step in the process of creating the Constitution in the first place.

Many proposals for constitutional change have been discussed since 1901, but most have not got as far as a referendum or have been rejected at referendum. There have been 42 proposals to alter the Australian Constitution passed by the Federal Parliament and submitted to referenda, but only eight have been successful — the last in 1977.

1999 was the last Referendum. Geoffrey Sawer stated we are a “constitutionally frozen nation”. Perhaps it’s time we started to defrost our nation.

Over the past few years, Australia appears to have gone through a "Constitutional crisis". Since October 2017, Section 44 (i) of the Constitution has become the subject of national attention, with 15 parliamentarians being disqualified, or resigning pre-emptively, due to breaking this Constitutional clause, which refers to dual citizenship.

Section 44 (i) states that a person is disqualified from running for office if they are:

' ... under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power.'

The Constitution of Australia takes the form of a statute and was drafted in broad terms, so as to last over a long time. It provides the foundation of the body politic. The Australian High Court is the ultimate arbiter of the Constitution and as has been shown, it is clear that "unknowing" is no defence.

The Australian High Court acknowledged its decisions on the dual citizenship referrals was harsh but correct. This has led to certainty and stability for overseas-born British citizens. The decisions are clear. This is the future.

On this 2019 Constitution Day, with a new Federal Parliament, Australia’s "Constitutional moment" isn’t over. The ghost of Section 44 (i) continues to hang over both Federal chambers.

We all hope the dual citizenship fiasco has been resolved for the new Federal Parliament through better processes. If not, expect the High Court to interpret the Constitution of Australia Act to the black letter of the law.

Happy civic birthday, Australia!

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Happy Birthday, Australian Republic Movement

Today is the anniversary of the formation of the Australian Republic Movement, established on 7 July 1991. The first national chair was the author Tom Keneally. The single goal of the organisation is for Australia to become a republic.

Early logo for ARM
REPUBLICANISM EMERGED as an issue of major public debate during the 1990s, when the popular definition of “republic” was simply the removal of the British monarch as head of state and was viewed as the last step in Australia’s political development.

The Australian Republic Movement began over lunch at the residence of the former Premier of New South Wales, Neville Wran. In 1987, Wran had publicly stated his support for Australia becoming a republic and nominated 2001, the centenary of Australia’s federation, as an ideal date. He said that he expected moves towards a republic would gain ground during the 1990s. Wran was supported at the time by Prime Minister Bob Hawke

On 7 July 1991, a group of prominent citizens held a meeting in Sydney to launch a republican movement under the chairmanship of author Thomas Keneally, and included many eminent persons from the political left and cultural centre of Australian society.

The 1991 Foundation Members of the Australian Republican Movement were Tom Keneally, the late Geoffrey Dutton, the late Professor Donald Horne, Jenny Kee, the late Franco Belgiorno-Nettis, Franca Arena, the late Faith Bandler, Mark Day, Geraldine Doogue, the late Colin Lanceley, the late Harry Seidler, Malcolm Turnbull, David Williamson and the late Hon Neville Wran. Tom Keneally was the first national chairman and was succeeded by Malcolm Turnbull in November 1993.

The question of whether or not Australia should be a republic has been debated for longer than most people imagine. Australians have long discussed the idea of replacing the constitutional monarchy with a republican constitution even during the 19th century, before federation in 1901.

In early colonial NSW, the American rejection of British rule and the violence of the French Revolution were well known. Republicanism was often used as political language to challenge government authority and only hardened the resolve of those in power to savagely repress any supporters. In 1795, the “Scottish Martyrs” arrived. The many Irish convicts brought with them antipathy towards the British. Convict uprisings such as the 1804 Castle Hill rebellion were labeled republican. However, in most cases, the convicts were not looking for political change, they just wanted to return home.

The founding members of the Australian Republican Movement in 1991

The period from 1840 to 1856 was one in which colonial grievances reached their height. In Sydney in 1850, the outspoken firebrand Reverend John Dunmore Lang, The People’s Advocate editor E.J. Hawksley and the young Henry Parkes campaigned through the Australian League for a republican form of government when the British Government wanted to reintroduce transportation of convicts. In the early 1850s, during the gold rushes, there was an influx of large numbers of migrants from Europe and the United States to Victoria, many of whom were sympathetic to republicanism. This caused British officials to fear the possibility of revolution. In 1854, the Eureka Stockade rebellion at the Ballarat goldfield was ultimately a republican desire for government by the people. However, the urgency vanished when responsible government was granted in 1856.

In the latter half of the 19th Century, republicanism became strongly anti-monarchical and nationalist in sentiment. The “inevitability” of an Australian republic became a common theme. In the late 1870s, the traditional Irish enmity towards British authority can be seen in the republican sentiments expressed in Ned Kelly’s Jerilderie Letter and, later, in Kelly gang member Joe Byrne’s Declaration of the Republic of North East Victoria.

During the 1880s, there were 15 republican organisations, and 20 newspapers or journals in cities and major country towns. This republicanism was often focused on struggles between capital and labour. From 1884, The Bulletin expounded a strong anti-monarchical attitude. In 1887, republicans twice defeated attempts at Sydney Town Hall to pass a loyal resolution congratulating Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, resulting in an open clash between thousands of demonstrators. Soon after, Sydney had a Republican Union and a republican journal led by Louisa and Henry Lawson, and George Black. It was in The Republican that Henry Lawson first published 'A Song of the Republic'.

In 1890 and 1891, the Australasian Republican Association on the north Queensland goldfield of Charters Towers had over 700 members, published a regular journal and established republican branches. The Australian Republican editor, F.C.B. Vosper, published an inflammatory editorial at the height of the 1891 Shearers’ Strike calling for revolution and the declaration of the republic. He was arrested and tried for seditious libel but eventually acquitted.

The Commonwealth of Australia was the title chosen for the new nation at the 1891 National Constitutional Convention. Although there was controversy over the republican ancestry of the term, it was the title accepted in 1901. Prior to the mid-1890s, republicans had insisted that national independence could only be achieved by Australia’s secession from the British Empire. However, by 1901, federation was seen as the first step on the road towards political independence.

In the 1960s, republican activity was restarted by authors Geoffrey Dutton and Donald Horne. At the same time, the student magazine, Oz, lampooned the monarchy. A decade on, the dismissal of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam by the appointed Governor-General on 11 November 1975 outraged many Australians. 

The 1975 Constitutional Crisis drew attention to Australia's Constitutional arrangements and, since those turbulent days, several notable Australians declared a commitment to an Australian republic. There were many Town Hall meetings and calls to "maintain the rage". During these years, the Australian Labor Party edged towards declaring itself for the republic. This it eventually did in 1982.

Republicans proposed 1988 for the establishment of an Australian republic. This was not to be.

In the 1990s, the popular definition of “republic” was simply the removal of the hereditary monarch. This was seen as the last step in Australia’s political development.

In 1991, the Australian Republican Movement was established.

In 1993, Prime Minister Paul Keating formed the Republic Advisory Committee, led by Malcom Turnbull, to prepare options on how to achieve a republic with minimal constitutional change.

In June 1995, Keating announced his goal of a republic with an Australian Head of State.

he 1998 Constitutional Convention helped to strengthen the debate for a republic. While the republic was a major issue in the late 1990s, the debate caught up in an argument about the best selection method for the Head of State. It was on this crucial issue republicans divided.

In the absence of a proper process to resolve those differences, Australians rejected the 6 November 1999 referendum 55 to 45%. No political leader has subsequently emerged who wants to find common ground amongst Australians and break the logjam. This is where it became frozen for more than a decade.

In 2015, distinguished author, journalist and Australian rugby union international Peter FitzSimons was appointed head of Australia's Republic Movement. A passionate republican, FitzSimons is well known through his regular Sydney Morning Herald column, as well as his many books. As one of our foremost writers of Australian history, FitzSimons has captured some of the pivotal moments that have shaped our national identity.
Peter FitzSimons and Tom Elliott debate the merits of a republic

The political landscape in Australia is definitely changing. The push for a republic has gone from strength to strength in recent years with support from a resurgent membership, and the majority of federal parliamentarians.

Over the last few years, Australian media has become a cheer squad for “celebrity” monarchy, framing the republic debate as all about a family in Britain, when actually our great national cause is about the sovereignty of the Australian people. 

The monarchy is clearly no longer an institution that can unite Australians. 

It’s broken. 

The monarchy sits above our system of democratic government, but cannot represent us, our identity or our values as a nation.

The Australian Republic Movement continues today to advocate on the question of whether Australians want one of their own in the job.

There is a momentum happening around Australia. Surely it must be time for us to stand on our own two feet and have an Australian head of state.

This is our great, unfinished project.