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.

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Peace Treaty of Versailles - 100 years on

At 11am on 11 November 1918, the Armistice ending the First World War came into effect. After four years of fighting, Germany and its allies were defeated. Tens of millions of people had been killed or maimed. Two months later, delegates of the western allies convened in Paris to determine the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. On 28 June 1919 the Peace Treaty of Versailles was signed - the effects of which are still being felt today. 

When the armistice came, in November 1918, it was natural that national leaders would make assessments of what had been attained by the Allied victory. In the hour of the cease-fire and the victory, the usual official opinion was that all the sacrifice, pain and valour had been in a noble and valid cause.

At the same time the world was being hit by a deadly flu pandemic, called the 'Spanish Influenza'. The pandemic lasted for about a year and resulted in the deaths of over 80 million people, most of them between 20 and 40 years of age. 

'Crash Course in World War 1’ 

In January 1919, the victorious nations of World War 1 met at the Paris Peace Conference in France to come up with a plan for rebuilding Europe and ensuring ongoing peace in the future. The leaders of 32 countries attended the firast great world conference, but negotiations were dominated by the leaders of four major powers:
  • Prime Minister David Lloyd George of Britain
  • Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau of France
  • President Woodrow Wilson of the USA
  • Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando of Italy 

President Wilson was an idealist who had a particular vision of the new world. He wanted the peace settlement to adopt his ideas of justice, humanity, national self-determination and a League of Nations. Premier Clemenceau’s attitude was almost exactly the opposite of President Wilson’s. He was a French nationalist with a deep hatred of Germany. Twice during his lifetime, in 1871 and in 1914, he had seen German armies invade France. He had no ideals of moderation or even justice for the defeated enemy. He wanted Germany to be so severely punished that it would never again threaten France. In this he represented a strong feeling among the French people. President Wilson, on the other hand, wanted to achieve lasting peace with a treaty that punished Germany, but not so harshly that they would one day want their own revenge.  

'What did the Big Three Want?' 

The Germans and their allies, including the former Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire, were not allowed to attend the conference and when the final treaty was ready after six months of meetings, Germany was required to sign and accept it or face the prospect of the war being resumed. The result was the Treaty of Versailles, signed on 28 June 1919 at the Palace of Versailles near Paris.

The Germans regarded the Treaty of Versailles as severe and totally unjust. They called it a diktat, an ‘imposed peace’, and it left a deeply felt sense of bitterness in Germany. Most historians accept that the treaty was one of the factors that helped bring about World War II 20 years later. It was also a factor that helped Hitler and the Nazi Party to come to power in Germany in 1933.
The treaty was signed on Australia's behalf by Australia’s then Prime Minister William ‘Billy’ Hughes and his deputy Sir Joseph Cook - the first time that representatives of the Commonwealth of Australia had signed an international treaty. Having no official wax seal at the time, the delegation used a button from an Australian soldier’s uniform to create a seal for the occasion. An image of the signatures and seal is displayed alongside the original treaty. 

While large sections of the German public were opposed to the terms of the treaty. German representatives at the negotiations knew that if they did not sign, Allied troops would invade Germany. With Germany's army in ruins, Germany would be powerless to stop them. 

As part of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was required to surrender large sections of its territory and all of its overseas colonies, including the former German New Guinea colony was given to Australia. 

Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was required to limit its army to 100,000 men who were mostly volunteers. It was also prohibited from possessing an air force, tanks, submarines or heavy artillery. Germany was required to accept full responsibility for starting the war and forced to pay reparations to the Allies. It was agreed that Germany should pay an amount close to 7 billion British pounds (the current equivalent of around $526 billion Australian dollars)

'Terms of the Treaty 1919' 

Germany's allies in the war were also punished by the treaty. For example, Austria-Hungary was also required to pay reparations to the Allies, and the empire was broken up. The borders of Austria and Hungary were redrawn and the territory lost was used to create the new nation of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. 

'The Treaty of Versailles Explained'

John Maynard Keynes wrote in the summer of 1919 The Economic Consequences of Peace and set the dominant view of The Peace Treaty of Versailles. Professor Margaret MacMillan, from University of Toronto, a specialist in British imperial history and the international history of the 19th and 20th centuries, spoke at Gresham College on 4 June 2019 on her view on whether the treaty led to the outbreak of the Second World War and whether the attempt to create a new world order was a failure. 

'Professor Margaret MacMillan Lecture'

The League of Nations was an international organisation formed at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 to maintain world peace and prevent the outbreak of future wars by encouraging nations to negotiate with each other rather than engage in military conflicts. To help ensure its success, the League of Nations had the power to order countries in conflict to discuss their differences at an assembly of member countries. At these hearings, aggressors could be warned, punished with economic sanctions or threatened with military action. Forty-two countries, including Australia, joined the League of Nations. At its peak in 1935, there were 58 member countries. Although the League of Nations had been suggested by US President Wilson, the USA did not join the League. This was due largely to the reluctance of the American people to get involved in European affairs. Although the League of Nations had some early successes, it ultimately failed in its principal mission of preventing the outbreak of future wars.

 'The Treaty of Versailles in 1918 and its Consequences’ 

You can find out more about the impact of the Treaty of Versailles on European society and politics, and the attempts to construct a new world order by joining the State Library of New South Wales specialist on World War 1, Elise Edmonds on 28 June 2019 from 12.30pm. More information at https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/treaty-of-versailles-centenary-tickets-62128351572