Friday, December 28, 2007

We, the people

The colonial Queensland Premier and Chief Justice Samuel Griffith wrote in 1896 "in a republic the necessary and direct source of all authority is the people ... whereas in a constitutional monarchy authority is derived from the Sovereign".

Queensland's founding federal father correctly saw the definition of the term 'republic' concerned the location of popular sovereignty. Just over a century into the future the latest Queenslander to stride across the national stage has tapped into the essential debate on where ultimate political authority lies.

On 3 December 2007, one week after the election of the new Rudd Federal Labor government, a 'very republican moment' occurred when Kevin Rudd and his ministry swore an oath to 'the Commonwealth of Australia, its land and its people'. The significance of this moment is the new federal ministers swore an Oath under Section 62 of the Constitution to the people of Australia rather to Queen Elizabeth II, a foreign monarch.

When Kevin Rudd was sworn in as the 26th Prime Minister of Australia, wearing R.M. Williams boots and a grin as wide as the veranda of his suburban Queenslander in Brisbane, he declared:

"I, Kevin Michael Rudd, do swear that I will well and truly serve the Commonwealth of Australia, her land and her people, in the office of the Prime Minister, so help me God."

Taking the office of Prime Minister (Executive Councillor) involves swearing an Oath of Allegiance or Affirmation. However, under Section 62 of the Consitution the form of the oath of office is not prescribed for a minister but by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister. Of course the new Oath was given to the Governor-General on Rudd's advice yet he could not have technically given that advice until he became an Executive Councillor. No doubt this advice was relayed earlier, perhaps through or with the approval of the caretaker, John Howard! In taking this Oath, Rudd acknowledged the republican ideal that ultimate political authority lays with 'the land and the people' of Australia rather than with the British monarch.

The Rudd Oath should not be confused with the Oath of Allegiance or Affirmation under Section 42 of the Constitution required to be made by a Member of Parliament or Senator before taking his or her seat. This involves swearing or affirming to "be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her heirs and successors according to law". This Oath was also used for ministers until the Keating Labor government removed reference to the Sovereign. However, with the election of the Howard Liberal government in 1996 the Oath to the Queen was restored but without any reference to "Her heirs and successors".

It is interesting that the federal minister's Oath has been a republican intellectual battleground over the past 15 years. It is here, with the very first act of the new Rudd federal government that, finally, the beginning of republican political authority is being laid down.

The real issue behind the question of the Oath of Allegiance or Affirmation concerns where political authority ultimately resides. Does it originate from the divine, from God or from 'the land and the people'? Should Australian political authority continue to be derived from the British monarch and ultimately God, or should it be ackowledged that popular sovereignty resides in 'the land and the people' of Australia? This is a fundamental question for the republican debate.

The historical position of the Divine Right of Kings was that the power of the monarch was derived from God. Indeed, Romans XIII states, "There is no authority except God which God has established". Queen Elizabeth II had to first attend a three hour Coronation ceremony to almighty God which in turn gave every citizen in her realm, immediate sovereign protection. But how does a divinely ordered constitutional monarchy fit into a modern multicultural society? In recent years there has even been discussion in Britain about changng the Coronation Oaths. This begs the question on what relevance do Coronation Oaths have to Australia when they can themselves be changed? But even though the current British monarch swears a Coronation Oath and is annointed in the same way as were the Kings of the Old Testament, the Coronation Oath is essentially a human construct. It has a historical basis rather than a biblical basis. The Bible is not really interested in the system of government under which God's people live, it is more interested in the compassionate nature and morality of government. The Old and New Testament show God's people living under a variety of different systems of governments from the theocracy of Moses to the Roman rule of the New Testament. But even if ultimate authority does come from God, it doesn't necessarily flow through the forms and symbols of the State. The evangelical Christian tradition says authority flows through God's direct relationships to individuals. Now we have Kevin Rudd, christian and republican, asking for God's help, not authority, to serve as Prime Minister of Australia.

Republicanism does not acknowledge God as the ultimate source of authority in our society rather it is 'the land and the people'. In 1887, Henry Lawson wrote in his 'Song of the Republic':

Sons of the South, make choice between
the land of the morn and the land of the e'en,
the old dead tree and the young tree green,
the land that belongs to the lord and the Queen,
and the land that belongs to you.

It was during the 1963 Royal Tour that Prime Minister Robert Menzies, who was 'British to his bootstraps', said of the young Queen Elizabeth II, "I did but see her passing by, and yet I'll love her till I die". The tide appears to be turning towards a republican future, a future grounded more in a love of country, perhaps even in Dorothea Mackellar's My Country where she wrote "I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains".

One of the essential definitions of a republic is a state based upon popular sovereignty, in which all public offices are held by persons deriving their authority from the people, either through election by the people or appointment by officers themselves elected by the people. The exclusion of the reference to the Queen in the federal ministerial Oath is a tangible step towards repositioning political authority for a republican Australia. Symbols are important and the words in this Oath reflect more meaningfully the reality that our Ministers serve the people of Australia and not a foreign monarch.

The 'currency lads' of the mid-nineteenth century would often use the toast 'To the land, boys'. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd appears to have taken Henry Lawson's advice and chosen "the land that belongs to you" over "the land that belongs to the lord and Queen".

Three cheers for the coming republic!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Charters Towers provides another republican secretary

Last week I was elected Queensland State Secretary, Australian Republican Movement. Although I was happy to accept the position it did give me pause to reflect on my own personal history and that of Fred Passey, Secretary of the Charters Towers-based Australasian Republican Association during early 1890. Fred left Charters Towers in mid-1890 and a few months later became Secretary of the Brisbane branch of the Australasian Republican Association.

Interestingly, my family have lived in the north Queensland goldfield town of Charters Towers since 1890 and with the next generation of my brother's family born there it looks like our presence will continue into this third century. Having grown up in a historic gold-mining town with strong family links and heritage foundations, it was natural that I would take up the study of history. In 1988 I completed a History Honours thesis at James Cook University on the 1890-1891 Charters Towers republican movement. The ARA saw itself as the parent body of an expanding movement and actively encouraged the creation of republican branches throughout Queensland.

A public meeting was called in Brisbane on Thursday, 11 September 1890, in the Victoria Chambers, over Grimes and Petty's, Queen Street to establish a Brisbane branch of the ARA. The main impetus behind the formation of the Brisbane branch was Fred Passey, the ex-secretary of the ARA. The Brisbane branch of the ARA held regular weekly meetings in the Victoria Chambers. The first three topics were: republicanism; independence of Australasia; and the federation of the Australasian colonies into one grand Democratic Commondale.

The Brisbane branch of the ARA was responsible for starting branches of its own. One was established in the Valley and it was intended to have branches in all suburbs. A delegate from the Brisbane branch also visited Gympie in order to start a republican branch on that goldfield.

It appears Charters Towers has again provided Queensland with a republican secretary.

Three cheers for the coming republic!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Republican Race is on

The race is on amongst Commonwealth countries to remove the monarchy and become republics in the Commonwealth. Australia had better move or we'll find ourselves the last of the colonial monarchies.

Link Canadian comic Rick Mercer in a signature rant about the Queen

Australia may hold another referendum depending on the outcome of the current Federal election, support in Canada has topped 50%, and in Jamaica a clear electoral mandate for reform has been given to the new government.

In five of the remaining Commonwealth members with Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State, republican movements are gaining ground - a recent poll by Angus Reid Strategies in Canada indicates that 53% of Canadians support ending the monarchy, while only 35% support the status quo. Citizens for a Canadian Republic leader Tom Freda added "Republican support jumps to 55% versus 31% when respondents are asked about retaining the monarchy with Prince Charles as the successor to Queen Elizabeth II".

In Australia, ALP Federal opposition leader Kevin Rudd has announced that if elected his government would hold a new referendum on Australia dumping the monarchy. Commenting on the Australian announcement, Graham Smith of Republic UK said "We'll be watching the Australian situation with great interest. Seeing Australia become a republic will rock the monarchy back here in the UK, and will provide us with a shining example of what a modern democratic country can aspire to."

In Jamaica the newly elected government has been given a mandate to reform Jamaica's head of state. The new Jamaican Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, has made a clear pledge in the party's election manifesto to "... [t]ake steps to amend the Constitution to replace the Queen with a Jamaican President who sumbolizes the unity of the nation. Such a President will be appointed by consensus through a two-thirds majority vote in each House of Parliament". Reform in Jamaica will influence smaller Caribbean countries. Barbados, St Lucia, Grenada, Belize, St Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, St Vincent and Grenadines will all start to examine the value of reform to their heads of state.

In light of growing republican sentiment in New Zealand, the race to become the newest republic within the Commonwealth is definitely on.

Three cheers to all these coming republics.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Queensland teachers lead the way to the republic

Finally, after thirteen months of negotiation, I've received confirmation that the Queensland Teachers' Union will affiliate with the Australian Republican Movement. As an ARM State Council member and a QTU member and delegate, I had a brainwave in early 2006 that a good way to increase ARM membership would be to have the QTU join the ARM. Little did I know how complicated the task would be through the byzantine committee structure of the QTU. However, yesterday, on 27 September 2007, the ARM (Q) was informed that the Queensland Teachers' Union had taken up the challenge to actively support the move towards an Australian Head of State by becoming the first organisation in Australia in the new category of membership - ARM Supporter. This was the result of not only a great deal of negotiation between me and the QTU State Executive but also about 4 months of backward and forwards policy debate with ARM National Council to establish a national policy for accepting organisations as ARM supporters.

In July 2006 QTU State Council passed a resolution to affiliate with the Australian Republican Movement. This was as a result of my membership campaign directed at all QTU State Executive members. Although the motion had come from the QTU Deputy General Secretary, it was seconded by Allan Cook, ARM member and QTU State Councillor from the floor of the State Council. The motion was overwhelmingly accepted by the 200-member State Council. It is this sort of grass root support that bodes well for coming republican campaigns.

The Queensland Teachers' Union, and the greater trade union movement, has a great deal to offer the republican movement. The Australian Republican Movement needs the support of trade unions and individual trade unionists if we are to achieve our goal of an Australian head of state. The QTU has a membership of approximately 35,000 and is the largest trade union in Queensland. Teachers play an important role in the civic education of our nation and it is a welcome moment as the QTU enters the republican fold.

Deep down in our hearts, we all hope one day we will not need the Queen or Charles or any other British Monarch as our Head of State any more, and we can stand on our own feet and appoint or select one of our own to the Australian Head of State. The support of Queensland's largest trade union is a tangible step towards this goal.

Now to try and sign up the QTU membership.

Three cheers for the coming republic!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Hit the road, (Union) Jack

Last week when I was driving into Sandgate, a suburb on Moreton Bay in Brisbane, I saw a huge billboard advertising Kevin Rudd and the local federal ALP team in the upcoming federal election. What caught my eye was at the bottom of the billboard was an Australian flag without a Union Jack next to the phrase 'the future'.

As someone who has been active in the ALP I thought I would've noticed this republican imagery as soon as it had happened. When I approached ALP State Office (Queensland) for a comment they acknowledged the logo is the new ALP logo and has been for at least the past six months. The snipy comment was that it was emblazoned for all to see at the Queensland ALP State Conference in June. They went further to state the new logo had nothing to do with changing the national flag, but rather is just the removal of the Union Jack from the Labor logo.

I'm intrigued though as to the thinking behind the change to the new ALP logo. Is the use of the Southern Cross with a Federation Star to one side simply a shallow nationalistic response or is there some deeper republicanism going on here? I think the answer is more the first than the second. Although the ALP platform calls for a republic the new logo does not appear to be a deliberate ploy to send a subliminal message to monarchists that their time is up once Kevin Rudd takes over the Lodge.

Although any hint of a republic under the southern cross would make the ghost of Henry Lawson sigh.

Three cheers for the coming republic!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Empire Day or Federation Day?

Well, today is the second Monday in June and again we have a public holiday for the Queen's birthday in Queensland. It has always seemed absurd that Australians acknowledge the birthday of Queen Elizabeth II at a completely different time to her actual birthday. Of course her real birthday was on 21 April 2007 when she turned 81.

The idea of celebrating the sovereign’s birthday was introduced in 1905. After Queen Victoria’s death in 1901 there was a call to remember her long reign. The result was the creation of Empire Day. On 24 May each year, Victoria’s birthday, an annual commemoration was held which was directed especially at school children to promote loyalty among the dominion countries of the British Empire. This day was celebrated by lighting fire-works in back-gardens and attending community bonfires. In 1958, Empire Day was renamed Commonwealth Day. However this is no longer celebrated within the Australian community. Instead Queensland has gazetted the official Queen’s birthday to be on the second Monday in June.

Perhaps celebrating the birthday of one of the fathers of federation, Henry Parkes, may be more relevant to Australians than either Queen’s Victoria or Elizabeth. Coincidentally Parkes was born on 27 May 1815, almost 3 years earlier to the day than Queen Victoria. Federation Day sounds better than Empire Day, and it could still be held each year on the second Monday in June!

Three cheers for an Australian republic!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Charles's footprint

Prince Charles flew to New York a few months ago booking the entire first-class and business-class sections of a jumbo jet for his 20-strong entourage. The point of the US visit was to pick up an award for his work on the environment.

To underline his commitment to reducing his 'carbon-footprint' Charles travelled by scheduled flight instead of a chartered or private jet. However, he and his party travelled exclusively in the first and business-class sections, totalling 62 seats. This meant their effective 'carbon footprint' was three times what it would have been if every seat had been used. The short return trip to New York resulted in the emission of 24 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Prince Charles would need to pay $445 to plant trees to offset this figure.

I think I'd be more interested in calculating Charles's 'relevance footprint'. I wonder how many forests of trees he would have to plant to improve that footprint?

It might be worth constructing a footprint formula for the relevenacy of the Royal family!