Tuesday, December 23, 2008

This (republican) life

It's been twenty years this month since I submitted my political history honours thesis at James Cook University on the history of an Australian republican moment. The thesis was an analysis of the Charters Towers-based Australasian Republican Association between 1890 and 1891. I've spent the twenty years since then exploring Australia's republican past and publishing many academic articles, newspaper articles, and book chapters on the topic.

Twenty years later I find myself an active member within the current Australian Republican Movement. In September 2005 I was returned at the top of the poll during the ARM election for the 12 member Queensland State Council, and was awarded a PhD from University of New England on the middle class dimesion to Australia's republican past. In 2006 I negotiated the affiliation of Queensland's largest trade union, the Queensland Teachers' Union, with the ARM (the first union ever to do so), and in 2007 was elected ARM Queensland State Secretary.

My family on my maternal grandfather's side have lived in Charters Towers since the 1890s with each generation involved in the mining industry. Growing up in Charters Towers in the 1970s my political outlook drew upon my large extended family's working-class mining heritage and deep personal roots within the gold mining town. In particular it was my grandfather's stories of life working the Charters Towers gold mines, and his memories of his father working the goldfield in the 1890s that moulded the way I saw the world. It was obvious that I would approach life with a strong commitment to support the Australian labour movement.

Charters Towers was a country town of conflicting and clashing ideas. Townies and bushies. Small businessmen and workers. Rural conservative and Labor. A Marxist scholar could have a field day defining class lines and divisions. Class lines in western Queensland have not changed much. There is still a tacit division between old establishment figures and non-land owners. To marry into the landed gentry is still viewed by many mothers of the brides as a step into a better world.

But it was the egalitarianism of the goldfield that seemed to absorb me growing up in Charters Towers. I always had the strong feeling that 'jack is as good as his master'. As a result my view of republicanism was initially grounded in class conflict.

In 1977 I remember seeing for the first time Star Wars. For me it was the Empire verse the Republic - with the rebels being the good guys fighting against the evil Empire. My first republican moment was played out within the confines of the aptly named Regent Theatre with a working-class community cheering on the successful overthrow of the Empire by the rebels within the grand flourish of a space opera.

By 1983 I was reading Russel Ward's, Australia since the coming of man and listening to Australian music such as Goanna's Spirit of Place. This was time when Redgum was lampooning the federal Liberal government, People for Nuclear Disarmament were active within the community, and many Queenslander's were sick and tired of the Bjelke-Petersen government. For me the radical nationalist approach to Australian history constituted Australia's real past.

It was during the 1940s and 1950s that radical nationalist historians wrote histories that retrieved the radical temper of the workers of the past. The radical nationalist view of the 1880s and 1890s reinforced the belief that it was a peiod of intense interest in ideas, in being Australian and in working out solutions to society's problems of poverty and inequality, and drew its support from the popular beliefs founded in mateship, egalitarianism and socialism.

This was best codifed in Russel Ward's 1958 The Australian Legend. In this book, Ward used as his conceptual basis radical distinctiveness. Wards set out to reshape historical thinking about the origins of Australian nationalism. He argued that national identity or the 'Australian spirit' was "intimately connected with the bush and that it derived rather from the common folk than from the more respectable and cultivated sections of society". For Ward, mateship was forged in the hostile environment of the bush and was adopted by the rural unions of the shearers and miners in their famous struggles against the pastoralists during the 1890s. Ward's 'bush legend' was collectivist and democratic in politics. It was the labour historians of the 1950s and 1960s who showed how the organised working-class were the heirs and custodians of the radical nationalist tradition. It was within the radical nationalist historical tradition that I wrote the history of Charters Towers based Australasian Republican Association.

Three cheers for the coming republic!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Vale, George Winterton

It is with great sadness that republicans all around Australia mourn the loss of Professor George Winterton at 61 after a long illness. He was a first-rank constitutional scholar and pioneer of the modern republican debate. Professor Winterton was a pathfinder who took up the republic issue long before it became mainstream.

Professor Winterton 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 referendum. He leaves a prominent legacy with the ongoing importance of the republic debate.

I had corresponded with Professor Winterton since my political history honours year in 1988 at James Cook University. I was impressed how he had given encouragement and support for an honours student at another university who was attempting to construct an argument around the history of the Australian republican movement. In 1993 I wrote a chapter in Professor Winterton's book, We, the People. Australian Republican Government. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000's when I was writing my PhD on the middle-class element in Australia's republican history, Professor Winterton was always supportive when we corresponded. I'm sorry that I'll never be able to take up the offer Professor Winterton offered back in 1988 that the next time I'm passing through Sydney to drop in and we'll have lunch.

Dr Peter Gerangelos delivered the eulogy for Professor George Winterton, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Sydney, on 12 November 2008 at St Francis of Assisi, Paddington, Sydney. For the full text go to http://www.law.usyd.edu.au/news/docs_pdfs_images/2008/Eulogy_George_Winterton.pdf

For George, three cheers for the coming republic.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The winds of change!

Prince Phillip has a long history of provoking embarrassing moments and it looks like he has done it again. Did Phil do what it looks like he did? Liz does not look amused, his kids look suprised, but grandson Harry think's it's hilarious.
The 87-year-old visited Google's London headquarters yesrterday with Queen Elizabeth II. At one point during the the tour he asked a Google worker, dressed casually in hooded top, chinos and trainers like many of his colleagues: "Just come back from jogging?"
This was positively polite compared to past verbal faux pas. These include: "Still throwing spears?" - asked of an Australian Aborigine during a 2002 visit; and, perhaps most famously: "If you stay here much longer, you'll be slitty-eyed", to a group of British students during a state visit to China in 1986.
How many 87 year old men do you know who are still working? There is no doubt he is a sturdy trouper but when will old Phil be given a retirement watch from The Firm and be allowed to sleep in, watch Oprah, and potter around the garden in his pyjama's and slippers? I don't know why they still allow him out in public.
Three cheers for the coming republic!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Wattle Day - our land's birthday

Wattle Day is celebrated annually on the first day of spring, 1st September. It is a time when the smells of spring are in the air and the vivid gold of the blossom is literally arresting. A sprig of Australia's national floral emblem, the golden wattle, Acacia pycnantha is traditionally worn on this day. The green and gold of its leaves and blossoms were declared national colours in 1984 and in 1988 the wattle was adopted as the official national flower. The 1 September 1992 was formally declared as 'National Wattle Day' by then Minister for the Environment, Ros Kelly, and in 1993, the Australian Republican Movement gave its support to Wattle Day celebrations throughout Australia on 1 September.

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 jubilee of the landing as Sydney Cove. There was in this seemingly small gesture, a suggestion of an independent Australia. At a regatta in 1842 to mark the anniversary of Tasman's discovery of Van Dieman's land, many of the celebrant's again wore a sprig of wattle.

The Golden Wattle was the first symbol of the Adelaide Australian Natives' Association's 'Wattle Blossom League'. On Foundation Day, 26 January 1891, the Adelaide ANA represented itself with a Wattle Blossom Banner embroidered with Golden Wattle by its ladies' branch.

But it was not until the beginning of the twentieth century that an official Wattle Day was proclaimed after a suggestion made by the naturalist Archibald Campbell in Sydney. Campbell's suggestion led to a meeting to form a Wattle Day League which coordinated the states into celebrating the first 'Wattle Day' on 1 September 1910. The Wattle Day League was a patriotic society in the vein of the Australian Natives' Association. The day was a celebration of the unique land, people and institutions of Australia, and was marked in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney with activities including the planting of wattle trees in the school grounds, decorating public sites with wattle and wearing wattle. The Sydney Morning Herald wrote: "To the native born Australian the wattle stands for home, country, kindred, sunshine and love - every instinct that the heart deeply enshrines". The celebration of the day continued until the beginning of the first world war.

Wattle celebrations first arose as occasions when earlier generations of Australians stood up and said: "I am from this land. This place is home". Like the Southern Cross, the appeal of the wattle is not first and foremost to the idea of the nation but to the idea of place. Because there is no better symbol of our land than wattle, 'National Wattle Day' each year could be the day Australians recommit to the care of the land. Perhaps 'National Wattle Day' could become our land's birthday. This is the time each year when the landscape waves its golden flag, and in response, many Australians resolve to both respect and care for the land. Perhaps 'National Wattle Day' could be a good replacement for Queen's Birthday holiday.

None of our existing key public holidays are about us Australians as a contemporary people and the land they love. Significant as it is in Australian history, Australia Day is essentially a marker of an event in eighteenth century British colonial history. Anzac Day, as sacred as it is in Australia's national psyche, was inspired initially by the valour and deeds of young Australians in a far away land, out of loyalty to a distant empire. On the other hand, 'National Wattle Day' is about land and people. Wattle is the blaze of colour that paints Australia's landscape every year. It is the gold that blends with the eucalypt green to form the green and gold around which Australians so willingly unite. Because wattle springs organically from the land its bonds Australians as a people to the land. It is a far more meaningful day of celebation than the Queen's Birthday which relates to a monarch in a foreign land, whose real birthday is at another time and which is marked at differing times around Australia.

Because of its association with the land and the care that indigenous, settler and modern day Australians have for it, 'National Wattle Day' can be seen as an occasion to celebrate and honour the shared earth. Respecting and caring for land, protecting its native flora and fauna, and using wisely its water resources are major challenges to commit to as a people. Australia's future is bound tightly with the health of Australia's environment and land.

One of the great failings of the republican movement of the 1990s was it did not project a sense of feeling of place. Instead, it pinned all emotional connections to Australia one one idea - an Australian President. This was a republic embodied, literally, in one person. Australians now need to embody the spirit of the future republic not in the person of the President, but in place. Wattle captures something crucial to the success of the republic - feeling for country.

As a living expression of land, wattle links us to the earliest occupation of the Australian continent. Indigenous Australians used wattle for thousands of years as a season marker (a sign that the whales were coming), as a source of food, and the raw material of hunting and sound instruments. This is part of wattle's wonderful heritage as a unifying symbol of land, people and the nation - a symbol that has no unpleasant baggage.

Wattle is a broad and inclusive symbol. It grows in all parts of Australia, differing varieties flowering throughout the year. It links all Australians, from the first to the newest at citizenship ceremonies. It touches all levels of society, from very early pioneers and World War 1 diggers (buried with a customary sprig of wattle) to victims of the Bali bombings and the nations best who are honoured with Order of Australia awards with insignia designed around the wattle flower.

The wattle flower symbolises an egalitarian, classless, free citizenry. The 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. In September 1981, historian Manning Clark wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald:

"I love the spring. It means the wattle comes out again. It is a symbol of everything one loves about Australia and the ideal of the uniqueness of Australia. To me every spring holds out the hope that it won't be long before Australia is completely independent [but I also] share Henry Lawson's view that blood should never stain the wattle". In other words, independence of course, but peacefully achieved.

Wattle is a metaphor for innocence and hope, the constant promise of rebirth, that simple and powerful beauty of the wattle flower, indigneous, Australian, unsullied by the memory of war and destruction.

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. 'National Wattle Day' on 1st September each year is an appropriate time to commit ourselves afresh for caring for this land.

Three cheers for the coming republic!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Royalty can't beer it

Coopers Brewery was forced to drop a billboard ad earlier this month urging beer lovers to 'Forget the monarchy, support the publicans' beside an image of a frothy schooner of beer after it angered supporters of the Queen.

The billboard was believed to have been part of a national advertising campaign, but it was unknown how many of them were in use around Australia. Although the advertisement had received prior approval from the Advertising Standards Board, the cheerless teacup warriors from the Australian Monarchist Legaue still wrote to the brewery with their concerns and the advertisement was withdrawn.

"Initially on seeing it I thought that it might be humorous, but then I recognised that as people drive into the car park all they're going to see is 'forget the monarchy' ", Australian Monarchist League national chairman Phillip Benwell told AAP. Benwell argued it was a political statement and felt that using the phrase crossed a boundary. Why not say 'Forget the republicans', he bleated.

A Coopers representative responded to the League, "It was not our intention to attack the monarchy nor in any way was it a political statement. It was an advertisement designed to demonstrate that we are not buying into the debate but instead supporting the people and businesses (publicans) that are important to us."

This is another example of Australia's republican spirit bubbling to the surface. It was interesting that Cooper's and its advertising agency seemed genuinely surprised that anyone would take offence at the billboard ad. Most Australians like a bit of humour and larrikinism in their politics. It is the cheerless monarchists who are out of step with contemporary Australia.

Benwell and his cheerless cohort really do appear to be doing a King Canute and futilely commanding the republican tide not to come in. "Some people might think we are being a bit precious, but if we don't take a stand these things will continue", Benwell said. The absurdity of theirdemand to have a beer billboard removed can be heard in their shrill voices screeching "We are on the watch for these type of things". King Canute couldn't control nature and nor can Benwell dampen the roar from the coming republican tide.

Three cheers for the coming republic!

Friday, July 11, 2008

A Vision Splendid

In December 2007 Melbourne's Royal Women's Hospital axed its reference to the Queen. The landmark hospital in Parkville changed its signs to 'The Women's' after advice from consultants that its traditional name was ineffective. One of Victoria's leading maternity hospitals, the hospital was opened in 1856 and was known as 'The Women's Hospital' from 1884 until Queen Elizabeth II conferred a Royal Charter upon it in 1954. From the beginning of 2008 the hospital reverted to 'The Women's' but will continue to be registered as The Royal Women's Hospital. This is due to the issue that any Royal Institution or Royal Society would cease to exist as a legal entity if their Royal Charter was revoked or dissolved.

As there is no precedent in living memory for the Queen revoking a Royal Charter then the only way a Royal Charter can be dropped is for it to be dissolved by an Act of Parliament. The handing back of Royal Charters is a sign the Australian republican spirit is bubbling up to the surface into the active consciousness of Australian society. On 6 July 2004, the Federal Court approved the merger of the Royal Blind Society of NSW, the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind Ltd, and Vision Australia Foundation into a combined agency known as Vision Australia Ltd. Legislation was passed in NSW and Victoria to ensure the assets and liabilities of the three separate organisations were transferred, where possible, to the new entity.

Indeed, it was necessary to pass legislation to also ensure that bequests and gifts created or granted, in the past and future, after the agencies were wound up or de-registered would be transferred to the new agency, Vision Australia. However the name 'Royal' was not adopted by the new merged agency.

Vision Australia is leading Australians into a republican future. On 5 December 2006, members of the Royal Blind Foundation Queensland voted in favour of amalgamating with Vision Australia. In February 2008 it was announced that the Seeing Eye Dogs Australia would also merge with Vision Australia by the end of June 2008. The delivery of an effective service to Australians appears to be of more importance to vision-impaired Australians rather than founding their new agency within an outdated concept of a Royal Charter.

For vision-impiared Australians the spectacle of royalty, with all its pomp and ceremony, appears to have no relevance. What is more important is Australians helping Australians. There is no longer a need for royal permission or patronage to deliver a needed service to the people of Australia.

The clear republican vision of Vision Australia shows the way for other Royal Societies and Royal Institutions - it's time to return the Royal Charters to the various State Parliaments and stand tall.

Three cheers for the coming republic!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

OneRepublic breaks record

OneRepublic, a US rock band, had the most downloaded song in Australian history with their smash hit, 'Apologize'.

The band, who toured Australia in April 2008, sold over 90-thousand downloads in Australia.

On 4 April 2008 OneRepublic performed 'Apologize' on Channel 7's Sunrise.

It's through popular culture that the debate for the creation of an Australian republic will be maintained.

Three cheers for the coming republic!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

You don't vote for Kings!

As Monty Python said, "You don't vote for Kings!" So the question is then how do you become the King of Australia?

On the weekend of 12-13 July 2008, Australia's own home-grown king along with his nobles and courtiers will take to the Field of St Michael's, during the Abbey Medieval Festival. This is the largest authentic medieval re-enactment event in Australia. It spans a thousand years from Europe's Dark Ages to the High Middle Ages, roughly AD600 to 1600. In 2007, approximately 18,500 people participated in the weekend Tournament outside Caboolture, north of Brisbane.

The Australian Crown on the field came into being in 2000, when the Baronry's, Shire's, College's, and Canton's of Australia voted in favour to advance to Kingdom status, to split from the Kingdom of the West (the West coast US) and rule themselves as the Kingdom of Lochac. As the seventeenth kingdom of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), a historical re-creation and living history group founded in California in 1966 which recreates pre-17th century Western European history, life and culture of the landed nobility, the Kingdom of Lochac encompasses all Australian states and New Zealand.

Viscount Baronress Mistress Rowan Perigrynne said at the time, "I love the West and always will, as a child loves its parents. Yet every child grows up and makes their own way in the world, and the parents rejoice to see them stand on their own! I believe we are ready to make the next step, take the next challenge, and celebrate the dawn of the Kingdom of Lochac. This would truly be the fulfillment of my dream of so many years ago."

Yolande Kesteven also said, 'I know that Lochac is a part of the Kingdom of the West, and that makes a difference to me when I swear fealty, when I give the Royal Toast, do Princess things, and when I call for three cheers in my student Heralding moments. But these are the only times it really makes a difference to me. For the rest of the time, there is only Lochac. And while the West is very dear to me, it is a separate place, far away".

The echoes of the arguments put forward for the Yes vote in the 1999 republican referendum resound clearly through these comments. As Australia matures as a nation there comes a time when the child grows up and cuts the apron strings. A year after the defeat of the 1999 referendum the Lochac Kingdom Poll was successful.

The Australian Crown of Lochac is chosen in a different way to that of the British Crown. To become King of Lochac a candidate must win a Crown Tournament, that is through combat on the field, to hold the Crown for a period of six months. Of course, this was not how medieval monarchs were chosen. Certainly many Kings were crowned after having conquered a kingdom through right of arms, but the crown tournament model of selecting Kings is purely a SCA process.

Even though Monty Python's character King Arthur said it was by divine providence that he became King through presentation of Excalibur by the Lady in the Lake, the Anglo-Saxon Kings were actually elected by the witan, a group of self-interested land holders who could raise a large enough fighting force to cause trouble if they didn't get their own way. This process of appointment through consent is not unique but certainly unusual. Britain had twice been momentarily an elective monarchy, in the sense that new monarchs were appointed by a process of consent - William-and-Mary and George 1. Maybe three times, insofar as George VI succeeded Edward VIII not strictly by hereditary right but by the explicit consent of the governments of the Empire.

Of course, a monarch ruling over Australian's is an absurd fiction, whether it is a right of arms medieval re-enactment King or the hereditary British monarch. Although the nobles of Lochac may enjoy the pagentry of recreating times gone by, for those of us in the mundane world the sooner Australian's create a republic the better.

Three cheers for the coming Australian republic!

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Students say Yes to an Australian republic

There were twenty-seven students from Queensland among 122 Year 11 and 12 students who attended the National Schools' Constitutional Convention in Old Parliament House, Canberra between 29 April and 1 May 2008.

Wavell SHS students (Qld delegates), Kate Stevenson and Temiah Henaway

On the Convention topic Australian Republic: to be or not to be? the students, who were from across all states and territories, voted in favour of a republic. In response to the question: are you in favour of the Australian Constitution being amended to establish the Commonwealth of Australia as a republic? 54% were in favour and 45% were not (There was one informal response).

The students listened as experts in constitutional law outlined three possible republic models for Australia:
Model 1: A republic with the Queen and Governor-General being replaced by a President selected and appointed by the Prime Minister.
Model 2: A republic with the Queen and Governor-General being replaced by a President appointed by a two-thirds majority of the members of the Commonwealth Parliament.
Model 3: A republic with the Queen and Governor-General being replaced by a President elected directly by the electors of Australia.

Each student was required to deliver a brief address outlining their point of view. Following discussion and debate, the students took part in a mock referendum using a preference voting system to determine the preferred model: Model 2 was favoured by 73.1% of students; Model 1 by 18.5%; and Model 3 by 8.4%.

It was only the second time in thirteen years that delegates to the Convention voted in favour of amending the Australian Constitution. Decisions taken at the Convention were presented to Deputy President of the Senate, John Hogg, Senator for Queensland, for tabling in the Senate.

The votes in favour of an Australian republic at both the National Schools Constitutional Convention and the 2020 Conference show a mood swing in favour of a republican Australia.

Three cheers for the coming republlic!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

2020 calls for 2010 Republic!

Australia will be a republic within two years if delegates to the recent 2020 Summit in Canberra have their way. Summiteers in the 'Australian Governance' stream voted three to one to endorse the ambitious target, proposed by Federal Home Affairs Minister Bon Debus. Delegates had originally agreed to a 12-year target. But when challenged he challenged delegates to a shorter time frame, Debus was cheered and clapped. When asked for a show of hands, the summiteers overwhelmingly voted for the suggestion. There was also enthusiastic support for an Australian republic from all the other participants in the Summit - not just those who addressed the governance questions with the republic becoming one of the to-ranked ideas of the entire Summit.

It was heartening to read the recommendations from the 2020 Summit calling for a plebiscite on the issue of whether Australia should become a republic followed by a referendum. The 'Australian Governance' stream ser forth the ambition of a new Australian republic - one which clearly enshrines and upholds the rights, responsibilities, and reciprocal relationships of both citizen and government. This would be enabled by a proposed two-stage process, with wide community involvement and ownership of outcome. Stage 1 would end ties with the UK while retaining the Governor-General's titles and powers for five years. Stage 2 would identify new models after extensive and broad consultation. In the lead up to the plebiscite there needs to be a broad community engagement and education to ensure that all Australians can have a calm, thorough and constructive discussion about our republic. This consultation should be a unifying national experience - not an exercise in establishing 'winners' and 'losers'. Unless Australians are given owenership of the process and proposal, they will likely again vote no to defeat a politicans' republic.

The 2020 Summit has made it clear that the republic is a priority for our nation and the work necessary to achieve this great national goal should begin as soon as possible this year. This work should progress together with the other identified priorties and not be downgraded as being a lesser priority. This is one more step towards making an Australian republic a reality.

With the 10th anniversary of the 1999 republican referendum approaching, it is time to restart that debate

Three cheers for the coming republic!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Educating for a republic

Whether Australia moves to a republic or not, any effort to encourage a significant improvement in knowledge of the Australian Constitution by Australians is warranted. A new and impartial Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Constitutional Education and Awareness would be a great start.

The 2004 Senate Inquiry into an Australian Republic examined the issue of Australia's constitutional awareness and education, and found that there was "a general lack of understanding in the Australian community of the Australian Constitution and system of government".

These concerns have been further reinforced by the Australian Electoral Commission sponsored Youth Electoral Study that sought to establish why so many young people were disengaged from the political system. The researchers found only 82% of young Australians 17-25 years of age were enrolled to vote at the time of the 2004 federal election, compared to 95% of older Australians. They also found that only half of the young people they interviewed would vote if it was not compulsory, and among the reasons given by the respondents for not voting was lack of knowledge. Only half felt that they knew enough about the political issues, the voting system and the political parties to vote. These results are a little surprising given the improved civics education introduced into Australian schools over the last decade through the Discovering Democracy program. In the 1990s the Constitutional Centenary Foundation (CCF) did a fine job preparing and disseminating materials to schools and community groups regarding the operation of Australia's constitutional system. The CCF provided impartial materials prior to the 1999 republican referendum and coordinated Constitutional Convention programs through schools and local councils. Unfortunately, funding for the CCF ran out with Australia's Centenary of Federation in 2001.

The Constitutional Education Fund Australia (CEF-A) was set up in 2003 as a bipartisan organisation to educate the public on the role of the Australian Constitution. According to its website, CEF-A "has been established to help all Australians gain a better understanding of the Australian Constitution and the Constitution of the States of Australia". The Governor-General is the Patron-in-Chief of CEF-A, which financially supports an annual Governor-General's prize for undergraduate students.

In June 2003 the Australian Government granted rare gift recipient tax deductibility status to CEF-A. From the beginning CEF-A shared its Executive Director, Kerry Jones, with Australians for Constitutional Monarchy (ACM), and was run from the ACM's Sydney office. The ACM regularly appealed to its members to contribute to CEF-A. Despite the inclusion of several republican academics on its advisory board, the Australian Republican Movement and its members were never approached to be involved in CEF-A programs or activities.

On 13 February 2006, Lindsay Tanner, the MP for Melbourne, stated in Federal Parliament that leading monarchist Kerry Jones was contracted through her company to run the affairs of both organisations, and claimed this was a clear indication of a conflict. He continued to paint a picture of collusion between CEF-A and ACM. "Only one conclusion can be drawn from these facts: the ACM is engaged ina brazen tax scam", Tanner told Federal Parliament. "CEF-A is simply an ACM front organisation which exists solely as a filter through which donations can become tax deductible. It operates from the same location as ACM, it is run by the same people and it has the same auditors. It is little more than a shell. This is nothing less than a fraud on Australian taxpayers". He said hundreds of thousands of dollars of tax had been evaded. Since it was granted tax deductibility, tax-free deductions of about $350,000 a year had gone into CEF-A's coffers. Yet over the same period, donations to ACM more than halved. In 2002-03, ACM received non-deductible donations of just over $450,000, but the next year donations fell to $200,000.

The Australian Republican Movement (ARM) responded "this sounds very serious and we can only hope that the ACM has not been filtering money into its own coffers under the pretence of 'constitutional education', while we at the ARM have been continuing the struggle to raise much needed funds through raffles and sausage sizzles, supported by the grass roots of our membership. We look forward to full disclosure on this matter".

Kerry Jones stated CEF-A was a "non-partisan promoter of civics education and denied any conflict of interest involving her own support for Australian remaining a constitutional monarchy". Ms Jones said that neither was there any conflict of interest regarding CEF-A and ACM employing her separate management consultancy. She did not dispute the financial incomings and outgoings, but said the high administration costs for CEF-A were beacuse it had to meet start-up costs. The ATO audit in June 2006 found there had been no breach of the Tax Act.

The Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee noted in its report, The Road to a Republic, that all sides of the republican debate had stressed the importance of constitutional education and awareness and concluded that it was "the key to effective participation in any proposed constitutional reform, including reforms leading towards an Australian republic". Among its extensive recommendations, the Senate Committee proposed that a fully resourced parliamentary committee be established to facilitate and oversee ongoing education and awareness programs to imporve Australian awareness and understanding of the Constitution and our system of government. The Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Constitutional Education and Awareness would also be responsible for the preparation and dissemination to voters of independent information, rather than partisan arguments for the Yes and No cases, in the lead-up to any future republican referendum. Republicans have more at stake than most when it comes to constitutional education and awareness: most analyses suggest that the poor level of constitutional knowledge was a major factor in the 1999 republican referendum's failure. It certainly contributed to the effectiveness of the monarchist's cynical slogan, "If you don't know, vote No". However, in the area of constitutional education, it is imperative to establish and maintain bipartisan programs, both perceived and real - the Australian people will not accept anything else!

Three cheers to the coming republic!

Friday, February 29, 2008

Australia's 'Republic of Letters'

It seems strange to me that there is no tradition of republican speculative fiction in Australia. Sure, there were republican poets such as Charles Harpur writing in the 1840s and 1850, and republican writers such as John Dunmore Lang and Daniel Deneihy in the 1850s and William Lane, Henry Lawson and John Norton in the 1880s and 1890s. But where have these writers been for the past century? There are almost no examples where republican settings or arguments have been explored in Australian fiction. Republican arguments and exploration of the past and imaginations of the future are all written within the framework of constitutional debates. But where do the people of Australia fit into this? Where are their myths and stories to tell and retell and remember about Australia's republican identity? I find it most peculiar there is an absence of contemporary republican fiction writers in Australia.

The thought occured to me if the majority of Australians have been saying for at least the last twenty years that an Australian republic is inevitable (although Mark McKenna established in his The Captive Republic this is a sentiment that has existed since the 1830s), has this been reflected in the speculative fiction stories which have been written? I couldn't think of any Republic-based stories off the top of my head. Why would this be? Have all the Australian fiction writers not really thought about the issue? Do they consider it irrelevant? But even if it is irrelevant to what the author considers the essential part of the story, surely most of the stories set in an Australian future would have a republic as the backdrop? The only recent examples I can find is the science fiction anthology Aurealis, 20/21, April 1998 and the 2005 novel, Pathway to Treason.

At first brush you may well ask what do the Australian Republic and science fiction have to do with each other? In this volume the authors have speculated on the possible futures of the Australian republic. Science fiction writers deal with possibilities. They speculate. They make the future seem real. However, you can't achieve anything unless you imagine it first. Before every great invention and before every great journey is the idea. Without ideas and imagination, we are all trapped in the past. Science fiction has always pointed the way forward.

In Ken Harris's Pathway to Treason it is the year 2020 and Australia is a republic with a President joining the Prime Minister at the helm of the country, although as with the Governor General before, the President is supposedly merely a figurehead, a rubberstamp when it comes to the question of running the country. Peter Elphinstone, ex-test cricketeer and President of Australia is far from satisfied with the way the country is being run. Prime Minister Bill Packard is far from pleased with the President sticking his beak into matters that shouldn't concern him. When the Australian ambassador to Syria is assassinated, the PM is all fired up to join the US in sending troops to the Middle East should America ask him. Elphinstone, on the other hand, is horrified that a war could be about to start and moves to stop the possibility. Technically the President has the authority to affect such a decision, the big question is, does he have the power? It's his willingness to have this question answered that ignites the political fireball. The remainder of the novel revolves around the head to head battle between Packard and Elphinstone as the entire seat of government is threatened.

We need more of these Australian stories with a republican backdrop. They don't have to be political thrillers or constitutional whodunnits but rather an exploration of our future, our republican future.

Three cheers for the coming republic!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Looking towards Australia's political future

The Governor-General, who is the Queen's representative in Australia, is due to be replaced in the next few months. This is a great opportunity for Prime Minister Rudd to begin to democratise the office of Governor-General through a wider consultation process before the appointment.

Australians need someone who can represent all the Australian people as their next Governor-General. However, the current process for chosing Australia's Head of State is simply 'genetic roulette'. This means Australia's next Head of State has already been chosen. This happened on Saturday, 14 February 1948 - nine months before the date of Prince Charles's birth when the gun was fired, the great race began, and the first sperm to cross the finish line was given the honour of deciding who will occupy the most powerful position under the Australian Constitution. During the next Governor-General's term it is likely that the Australian people will be asked to consider the question of having an Australian citizen as our Head of State - instead of a foreign monarch.

The new Governor-General should be someone who is open to all sides of the republican debate - unlike the current Governor-General who has declined to meet representatives of the Australian Republican Movement despite the fact that more Australians support a republic than a monarchy. Polls continue to show that only 1/3 of Australians support the monarchy.

As the Australia Day Weekend's patriotic glow wanes it is time to reflect upon Australia's political future and call upon Prime Minister Rudd to consult widely before recommending the next Governor-General to Queen Elizabeth for approval.

Three cheers for the coming republic!