Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Republican Island of Tasmania

While the Australian Republican Movement was out and about in Tasmania throughout October and November talking to everyday Australians, Prince Charles and his wife skipped around a few states talking to almost no-one.

THE ARM HAS BEEN RETHINKING the way forward to a republican future. In October 2012, they announced they were starting a new campaign for an Australian republic.

The rebranded website described the purpose to the new campaign:
We want to get Australians talking about us, our country – and the future we will share, together. This campaign is about our identity, as Australians, the way we see ourselves and the way we want to be seen.’
The purpose of the new campaign is to get Australians talking about our identity and asking, “Who do we want to be?” It’s about seeking to build a consensus about our identity that can include all Australians. A republic is for all of us. It’s about Australia, our identity and our place in the world.

The new campaign footing for the ARM started in early 2012, with the appointment of a new national director, David Morris. Morris grew up in Tasmania and worked for the late premier Jim Bacon. He resigned from his diplomat job to devote his energy towards an Australian republic. On his appointment, he stated:
It’s a big ask and it’s time to start the conversation again … The first step is to find what we agree on as a nation rather than what divides us.”
David Morris has described Tasmania as “one of the staunchest republican states”. It was for this reason the Australian Republican Movement chose Tasmania as the place to revive Australia’s republic debate. 

In Tasmania, ARM national director David Morris (right) with comedian Julian Morrow and Senator Lisa Singh.

On 21 March 2012, eminent Australian historian Professor Henry Reynolds delivered a Public Lecture at University of Tasmania titled The Tasmanian Roots of the Republican Issue. In this lecture on the history of the republican issue in Tasmania, Henry Reynolds focussed on Australia’s pre-eminent republican, Andrew Inglis Clark.

Andrew Inglis Clark is still well-known in Tasmania. Andrew Inglis Clark was a passionate republican, an engineer, founder of the University of Tasmania, designer of Tasmania’s Hare-Clark voting system, editor of small, vibrant literary magazines and, above all, a believer in inalienable human rights. He had a lifelong fascination with the United States. He recounted how this began in his teenage years when the American Civil War broke out. His enthusiasm for the ideals of the American republic never died. Clark came to understand the principles of federalism from the captains of the Boston whaling fleet which fished the great southern oceans and regularly came to port at his home town, Hobart. As Alfred Deakin suggested, republicanism was a key feature of Inglis Clark’s intellectual character:
Small, spare, nervous, active, jealous and suspicious in disposition, and somewhat awkward in manner and ungraceful in speech, he was nevertheless a sound lawyer, keen, logical and acute. A persevering student, his sympathies were republican, centring upon Algernon Sydney among Englishmen, upon Mazzini in Italy and especially upon the United States, a country to which in spirit he belonged, whose Constitution he reverenced and whose great me he idolized.”
Henry Reynolds stated that Inglis Clark was a member of the American Club in the 1870s with other “young, ardent republicans” and, at its annual dinner in 1876, he declared:
We have met here tonight in the name of the principles which were proclaimed by the founders of the Anglo-American Republic … and we do so because we believe those principles to be permanently applicable to the politics of the world.”
As a result, Inglis Clark entered Tasmanian politics in 1878 under attack for his ultra-republican, if not communist, views by Hobart’s The Mercury.

Andrew Inglis Clark
Modern scholars agree that Andrew Inglis Clark wrote the first recognisable version of the Australian Constitution and it was through his draft that a strong republican element was introduced. Before the 1891 National Federal Convention commenced, work had already been undertaken to collect information to assist delegates in understanding the different ways of structuring a federation. Alfred Deakin had urged delegates at the 1890 Australasian Federation Conference to study James Bryce’s three-volume, The American Commonwealth (1888). In addition, the now Tasmanian Attorney-General, Andrew Inglis Clark had prepared a draft Constitution that was circulated to some of the delegates. It was written in the same form and language as an Act of the Imperial Parliament, and consisted of clauses extracted and adapted from the British North America Act, the United States Constitution, the Federal Council of Australasia Act 1885 and the Constitutions of the Australian colonies.

Andrew Inglis Clark’s draft Constitution contained the familiar structure of a House of Representatives directly elected by the people in electorates with approximately equal populations. A Senate constituted by an equal number of representatives of each State was already an accepted basis of Inglis Clark’s draft Constitution. The main differences with the final Constitution accepted at the end of the 1890s were that Inglis Clark’s Senate was to be elected by the State Parliaments rather than directly elected by the people, and there were no appeals to the Privy Council. Inglis Clark’s draft also provided for the election of State Governors by State Parliaments, and for amendment of the Constitution by federal legislation confirmed by two-thirds of the State Parliaments. Inglis Clark’s draft gave a form to the concept of federation and had a strong influence on the 1891 National Convention. He was later to state:
“…the authors of [the American Constitution were] … also the primary authors of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia.”
Despite many subsequent changes and the work of others, especially Samuel Griffith and Charles Kingston, modern scholars agree that Andrew Inglis Clark wrote the first recognisable version of the Australian Constitution.

On 15 October 2012, Associate Professor James Curran also delivered an address on Australian republicanism at the Stanley Burbury Theatre in Hobart. In this lecture, Curran explored the history of Australia’s post-war ties to Britain and argued that the country’s shaky exit from the empire can help illuminate the path ahead for the Republican movement.  He also argued that one of the keys to Australia’s republican renewal is dispensing with tired metaphors and stale narratives about national ‘immaturity’ or cultural ‘dependence’ and instead focusing on the story of Australia’s remarkably rapid political, economic and social transformation since the 1970s.  Curran proposed a revitalised republican conversation that seeks to harness a shared sense of community and place along with a new and more inclusive narrative of the nation.

In Hobart on 20 October 2012, David Morris launched the republican campaign to start a month of activities throughout Tasmania in a trial run for a campaign in every state next year. The new republican campaign is about defining who we are, where we live, where we call home and who we want to be as a nation. This is an important conversation for all Australians, no matter where they live across all states and territories.

The ARM’s new national campaign is to be led from the bush and the regions, without pushing a preferred model. It is to avoid politicians and seek to re-engage ordinary citizens via a “conversation” about what it means to be Australian. Even so, the Tasmanian Premier, Lara Giddings threw her support behind the idea of Australia becoming a republic:
I’m personally a strong supporter of an Australian republic. I hope that we will see a better way of having this debate and discussion with the Australian people so we can move towards a republic and become one.”
Other political class supporters include Andrew Wilkie (pictured above with David Morris) and Senator Lisa Singh. Mike Steketee wrote in The Age, 20 October 2012 how
'the republicans today move from a passive approach to a campaign footing. The focus will be on Australia’s identity and values, with a new website asking ”Who do we want to be?” It invites people to sign up and join the conversation about ”what are the values, identity and characteristics that make us unique?”
For the next four weeks, David Morris and the Tasmanian republicans travelled around Tasmania talking to everyday Australians at various shows and fairs culminating in a fundraiser dinner at Hobart’s spectacular Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) on 18 November 2012. During the Tasmanian republican campaign, the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, with his wife the Duchess of Cornwall, toured Australia as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations — then left.

During their visit, they attended the Melbourne Cup, where they spent their time in the Flemington’s committee room and presented trophies. Both these areas were closed to the public. The theme for the Royal visit was the lack of opportunity for everyday Australians to meet the Royal couple. For the people of Tasmania, the contact with the republicans was the complete opposite – open and engaged.

Back in Canberra, the republican historian and Manning Clark biographer Mark McKenna presented Starting all over again: Rethinking the republic of Australia for the 21st century as the 13th Dymphna Clark Lecture on 14 November 2012 at the National Library of Australia. McKenna argued:
“…rather than waiting for the Queen to die, we need to start rethinking the case for a republic now. We need to rethink the arguments for a republic and make them relevant to Australia in the twenty-first century.”
This theme of rethinking the republic was continued on 24 November 2012, when the National Republican Lecture brought to a national close the republican campaigning for 2012. In James Curran’s Resetting the Republic lecture he presented his insights into the republican movement moving into the future. In essence, he claimed that the Australian Republican Movement “is being held captive by outdated nationalist rhetoric,” and identified anti-British sentiments as a key problem in modern republican argument. James Curran told his audience:
The republic can be part of that great story of Australian adaptability and change, but we cannot, and must not, lecture the people or treat the issue as some sort of pantomime about pathways to maturity. Australians, particularly the younger generation, simply don’t feel the nagging compulsion to trash a Brit.
Curran argued that the republican movement was “being held captive by out-dated nationalist rhetoric” and the debate suffers from ”rhetorical arthritis,” with leading Australian republican thinkers continuing to use ”hoary old platitudes” from the 1970’s.

It is time to avoid politicians and seek to re-engage ordinary citizens via a “conversation” about what it means to be Australian.

To participate in this conversation go to