Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Commonwealth Day and the sound of silence

 In 2019 I wrote about Commonwealth Day and the sound of crickets. Three years later and there wasn’t even the continuing clicking of crickets on Commonwealth Day – just silence. Reminds me of the total lack of celebrations in Australia for the Queen’s 2012 Diamond Jubilee. 

In Australia there were public holidays on 14 March 2022 that coincided with 2022 Commonwealth Day, such as Canberra Day in the ACT, Labour Day in Victoria, Adelaide Cup Day in South Australia, and Eight-hour Day in Tasmania. Nowhere in any Australian media did there appear any discussion on Commonwealth Day. No crickets, just silence!

Commonwealth Day is meant to be a day of observance by approximately one billion people of their common bonds and the contribution of the Commonwealth of Nations to the creation of a harmonious global environment. However, the only activity connected to Commonwealth Day appears to be the British royal family attending a church service Commonwealth Day is marked by an Anglican service in Westminster Abbey normally attended by Queen Elizabeth II as the Head of the Commonwealth, some of the British royal family, and Commonwealth ambassadors.

The 2020 Commonwealth Day Service was famously the last official public event for Prince Harry before leaving Britain for North America to take his journey towards his desired financial independence.

Queen Elizabeth II missed the Commonwealth Day annual service this year at Westminster Abbey for the Commonwealth of 54 nations which she heads. Prince Charles stepped in to act in her place.


Following the death of Queen Victoria on 22 January 1901, there was a call to remember her long reign. On 24th May each year, Queen Victoria’s birthday, an annual commemoration was held from 1902 to commemorate the formation of the British Empire in India and other colonies of Britain. Empire Day was directed especially at school children to promote loyalty among the dominion countries of the British Empire. Empire Day, often called Cracker Night, was celebrated by lighting fire-works in back-gardens and attending community bonfires.

With the surge for independence from the British Empire in the late 1950s, the British prime minister Harold MacMillan announced in 1958 that Empire Day would be changed to Commonwealth Day as the annual celebration of the Commonwealth of Nations. The date of Commonwealth Day was changed to 10th June, to match with the official birthday of Queen Elizabeth II. However, it was again switched in 1977 to the second Monday in March as no Commonwealth country had a public holiday on that day and almost all countries had school terms.

In 2022, Queen Elizabeth II is going platinum, celebrating her 70th anniversary of ascension to the British throne. In an effort to save the Commonwealth as an institution identified with British royalty, the working royals are being sent to the far-flung parts of the old British Empire to shore up the celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee. However, the British royal family are having a staff shortage. Harry, Meghan and Andrew are out, Philip has died, and the Queen has been forced to take it easy. 


“Will the British Royal Family Survive?"

First through airport gates was Prince William and his wife Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge who headed back to the Caribbean on a whirl-wind tour to Jamaica, Belize and the Bahamas from 19-26 March 2022 to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. This was five months after Barbados declared itself a republic.

The seven-day tour plunged into controversy on several occasions. During the visits to Belize, Jamaica, and The Bahamas the couple made significant changes to their itinerary as backlash grew from locals who referenced the tour as a colonialist "slap in the face". 

The three day visit to Jamaica was marred by Britain’s role in the transatlantic slave trade. The couple’s visit to the country gave the nation the opportunity to address ‘unresolved’ issues. Jamaica’s prime minister, Andrew Holness told the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge that his country is ‘moving on’, intending to become a republic.

After the decision by Barbados to remove the Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State, Prime Minister Holness said in December that ‘there is no question that Jamaica has to become a republic’.

In the middle of overwhelming floods and skyrocketing COVID cases, Princess Anne, 17th in line of succession to the British throne, jetted into Sydney on 9 April 2022 for a three-day visit to open the Bicentennial Sydney Royal Easter Show. As well as being patron of the Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth, she is also president of the Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth. Princess Anne followed the Australian visit with a whirlwind tour of Papua New Guinea from 11 -13 April 2022.

Also, from 22-28 April 2022, Prince Edward and wife Sophie, the Earl and Countess of Wessex were slated to travel to Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines. However, there are leading politicians in St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines also pushing for republics in the Caribbean. It seems unlikely any Caribbean country will have the British monarch as Head of State by the end of this decade. 

The Commonwealth of Nations is not a supranational body. It stopped being a military alliance when Britain turned its back on Australia with the Fall of Singapore in 1942, and stopped being a trade alliance in 1973 when Britain became a member of the European Common Market and turned its back on Australian producers. Instead, it is a group of organisations, often referred to as the Commonwealth ‘family’. However, most of the organisations that exist appear to ostensibly promote the Commonwealth focus on the British royal family and the monarchy.

The Commonwealth’s greatest challenge is that it is closely associated with the British royal family, who use the organisation as a way of trying to project themselves as part of Britain’s ‘soft power’ in the world.

Queen Elizabeth II has been Head of the Commonwealth since she assumed the position in 1953. In 2018, the CHOGM meeting voted to appoint Prince Charles as the next Head of the Commonwealth and succeed the Queen in the honorary, non-hereditary position as Head of the Commonwealth. The British royals continue to insist the Commonwealth is about them, Britain and their dream of empire.

It’s time the British royal family disconnects from the Commonwealth of Nations.

 “Why the Commonwealth should ditch the royals”

The backlash received by Prince William, and the Duchess of Cambridge during the Carribean royal tour during March 2022 has led to growing speculation as to whether more of the 15 Commonwealth realms may soon seek to become a republic. As he was about to board his flight back to Britain after the disastrous tour, Prince William said:

he understood he may never succeed the Queen and the Prince of Wales as head of the Commonwealth, as he vowed not to be “telling people what to do” amid growing republican sentiment throughout the former British Empire.”

The example of the transition of Barbados to a parliamentary republic on 30 November 2021 could spark the ‘New Commonwealth’ dominoes to fall. Barbados demonstrated clearly that the transition to a republic does not mean leaving the Commonwealth. They didn’t even have to apply to re-join as their membership just automatically rolled over.

The majority of Commonwealth countries are republics, with over 90% of Commonwealth citizens living in republics. It’s time Head of the Commonwealth is rotated among Commonwealth leaders. Each country should take its turn to head the Commonwealth, not the Queen and the British royal family.

Australia's lack of interest in Commonwealth Day reflects our desire to break from the British royals and become a republic. Perhaps the reason for the aching silence is the utter irrelevancy of the institution of monarchy in the daily lives of Australians, and arguably all other member nations of the Commonwealth.

All this discussion brings up the issue of an absent Head of State — bring on a resident for president!

 “I want to break free”

Monday, February 28, 2022

Time to replace the British royals

Australian life has been undergoing processes of change for a long time - 56 years ago today, decimal currency replaced Imperial pounds, shillings and pence in Australian commerce. Four years after that, we replaced Imperial measurement with the metric system. We look forward to the day we replace a British royal with an Australian as our Head of State.


 


Thursday, January 13, 2022

Let’s vote for an Australian Republic - the Australian Choice model

The Australian Republic Movement unveiled at the Federation Pavilion in Sydney’s Centennial Park on Wednesday 12 January 2022, its model for an Australian republic, including the preferred method for the nation to vote for our own Aussie Head of State.   

With Queen Elizabeth II’s reign nearing its end, the Australian Republic Movement has developed a new model to unite Australia in becoming a republic. 

Federation Pavilion

Buckingham Palace is now making preparations for the end of the Queen’s reign. Prince Charles is reportedly taking on a number of responsibilities for The Queen, as heir to the British throne. Australia has been preparing too, including working towards the reforms needed for Australia to become a republic.

In January 2020, the ARM adopted a new strategic approach to building public consensus about the reforms that should be taken to a referendum. This involved extensive public consultation, public opinion research and consultation with academics and parliamentarians about the way forward continued throughout 2020 and 2021.

The primary barrier to Australia becoming a republic is not the British Monarchy, but uncertainty. To win that change, a referendum on the republic must achieve a double majority; a majority of votes nationally and a majority in four out of six states. So, any proposition for a republic must be capable of securing majority support in advance of any referendum campaign.

The Australian republic has been our nation’s great unfinished project. The unveiling by the Australian Republic Movement of a model for all Australians to get behind is a leap towards creating our own independent nation. 

It has been clear for decades that Australians want the final say about who our Head of State is.

The 1998 Constitutional Convention held in Old Parliament House, Canberra from 2-13 February 1998 had been given the brief to consider the pros and cons of removing the Monarchy from a role in Australian government and law and changing the Australian Constitution to include a republican form of government.

The Constitutional Convention was convened by former Prime Minister John Howard to discuss issues related to three broad questions about whether or not Australia should become a republic. The three questions identified for discussion by the Prime Minister were:

  1. Whether Australia should become a republic;
  2. Which republic model should be put to the electorate to consider, against the status quo; and
  3. In what time frame and under what circumstances might any change be considered.

If the consensus was "Yes", then a republican model was to be decided on, so it could be put to the Australian people in a referendum on 6 November 1999.

 

The four models that emerged were:

  1. The Direct Election Model where the popular election for president would be held at the same time as those for the house of representatives.
  2. The Hayden Model proposed the popular election for president where a person had been nominated by one per cent of voters.
  3. The McGarvie Model proposed the president be chosen by the prime minister and appointed or dismissed by a constitutional council.
  4. The Bi-Partisan Appointment of the President Model developed by the Australian Republican Movement, where the president was appointed by the prime minister after ratification by a 2/3 majority of Federal Parliament.  

However, the 1998 Constitutional Convention 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, resulting in the splitting of the vote at the 1999 republic referendum and the loss of the vote.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said during his speech to the Australian Republic Movement’s (ARM) 25th Anniversary Dinner on 18 December 2016:

 

“So, if the job description is to be a non-political head of state, the best way to appoint them we felt at the time, was in a bipartisan manner. This exposed us of course to the claim that the ARM model was “a politician’s republic. We were told that you can’t trust politicians — ironically most vocally by politicians.”

 The ARM model, aptly named the Australian Choice model, proposes that Australia’s parliaments nominate candidates for Head of State, who would be put to a national ballot of all Australian voters. The Head of State would be elected for a five-year term and be responsible for appointing as Prime Minister the person who has majority support in the House of Representatives, or calling an election if no-one can obtain that support. The Head of State would have no individual authority in relation to the setting of government policy, day-to-day governance or passing of laws, which remains the responsibility of the parliament, Prime Minister and Cabinet.

ARM National Chair, Peter FitzSimons says the ‘Australian Choice’ model means citizens elect their own leaders. To ensure that there is manageable choice between our most respected and trusted citizens, Australia’s parliaments will nominate a short list of up to 11 candidates – one from each state and territory parliament and up to three by the Federal Parliament. This will ensure strong representation from across the country and a genuine choice. Sitting parliamentarians will be prohibited from standing for election.

The Head of State would be responsible for appointing as Prime Minister the person who has majority support in the House of Representatives, ensuring that the commission of a Prime Minister ends if another person commands that support, or calling an election if no-one can obtain that support. The Head of State will not have the power to dismiss a Prime Minister who retains majority support in the House of Representatives, but would have the power to summon the House of Representatives to determine if the Prime Minister retains that support. They will act on the advice of Government on all other matters.

ARM National Chair Peter FitzSimons said that the Australian Choice model ensures Australians will have a robust choice from eminently qualified, suitable candidates to represent them as Head of State.

We’ve consulted, we’ve listened closely and Australians have told us this approach will give our nation the best chance of success at a referendum, with an overwhelming majority of Australians likely to back the change.

This will give all Australian voters a merit-based choice about who speaks for them as Head of State. The decision will be in their hands, unlike now, where it is luck of the draw who we get from the British Royal Family.

I would like to thank both the thousands upon thousands of Australians who shared their views with us so we could take this historic step forward, and the constitutional experts who helped us refine it”.

The dreams of Australia’s republic supporters lay in tatters with the failure of the 6 November 1999 Referendum. On that evening, the then ARM National Chair, Malcolm Turnbull, said Prime Minister John Howard "broke this nation’s heart" over the failed Republic Referendum result. 

 

In 1999, the band Powderfingertold us how:

 

"These days turned out nothing like I had planned",

 

but continued a few lines later that

 

"it’s coming round again, the slowly creeping hand of time".

 

The Australian Republic will happen — we are a republican people, it’s now a matter of making us a republican nation.

The Australian Choice Model is time for republicans to start “mending our hearts”. For the first time in over twenty years it delivers a genuine choice of Australia’s most respected and trusted citizens so that all the Australian people can vote in a Head of State who represents us all.

For the first time, Australians – all Australians – will have a say in who represents us as Head of State.

Choosing an Australian Republic is about choosing to take our own affairs into our own hands. With an Australian Head of State chosen by all of us, our future, more than ever will be in Australian hands.

We can take it from here.

Find out more: www.republic.org.au/policy