Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The movement for an Australian republic re-energised

It's a great time to be a republican in Australia. The political landscape in Australia is definitely changing. On Australia Day 2016, Australia's premiers and chief ministers made public declarations supporting an Australian head of state. The Prime Minister, Federal Opposition Leader, six premiers and the Chief Justice are now all declared republicans. The Australian Republican Movement has now confirmed most federal MPs and Senators want to ditch the monarchy.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and wife Lucy at ARM dinner
The Guardian states that in all, 81 out of 150 members of the House of Representatives, and 40 out of 76 members of the Senate have declared their support for an Australian republic, the movement says. According to ARM the number may be even higher as 58 lower house MPs have not stated a position on the republic, with only eleven lower house MPs listed as committed monarchists. In the upper house, 21 senators were undeclared or undecided and only 15 favour the monarchy. This Australian Federal Parliament has a 53.5% majority of declared support for the creation of an Australian republic.

The ARM figures show the Greens are the most pro-republic, with 100% in support, followed by Labor (93%). Just 19 Coalition parliamentarians are openly in support of a republic (17%) although most, 65, are undecided or undeclared. If Labor MPs are bound to support the republic, support climbs to 86 in the lower house and 42 in the Senate, or a 56.6% republican majority.

In a new poll released by the ANU Australian Electoral Study, support for an Australian head of state has hit 53 per cent (reflecting the position of the federal parliament) and outpointed the 51% result in a Newspoll earlier this year.
The new numbers and poll were revealed on the eve of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's highly anticipated speech to the ARM's 25th anniversary dinner. ARM national chair Peter FitzSimons said the dinner wouldhonour those who’ve got us to this point” and Mr Turnbull was “at the forefront of our founding fathers and mothers”.

The dinner is also a moment for the ARM to outline its vision for the future. A vision in which Australia takes the lead and completes the journey to full and final independence,” he said.

On Saturday, 17 December 2016 in the Great Hall at the University of Sydney, he outlined a road map toward an Australia head of state. If you haven't seen it, you can read the speech here.
ARM Mational Chair, Peter Fitzsimons and Turnbulls at Sydney Uni
As ARM National Chair, Peter FitzSimons said in response: 
"tonight we are re-energised as never before". 
However, the PM also made it clear in his speech that this journey should not begin until the end of the Queen's reign.

With respect to Prime Minister Turnbull, we disagree.

Becoming a republic is about Us, the Australian people. We can only assert our independence by ushering in an Australian head of state on our own terms and at a time of our choosing.  

Our challenge as republicans is to change Malcolm's mind. Luckily, the PM himself told us how we can do this

"house by house, street by street, and suburb by suburb, we must make the case to our fellow citizens."

So that is the plan for 2017. Recruit more members, enlist more volunteers, keep the polls shifting ever northward.

Here are three ways you can help:
  • If you're not already a member or your subscription has lapsed, you can join here
  • Buy an Australia Day gift membership for that special republican in your life
  • Chip in to help grow the campaign by donating here
Make no mistake, the Australian Republican Movement is back in business. With majority support in both houses of the federal parliament, Bill Shorten ready to go, and the PM announcing his road map to an Australian head of state, we are on the move.

Whether you sign-up as a member, register a friend  or donate, now is the moment to put your shoulder to the wheel. 

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Referendum on an Australian republic succeeds

On 6 November 1999, the Australian Republic Referendum failed, but now it seems Australia's youth are beginning to "mend the nation’s heart".
This time last year, I described how November was Australia’s "republican season". November is the republican end of the year in Australia - a time of the year full of republican symbolism. The republican season includes the anniversary of the 1999 republican referendum, as well as the anniversary of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s dismissal by then Governor-General John Kerr in 1975. The latter event remains the most dramatic event in Australia’s political history and began the modern republican movement.
It’s a great time to be a republican in Australia. Recent events have changed the political landscape for the better — and taken the journey towards an Australian head of state a lot closer.

The Australian Republican Movement’s membership has surged over the past 12 months. This had been helped when knighthoods were reintroduced in 2014 and again after the knighting of Prince Philip as then PM Abbott's "captain’s pick" on Australia Day 2015.

On 26 August 2015, the Australian Republican Movement’s chairman, Peter FitzSimons, entertained a full house at the National Press Club in Canberra. Membership doubled in the weeks after Malcolm Turnbull became PM, and have surged over the past 12 months. On Australia Day 2016, Australia's premiers and chief ministers made public declarations supporting an Australian head of state. The political landscape in Australia is definitely changing. The Prime Minister, Federal Opposition Leader, six premiers and the Chief Justice are all declared republicans. It appears the points of the Southern Cross are coming into alignment.

Every year since 1995, a series of Schools Constitutional Conventions occur across Queensland. The Conventions involve secondary students from all three educational sectors — state, Catholic and independent. They provide senior secondary students with an opportunity to engage with and debate Australia’s Constitution and contemporary constitutional issues, as well as the mechanism to select delegates to the National Schools Constitutional Convention held in Canberra each March.

"Should Australia become a republic?” was the question at the 2008 National Schools Constitutional Convention, with 54% in favour and 45% against (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%.
This was only the second time in 13 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 16th National School Constitutional Convention, held at Old Parliament House, Canberra, 22 to 24 March 2011 considered the question, “Should Australia become a republic?”
The Convention comprised 127 students from government, independent and Catholic schools from across Australia, covering metropolitan and country areas. Approximately 55% of students were from government schools, 25% were from independent schools and 20% were from Catholic schools.  After being presented with arguments for and against by leading experts, the students were given an opportunity to ask questions, to clarify points and to seek further information as well as challenge the views put forward by the experts.
When asked to vote on the question “Are you in favour of the Australian Constitution being amended to establish the Commonwealth of Australia as a Republic?”, the results were 41 delegates (32%) were opposed to, and 86 (68%) were in favour of, Australia becoming a republic.
The 2016 Metropolitan Queensland Schools Constitutional Convention was held on Wednesday, 5 October 2016 in the Undumbi Room, Queensland Parliament House. There were 13 two-minute speeches delivered by students who were competing for the National Delegate positions. Each student had to deliver a two-minute opinionative speech supporting either the "case for" or "the case against". These had to be prepared in advance.
There were 10 were speeches delivered in favour of the republic (77%) and 3 against (23%). The student group then voted on their top three. The top three speeches voted were in favour of a republic.
Students then voted on the constitutional question as if it was a referendum question.
They were broken into states with the following results:

Total Formal Votes
Formal Yes
Formal No

If this had been a referendum of all Australian citizens the majority of commentators beforehand (77%) would have been in favour of a republic, a majority of the people (62%), and a majority of the states (5).

Admittedly, this is a small sample group, however what is very interesting is these results are from young Australians (16-17 year olds). These results indicate this demographic is not opposed to an Australian republic. There was a mixture of state and private school, male and female students. Perhaps these results may indicate with education young people are open to the idea of a republic, although 77% of speakers had made up their mind in favour of it before the Convention. There were no speeches that were blatantly radical and all addressed the issue in a measured way using the logic of the argument.

The votes in favour of an Australian republic at the 2008 National Schools’ Constitutional Convention, the 2009 Queensland Schools’ Constitutional Conventions, and the 2011 National Schools’ Constitutional Convention, begin to show a pattern in the thinking of Australia’s youth to a support of a republican Australia. When given quality information on both sides of the argument, a majority of young Australians see the logic to the removal of the monarchy.

Every day we have a foreigner as a head of state, we are telling our children they are never good enough to hold our top job. That a child living 15,000 kilometres away is more qualified than yours.

It’s time to stop limiting future generations; we must tell them an Australian is good enough to be the head of Australia. We need one of our own in the top job. We are a people who believe in fairness and in a fair go for all. So why is the top job in Australia limited to someone overseas who was born into it and never earned it. Our shared national values mean that any Australian should have the right to our top office rather than complete exclusion from it.

Throughout most of the 1990s, Malcolm Turnbull led and funded the Australian Republican Movement. Even though Turnbull has played no active role in the Australian Republican Movement since the 1999 republican referendum defeat, for many Australians he is still the face of the call for an Australian as head of state. It is his name that many ordinary Australians first mention when the republican argument is brought up.

As the then national chairperson of the Australian Republican Movement, Malcolm Turnbull pinned the 1999 referendum’s defeat squarely on the Prime Minister, John Howard, when he said:

History will remember him for one thing. He was the Prime Minister who broke the nation’s heart.”

It seems the youth of Australia may be the ones who “mend our broken heart” and put the pieces back together again.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Three Birthdays for the Queen in One Year?

Queenslanders will take the day off work today – not in recognition of their hard work – but to recognise a Monarch who will most likely be sleeping through the festivities held in her name. It’s the third such day Australians have put on for the Queen this year, following Queen’s Birthday public holidays around the country on 12 June and 26 September

Earlier this year I wrote on how Queensland was to become a little less "Queenie" with the move of the Queen’s Birthday holiday from the second Monday in June to the first Monday in October in 2016. While the date of the Queen’s Birthday public holiday has changed repeatedly in recent years, a bolder reform would have been to change the holiday completely. 

I’ve written before that it has always seemed absurd that Australians acknowledge the birthday of Queen Elizabeth II at a completely different time to her actual birthday. Like the Queen, Paddington Bear also has two birthdays a year. The marmalade-loving bear from deepest, darkest Peru has birthdays on 25 June and 25 December. For Queen Elizabeth II who turned 90 on 21 April 2016 there was also a weekend of 90th birthday celebrations in Britain over the 10-12 June weekend. 

The idea of two birthday celebrations was introduced 250 years ago. Earl Charles Spencer, brother of the late Princess Diana, recently stated the Queen received a second multi-day celebration thanks to historical tradition. As Spencer said,

George II was ‘born in the depths of winter, and they decided they couldn't celebrate his birthday in the winter every year because there's all sorts of pageantry.’ So George decided he'd have a second birthday, and the idea stuck. ‘Anyone who's been King or Queen of England since has a summer birthday, so that we have a hope of some sunshine’.

Since 1748, the monarch's official birthday has been marked by the parade known as Trooping the Colour — usually held on the king or queen's actual birthday. But Edward VII, who reigned from 1901 to 1910, was born in November. He celebrated officially in May or June because there was less chance of it being cold and drizzly during the outdoor event.

The monarch’s official birthday celebrations (as opposed to actual birthdate) began in Australia in 1912. The monarch after Edward VII – King George V – helpfully had a birthday on 3 June. Queen Elizabeth II’s father, George VI, whose birthday was unhelpfully in December, reintroduced the tradition of an official birthday by having his official birthday on the second Thursday of June. Elizabeth II has continued with this tradition. In 1959, after several years on the throne, the Queen changed it in Britain to the second Saturday in June for convenience. 

In 2014, I asked on the public holiday given for the Queen’s birthday in Queensland, if it isn’t “time to break free?” The Australian Monarchist League line is that celebrating the Queens’s Birthday, both actual and official, has nothing whatsoever to do with a republic and everything to do with honouring the Queen of Australia.

I disagree.

Moving the Queen’s Birthday public holiday in Queensland from a date that is traditionally relevant to Britain to an alternate date is a harbinger of the growth of republican sentiment in Australia. Daniel Fleming wrote earlier this year with reference to the June public holiday that

The Queen's Birthday holiday has become a tradition without ceremony. Most Australians appreciate the long weekend but prefer to shop, head to the ski fields or go to the football instead of toasting her majesty.”

He continued:

public holidays reveal who we are, and occasionally who we were. They commemorate great people, events and movements. Australia Day recalls the First Fleet at Sydney Cove, Anzac Day symbolises sacrifice and nationalism, Good Friday is a day of Christian mourning and Labour Day celebrates worker’s rights. In the US, Martin Luther King Day invites reflection on racism and non-violence.”

But why did the Queensland Labor government move the Queen’s Birthday public holiday from a date traditionally relevant to Britain and long-held in Queensland? The current Queensland Labor Treasurer Curtis Pitt stated in June this year:

"we went through a really extensive exercise when we were previously in government, talking about when people would like to see it, and having a holiday in the later part of the year, when there is almost none, was a pretty important point.”

It appears the main reason for moving the Queen’s Birthday public holiday is to spread the public holidays throughout the year.

But what actually happens on this day?


Perhaps the real benefit for the Queen’s Birthday public holiday in Queensland today is to give the rest of business Australia time to wind forward their clocks and get their heads around their own daylight savings confusion. In the meantime Queenslanders can have the day off, top up the kid’s school stationery, not worry about time wars, and take their time recovering from the Grand Finals’ weekend.

Surely this must be the most irrelevant and outdated of public holidays. It’s time it was replaced with a day that celebrated Queenslanders’ achievements and aspirations as a modern, forward-looking State.

You’d think one birthday would be enough for the Queen. Australians who are out there making a difference in their communities every day don’t even get one day in their honour – let alone three!

Australia today, is one of the world’s great nations, with a bright future that must be 100 per cent in the hands of the Australian people. We are ready to move on from our colonial past and become a fully independent nation with fully Australian national institutions, including our own head of state. 

 On 3 September 2016, ‘Australian of the Year’ David Morrison AO delivered the 2016 National Republican Lecture in Melbourne. In his acceptance speech on Australia Day this year, Mr Morrison said:

 ...I will lend my voice to the Republican movement in this country. It is time, I think, to at least revisit the question so that we can stand both free and fully independent amongst the community of nations.

Listen to the 2016 National Republican Lecture delivered by David Morrison AO here

Thursday, September 01, 2016

National Wattle Day is today

SEPTEMBER 1 has many names. Some welcome it as spring’s dawn, a time to celebrate nature’s renewal. For others it is National Wattle Day — a time when the smells of Spring are in the air as well as Australia's vivid gold blossom.

TODAY IS the 24th anniversary of the declaration of National Wattle Day. It is also the 23rd anniversary of the Australian Republican Movement giving its support to National Wattle Day celebrations throughout Australia.

I have written before on how Wattle Day is celebrated annually on the first day of spring, the 1st of September and captures something crucial to the success of the republic — a feeling for country.

A sprig of Australia's national floral emblem, the golden wattle, Acacia pycnantha is traditionally worn on the first day of spring. 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.

In Australia, the wattles are the largest genus of flowering plants. In Australia you could plant two or three different wattles for every day of the year, and still have plenty left over, for Australia has more acacia species than the year has days. These acacias are extremely diverse and found in habitats from rainforest to arid lands.

2016 is the 125th anniversary of the publication of Lawson’s Freedom on the Wallaby during the 1891 Queensland Shearers’ Strike. For many Australians when you mention wattle they don’t immediately think of the spray around the Coat of Arms, or the design embedded in the order of Australia.

Rather the first thought is the last line of Henry Lawson’s stanza from Freedom on the Wallaby.
So we must fly a rebel flag,
As others did before us,
And we must sing a rebel song
And join in rebel chorus.

We’ll make the tyrant feel the sting
O’ those that they would throttle;
They needn’t say the fault is ours
If blood should stain the wattle!
The year 1890 found an unsettling spirit within the heart of the British Empire. A political and financial upheaval in Argentina had brought Barings, one of London’s leading financial houses, to its knees, and in July that year there was a tremor within the edifice of law and order with the onset of a partial strike of the London Metropolitan Police.

At the same time, military unrest prevailed in one of the bastions of the British Empire when the second Battalion of the Coldstream Guards mutinied. This resulted in the calling out of the Inniskilling Fusiliers, but instead of obeying the authorities, the latter sang ‘God Save Ireland’, the Fenian hymn of 1867, and cheered the mutinous guards.

The result was their quick replacement by the Yorks. On the work front, the eruption of the London dock strike in 1889 was to be one of the antecedents for a rash of strike action in the antipodes, for the colonial periphery was not exempt from this unsettling spirit.

In 1891, the newly formed Pastoral Employers Association decided to de-unionise the shearing sheds and significantly cut the wages and conditions of the shearers. At a colonial conference of pastoralists in late 1890, a new shearing agreement was drafted, totally ignoring the negotiated employment contracts already in place.

On 5 January 1891, the dispute ignited at Logan Downs. The station manager presented the shearing team with the pastoralists’ agreement, which they, of course, refused to sign. Unionists in Barcaldine elected a strike committee.

There were significant confrontations at Peak Downs and Clermont  and strikers formed armed camps throughout western Queensland. It is said that more than 2000 soldiers and police were deployed and the government swore in a further 1000 special constables. By April 1891, there were over 8,000 strikers and well over 20 strike camps.

The battle lines were drawn and action spread across central Queensland shearing sheds and towns, from February 1891 until well into May and June. The strike eventually collapsed.

Henry Lawson’s poem was his comment on the 1891 shearers’ strike and represented the rebellious spirit of those times. On 15 July 1891, Frederick Brentnall MP read the last two stanzas of Lawson’s poem in the Queensland Legislative Council during a "Vote of Thanks" to the armed police who broke up the Barcaldine strike camp.

As a result, there were calls for Lawson’s arrest for sedition. In response Lawson wrote a bitter rejoinder to Brentnall, The Vote of Thanks Debate. By all accounts, he was very concerned about being charged and took the first opportunity to retreat to Sydney. However, by September 1891, the Boomerang was in trouble and Lawson’s services were no longer needed anyway.

One hundred and twenty-five years later, the Reserve Bank of Australia is set to publish a new $5 note on National Wattle Day as a 90th birthday gift for Queen Elizabeth II. The Reserve Bank of Australia Governor, Glenn Stevens, said:
'Innovative new security features have been incorporated to help keep Australia’s banknotes secure from counterfeiting into the future. As can be seen in the images, these include a distinctive top-to-bottom window. Each banknote in the new series will depict a different species of Australian wattle and a native bird within a number of the elements. On the $5 banknote, these are the Prickly Moses wattle and the Eastern Spinebill.'
One hundred and twenty-five years ago, Henry Lawson was writing about freedom and independence in Australia. Lawson may have alluded to "blood on the wattle" but was never a serious advocate of armed revolution. His was more a call to address a sense of injustice.

Let’s all take a moment this National Wattle Day and reflect on the wattle flower which symbolises an egalitarian, classless, free citizenry.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Happy 25th Birthday, Australian Republican Movement

Today is the 25th anniversary of the Australian Republican Movement. On 7 July 1991, the Australian Republican Movement was established, with the author Tom Keneally as the Inaugural Chair. The Australian Republican Movement was formed as an organisation with the single goal of Australia becoming a republic.

The old ARM logo
Republicanism emerged as an issue of major public debate during the 1990s. In the 1990s, the popular definition of "republic" was simply the removal of the British monarch as Head of State. This was seen as the last step in Australia’s political development.

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 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.

The Australian Republican 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 Tom 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 The Hon Neville Wran. Tom Keneally was the first Chairman and was succeeded by Malcolm Turnbull in November 1993.

On this day, 25 years after the birth of the Australian Republican Movement, Malcolm Turnbull is on a knife-edge electoral count to decide whether he will be elected for the first time by the Australian people as Prime Minister of Australia.