Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Australian republic leadership elected for coming battle

As Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex were putting the final touches on their successful Australian tour, the republic movement last week voted in the leadership team it hopes will sever Australia’s constitutional ties to the British monarchy.

Peter FitzSimons, a prominent media figure whose signature headscarf serves as a red rag to his critics, was elected to a further two years as chairman of the Australian Republic Movement, with mental health advocate and former Australian of the Year Patrick McGorry joining the group’s ­national committee.

The last referendum on a ­republic, held in 1999, was soundly defeated after republicans could not agree on whether an Australian head of state should be appointed by the parliament or ­directly elected by the people.

Matt Thistle­thwaite, a Labor MP who would be the minister ­responsible for a republic under a Shorten government, said the growing support for a republic suggested Australians were able to separate their fondness for the British royals from our constitutional arrangements.

“If we become a republic, the relationship between the average Australian and the royal family will not change one bit,’’ he said. “They will still come to Australia regularly, they will still be welcomed here and they will still ­appear on the front cover of our gossip magazines and newspapers when they get married and have kids.’’

Newspoll surveys show that since April 2011, the month William and Kate were married, support for a republic has grown from a low ebb of 41 per cent to 50 per cent.

Labor supports a two-staged vote on a republic, with a non-binding vote on the threshold question in a first term of government, followed by a referendum to decide a republican model.

The elevation of the republic to an election issue, albeit a second-order one for most voters, is a triumph for the ARM, which under FitzSimons has rebuilt its membership base and finances, and ­quietly campaigned to put the ­republic back on the political agenda.

In last week’s elections, Fitz­Simons received about 75 per cent of the vote of ARM members. “I think we need more Peters rather than one fewer,’’ ARM national ­director Michael Cooney said. 


Monday, October 01, 2018

Time to replace Queen’s Birthday with our own Citizen’s Day public holiday

On the fourth Queen's birthday holiday this year, it’s time we replaced this outdated occasion with a day that celebrates Australian achievement.

Queen Elizabeth II turned 92 on Saturday, 21 April 2018. I’ve asked before, when will she be allowed to put up her feet? 

Most 92 year olds are long retired, but not that trouper the Queen. My grandmother will be 93 later this year. She's a hardy soul but there's no way she would be up to the frantic pace needed to be a world leader. Even though retirement plans for many people keep going further and further beyond 60, Queen Elizabeth II has still well and truly exceeded this.

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. Around Australia, the Queen's Birthday public holiday is held on the second Monday in June — except in WA and Queensland. WA had their Queen’s Birthday holiday on Monday, 24 September 2018, and in Queensland on Monday, 1 October 2018.

Earlier this year, I wrote on how Queensland had 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, as no one seems to have noticed the move.

But what actually happens on this day?


While the date of the Queen’s Birthday public holiday has changed repeatedly in Queensland in recent years, a bolder reform would have been to change the holiday completely.

Michael Cooney, Australian Republic Movement National Director, said recently

 Australia should replace royal birthdays with a public holiday of our own … a new ‘Citizens Day’ holiday in September to strengthen Australian citizenship. This could build on existing activities for the anniversary of the Australian Citizenship Act in September 1948. What better way is there to celebrate the best in our country than with a new Citizens Day public holiday? A new day, dedicated to democracy, freedom and the law would be a modern, unifying Australian institution.”

The difference between citizen and subject has often been glibly said to be that a citizen has rights whereas a subject has privileges. A subject owes their allegiance to a sovereign and is governed by that sovereign’s laws whereas a citizen owes allegiance to the community and is entitled to enjoy all its civil rights and protections. The difference between citizen and subject lies in where an individual places their allegiance: subjects (to a sovereign) and citizens (to a state; to a republic).

On 26 January 1949, the legal concept of Australian citizenship was created with the enactment of the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948. Before then, at common law, to be a British subject, one simply had to be born in any territory under the sovereignty of the British Crown. From 1949 onwards, every person who was a British subject by virtue of a connection with the United Kingdom or one of her Crown colonies became a British citizen. However, citizens of other Commonwealth countries retained the status of British subject and were known by the term Commonwealth citizen.

From 1949 to 1982, a person born in England would have been a British subject and a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, while someone born in Australia would have been a British subject and a citizen of Australia. During this time Australian passports had on the front ‘BRITISH SUBJECT Australian Citizen’.

The status of British subject was retained in Australian law until Part II of the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948 was removed by the Australian Citizenship Amendment Act 1984 which came into force on 1 May 1987. Australia severed its final legal ties to Britain by enacting the Australia Acts of 1986. However, it must be said, we have yet to sever our final symbolic ties to Britain as represented by our head of state being the British monarch.

Bolstering of Australia’s citizenship program in the 1990’s occurred first with the Australian Citizenship Amendment Act 1993which incorporated a preamble into the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948 to recognize that citizenship is a common bond of rights and responsibilities for all Australians, and replaced the oath of allegiance with a Pledge of Commitment, and the Australian Citizenship Act 2007.

The final stage in the process of becoming an Australian citizen is making the Australian Citizenship Pledge. It usually happens at a ceremony when new Australian citizens make a public pledge of their commitment to Australia. All new citizens have the choice of making the pledge with or without the words 'under God'.

From this time forward, under God
I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people,
Whose democratic beliefs I share,
whose rights and liberties I respect, and
whose laws I uphold and obey.

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 four!

Surely, this must be the most irrelevant and outdated of public holidays. The Queen’s Birthday holidays don’t remind us of anything good about our country. At worst, they tell us Australia’s head of state gets the job by inheritance and that Australians are subject to a foreign crown – the opposite of democracy and liberty.

Monarchist's can prattle on endlessly about how retaining the monarchy brings stabilty and is cheaper than having a home grown head of state and the like. But when you boil it all down, you can't escape the fact there's something a little unnatural about a grown child of, shall we say, 230 years, still electing to live in mummy's back bedroom.

Deciding to pack our bags and finally leave our Buckingham Palace nursery room isn't being rude to the Queen. It's just the natural order of things, and she's reportedly acknowledged as much to past prime ministers. How many more Ashes tours must we endure with the Barmy Army taunting us with their song God Save Your Queen? Time to cut the apron strings, assert our independence, and let one of our own people serve as head of state. 

Citizenship is for all Australians.

It is a commitment of loyalty to Australia and its people and their shared democratic beliefs, laws and rights.

It is a bond uniting our culturally diverse society.

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.

It’s time we established a Citizens Day public holiday.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Wattle you be doing this National Wattle Day?

Australians may have made a home for themselves amongst the gum trees, but it is the wattle tree that has found its way into Australian republican symbolism.

1 SEPTEMBER 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.

In Australia, the wattle is 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.

I have written before on how Wattle Day is celebrated annually on the first day of spring. 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 wattle leaves and blossoms were declared our national colours in 1984; in 1988, the wattle was adopted as the official national flower; and National Wattle Day was formally declared on 1 September 1992.

In 1993, the Australian Republic Movement gave its support to Wattle Day celebrations being held throughout Australia on 1 September. Wattle captures something crucial to the success of the republic — feeling for country. It is a unifying symbol.

September 1 is the 26th anniversary of the declaration of National Wattle Day, as well as the 25th anniversary of the Australian Republican Movement giving its support to National Wattle Day celebrations throughout Australia.

The Australian Republic Movement will be celebrating the coming of spring and the blossoming of new futures all around Australia in the week leading up to National Wattle Day. From Hobart to Williamstown, Geelong, Mandurah and Gosnella, there will be celebrations and sausage sizzles to bring in spring and celebrate the coming Australian republic. The Wattle Day celebrations were kicked off earlier in August when Peter FitzSimons, National Chair of the Australian Republic Movement, joined with Labor, Liberal and Greens MPs to rally support for a republic with a grassroots-based national campaign day on 1 September.

Wattle Day has been celebrated annually on the first day of spring since 1910, when a sprig of the golden wattle is traditionally worn. However, 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 golden jubilee of the landing at Sydney Cove. In this seemingly small gesture lay a suggestion of an independent Australia.

Wattle is a broad and inclusive symbol of an egalitarian, classless, free citizenry. It grows in all parts of Australia, differing varieties flowering throughout the year. This 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.
Wattle celebrations first arose as occasions when earlier generations of Australians stood up and said: “I am from this land. This place is home.”

It is a symbol that comes directly from our land. Wattle is Australian and represents us all. Like the Southern Cross, the appeal of wattle is not first and foremost to the idea of nation — but to the idea of place.

The future Australian republic will also project a sense of feeling of place.

At the moment, the Australian Republican Movement is focused on achieving an Australian as Head of State. However, the republic is not just one person.

The spirit of the future republic will be embodied in not just the Head of State but in place.
Wattle touches all levels of society.

Early pioneers and World War I diggers were buried with a customary sprig of wattle. Then Governor-General Sir William Deane took wattle blossoms to Switzerland to commemorate young Australians who died there and Prime Minister John Howard wore sprigs of wattle at ceremonies after the Bali bombings.

Terry Fewtrell said in a 2014 Australia Day speech that:
“...wattle has journeyed with us in kitbags, pockets and letters to places that become synonymous with our shared story; be they Gallipoli, Kokoda or Swiss canyons."
Australian athletes wear wattle-inspired green and gold uniforms and those honoured with an Order of Australia receive awards with an insignia designed around the wattle flower.

Independent Australia believes in a fully and truly independent Australia, a nation that determines its own future, a nation that protects its citizens, its environment and its future. A country that is fair and free. Let’s all take a moment this National Wattle Day and reflect on the wattle flower which symbolises an egalitarian, classless, free citizenry.

So, 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.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Surely time for an Australian Head of State

Back in May 2018, the Australian High Court took the scalps of four members of parliament. Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie, and Labor’s Susan Lamb, Justine Keay, and Josh Wilson, were all told they couldn’t sit in parliament because they had foreign citizenships when they nominated to enter federal politics.

On 11 August 2018 what was dubbed ‘Super Saturday’ occurred with by-elections held across the country with the Liberals, Labor and the minor parties slugging it out as half a million voters went to the polls in five electorates in four states. In the end, not one electorate changed political hands.

The irony came when the newly elected MPs were sworn into Parliament by the Governor-General a few days later in Canberra. On 13 August 2018, Wayne Swann said:

When MPs who have returned to the Parliament after renouncing their UK Citizenship then have to pledge allegiance to Queen Elizabeth its surely time for an Australian Head of State.

So, let me get this straight...

Federal MP has dual citizenship with Britain? Disqualified. Head of State is 100% British? No problem! How can we keep chucking out MPs with dual citizenship when our head of state isn’t even a citizen at all.

On Monday 13 November 2017, the constitutional storm over the dual citizenship debacle blew in replacement Senators for those who had been declared ineligible by the High Court to hold political office in Australia’s Federal Parliament as they contravened s44 of the Australian Constitution. Some of the senators were declared ineligible due to having British citizenship by descent. But how will the replacement senators reconcile the absurdity that to become a member of the Federal Parliament they must swear an Oath of Allegiance to the British monarch.

As at 10 November 2017 there were 12 Senators and federal MPs who were under constitutional question. Currently there will be at least two by-elections held due to federal MPs acknowledging they hold dual citizenship. There may well yet be more by-elections unless a general election is held. Yet when the by-election results are finally tallied, or a double dissolution election is held and the next federal parliament is elected, these same MPs and senators will be required to swear allegiance to the Head of State of the country of which their colleagues are citizens and as a result had been declared ineligible to be elected to the federal parliament.

Say what?

Surely this is the elephant in the room. How is it possible for the High Court to disqualify members of parliament on the basis of Section 44 of the Australian Constitution, as being (unknowingly) citizens and therefore subjects of a foreign power, when these same MPs and ministers swear allegiance to the monarch of this same foreign power (and her descendants), who happens to be our Head of State?

 There can be no doubt that the "Queen of Australia" is a British woman, yet we, here in the Antipodes, are quibbling about people we have elected to our Federal Parliament whose dad or mum was of British ancestry. 

How can we keep chucking out MPs with dual citizenship when our head of state isn’t even a citizen at all?

Saturday, July 07, 2018

The Australian republic: our great unfinished project

Today is the anniversary of the formation of the Australian Republic Movement, established on 7 July 1991. The first National Chair was the author Tom Keneally. The single goal of the organisation is for Australia to become a republic.

Old ARM logo
Republicanism emerged as an issue of major public debate during the 1990s, when the popular definition of “republic” was simply the removal of the British monarch as Head of State and viewed as the last step in Australia’s political development.

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

The question of whether or not Australia should be a republic has been debated for longer than most people imagine. 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 early colonial NSW, the American rejection of British rule and the violence of the French Revolution were well known. Republicanism was often used as political language to challenge government authority and only hardened the resolve of those in power to savagely repress any supporters. In 1795, the “Scottish Martyrs” arrived. The many Irish convicts brought with them antipathy towards the British. Convict uprisings such as the 1804 Castle Hill rebellion were labeled republican. However, in most cases the convicts were not looking for political change, they just wanted to return home.

The founding members of the Australian Republican Movement in 1991

The period from 1840 to 1856 was one in which colonial grievances reached their height. In Sydney in 1850, the outspoken firebrand Reverend John Dunmore Lang, The People’s Advocate editor E.J. Hawksley and the young Henry Parkes campaigned through the Australian League for a republican form of government when the British Government wanted to reintroduce transportation of convicts. In the early 1850s during the gold rushes, there was an influx of large numbers of migrants from Europe and the United States to Victoria, many of whom were sympathetic to republicanism. This caused British officials to fear the possibility of revolution. In 1854, the Eureka Stockade rebellion at the Ballarat goldfield was ultimately a republican desire for government by the people. However, the urgency vanished when responsible government was granted in 1856.

In the latter half of the 19th century, republicanism became strongly anti-monarchical and nationalist in sentiment. The “inevitability” of an Australian republic became a common theme. In the late 1870s, the traditional Irish enmity towards British authority can be seen in the republican sentiments expressed in Ned Kelly’s Jerilderie Letter and later in Kelly gang member Joe Byrne’s Declaration of the Republic of North East Victoria.

During the 1880s, there were 15 republican organisations and 20 newspapers or journals in cities and major country towns. This republicanism was often focused on struggles between capital and labour. From 1884, The Bulletin expounded a strong anti-monarchical attitude. In 1887, republicans twice defeated attempts at Sydney Town Hall to pass a loyal resolution congratulating Queen Victoria’s Jubilee resulting in an open clash between thousands of demonstrators. Soon after, Sydney had a Republican Union and a republican journal led by Louisa & Henry Lawson and George Black. It was in The Republican that Henry Lawson published “A Song of the Republic”.

In 1890 and 1891, the Australasian Republican Association on the north Queensland goldfield of Charters Towers had over 700 members, published a regular journal and established republican branches. The Australian Republican editor, F.C.B. Vosper, published an inflammatory editorial at the height of the 1891 Shearers’ Strike calling for revolution and the declaration of the republic. He was arrested and tried for seditious libel but eventually acquitted.

The Commonwealth of Australia was the title chosen for the new nation at the 1891 National Constitutional Convention. Although there was controversy over the republican ancestry of the term, it was the title accepted in 1901. Prior to the mid-1890s, republicans had insisted that national independence could only be achieved by Australia’s secession from the British Empire. However, by 1901 federation was seen as the first step on the road towards political independence.

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.

Republicans proposed 1988 for the establishment of an Australian republic. This was not to be.
In the 1990s, the popular definition of “republic” was simply the removal of the hereditary monarch. This was seen as the last step in Australia’s political development. In 1991, the Australian Republican Movement was established. In 1993, Prime Minister Paul Keating formed the Republic Advisory Committee, led by Malcom Turnbull, to prepare options on how to achieve a republic with minimal constitutional change. In June 1995, Keating announced his goal of a republic with an Australian Head of State.

The 1998 Constitutional Convention helped to strengthen the debate for a republic. While the republic was a major issue in the late 1990s, the debate caught up in an argument about the best selection method for the Head of State. It was on this crucial issue republicans divided. In the absence of a proper process to resolve those differences, Australians rejected the 6 November 1999 referendum 55-45%. No political leader has subsequently emerged who wants to find common ground amongst Australians and to break the logjam. This is where it became frozen for more than a decade.

During 2012, the A.R.M. undertook a thorough review of why the republic issue had stalled. A new campaign was trialed in Tasmania in late 2012 and a new “listening” campaign was rolled out across the country in 2013 on university campuses, at multicultural festivals and other community events in an effort to engage all Australians in a conversation to find as much common ground as possible about who we are as a nation. The A.R.M. asked thousands of people, “Who do we want to be?” Overwhelmingly, people said, “free, fair, multicultural… and Australian”. It is in such a consensus response that lays the potential for Australian unity. This is a unity that can only be given expression by an Australian as our Head of State and all of our national institutions in our own name.

At the end of 2013, UMR conducted a poll following Governor-General Quentin Bryce’s comment in which she expressed her hope that:
“One day, one young (Australian) girl or boy may even grow up to be our nation’s first Head of State.”
Those in agreement, 48%, far outnumbered those opposed, 32%. These results were in a similar range to most other polls that show strong support for a republic. So, even with the issue off the agenda for more than a decade, half of Australia supports becoming a republic, there are many undecided and the status quo has no capacity to achieve majority support on the yes/no question.

31 January 2014 was the 20th anniversary of the new citizenship oath, which replaced a mandatory pledge of loyalty to the Queen, with these words:
I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect and whose laws I will uphold and obey.
On this date, the Australian Republican Movement released a poll showing overwhelming support for the pledge of allegiance to Australia and its people and not to the Queen. When Tony Abbott was sworn in as Prime Minister in late 2013, he pledged allegiance “to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Australia”. Some other prime ministers have pledged allegiance to “Australia and its people” (which is also the pledge new Australians are required to make). When asked by UMR in a poll, ‘Which do you prefer?’, 70% supported the pledge to Australia and its people, with only 20% agreeing with Mr Abbott’s pledge to the Queen.

In 2015, distinguished author, journalist and Australian rugby union international Peter FitzSimons was appointed head of Australia's Republic Movement. A passionate republican, FitzSimons is well known through his regular Sydney Morning Herald column as well as his many books. As one of our foremost writers of Australian history, FitzSimons has captured some of the pivotal moments that have shaped our national identity.

The political landscape in Australia is definitely changing. The push for a republic has gone from strength to strength in recent years with support from a resurgent membership, the majority of federal parliamentarians, the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

Over the last few years, Australian media has become a cheer squad for “celebrity” monarchy, framing the republic debate as all about a family in Britain, when actually our great national cause is about the sovereignty of the Australian people. The monarchy is clearly no longer an institution that can unite Australians. It’s broken. The monarchy sits above our system of democratic government but cannot represent us, our identity or our values as a nation.

Bill Shorten’s 29 July 2017 republican statements are in line with the timelines proposed by the Australian Republic Movement. This includes a plebiscite in 2020 that asks the people of Australia a very simple question:
‘Should Australia have an Australian head of state?’
The A.R.M. is calling for a non-binding vote – a plebiscite – by 2020 on the question of whether Australians want one of their own in the job. There is a momentum happening around Australia. With 2020 marking 250 years since Captain James Cook landed, surely it must be time for us to stand on our own two feet.

This is our great, unfinished project.