AIH399 MAKING HISTORY
by Hannah Simpson
- This article explores Australia’s history of debate regarding our constitutional monarchy by focusing on federation in 1901, followed by a change in powers between the head of state and the Australian government in 1986, and then a referendum in 1999.
- It presents a brief overview of why the 1999 referendum failed, tied with the failed republican movement in Canada.
- It looks at suggested changes that would have to be made to the Australian constitution if we were to become a republic. All alterations are argued against in favour of maintaining the monarchy.
- The article also discusses flawed republican developments relating to our change in head of state (relating to the monarchy) and our change in multiculturalism.
- Finally, it presents a general overview of different changes and implications of becoming a republic including: national (anthem, flag etc.); commonwealth connection sacrifices; potential damages to our military strategic defence; the ability to obtain visas; and monetary issues such as taxation.
Australia’s constitutional monarchy is embedded within our history; it is what connects us with Great Britain. Since Federation in 1901 through to today there has been considerable debate as to whether Australia should break away from its close ties with Britain and become a truly independent country with our own head of state. The implications of becoming a republic, however, would dramatically impact on Australia’s constitution. The extent of these ramifications is unknown, and therefore could be enormously costly both politically and economically. As well as the constitutional changes, Australia would see alterations to other aspects that previously have been embedded in our history. All such changes are unnecessary due to Australia’s current working political system.
Brief overview of historical context
Debate for Australia to become a republic by moving away from our traditional roots of the British monarchy has been present since federation in 1901. As well we have our constitutional monarchy and been independent with our own government since 1986. In the near future the monarchy will have a coronation for a new ruler where a king will be crowned. This change to the head of the monarchy presumably will become a perfect time for the republican movement to bombard the federal government and Australian public, urging everyone to abandon our historical ties. For this reason, it is highly relevant and important at this time to be aware and ensure our ties with the commonwealth remain throughout the duration leading towards the change of the head of state. By preparing all Australians and educating them of the importance to maintain our formal allegiance to Britain, we will be able to maintain our country’s tradition without too much strain on the government for a major republican movement. Over the years Australia has encountered numerous debates in relation to keeping or replacing our constitutional monarchy. In 1986, Australia created an act to remove the residual powers the British Government had to intervene in any governmental aspects within Australia or its individual states. In 1999, a referendum was held to determine whether Australia would remain a constitutional monarchy or instead would become a republic. A majority of voters expressed their preference to remain as a constitutional monarchy. Following this decision, Queen Elizabeth II delivered a speech to Australians stating she would remain Queen of Australia for as long as Australians wished; this allows Australians the freedom to become a republic and independent government. Nonetheless, simply because this is available to Australians does not mean we should take the opportunity to terminate a key part of our history that, in 1901, 1986, 1999 and all in between, we decided to maintain.
During Federation, Australia decided to keep its ties with Britain out of respect for where our heritage had derived. Federation, on 1 January 1901, was the beginning of Australia becoming self-governed. Australia separated itself from the powers of Whitehall and became its own country with individual states. This is representative of Australia already becoming an independent nation on our own, away from the watchful eye of the Mother Country. Although post-Federation through to today we have remained a part of the commonwealth, we are not suppressed by the rulings of the monarchy. Rather, we have our own constitution and governance as an independent country. Our ties with Britain, then, are just that: the link we must maintain as respect and gratitude for our history and heritage.
The push in 1999 to become a republic is similar to that which may occur in the near future. This movement was quashed, however, as there was a significant amount of debate as to who would appoint the president: would it be the federal parliament, or should it be the Australian people? The polls were split between who would vote. Almost 55 percent of Australians demonstrated their interest in becoming a republic, although many remained unsure of proceedings and how to commence the changes. This confusion over knowing how to proceed in becoming a republic has the potential to cost Australia greatly particularly from a financial standpoint. Therefore, contrary to the fact that over half of the voters were interested in a republic, Australia needs to maintain its connections with the commonwealth, as it is not necessary to branch off individually and possibly alter Australia’s politics for the worst.
Similarly, Canada also has faced continued protests led by the ‘Citizens for a Canadian Republic’ to abolish their ties with the monarchy. Like in Australia, however, the movement has been relatively unsuccessful and the Canadian government has found that there is no set plan in place to be able to become a republic. This disorganisation and confusion, like in Australia, creates an increased risk for failure of government if Australia or Canada ever decided to become independent of the commonwealth.
As previously stated, currently we are part of the commonwealth. By becoming a republic we would be potentially diminishing our relationships with fellow commonwealth countries. Australia has been a part of the British Empire since Captain Cook founded it in 1788. Due to the extensive history and ties with Britain, we arguably have an owed allegiance to them as well to our own heritage that is mostly derived from Britain.
We would have to alter our constitution significantly as our current constitution has been moulded according to our constitutional monarchy. In 1999, an ‘Exposure Draft of the Constitution Alteration’ was released confirming the alterations, amendments, and deletion of sections or words from the constitution would be enormous. In our current constitution there are fifty-four direct references to the Queen and the Crown. This change potentially could have an enormous impact upon the Australian constitution and therefore the Australian people. Never in Australia’s history of referenda has the Australian electorate had to approve this amount of changes to our constitution.
Another important consideration of particular interest for the Australian public and perhaps parliament, too, is if Australia’s monarchical ties were abolished then our head of state would have complete power over new legislation as well other considerations throughout law and policymaking. As the Australian constitution stands now, however, there is a division of power and no one body or party holds complete control over any constitutional aspect. Yet, if Australia were to become a republic then it may encourage more of a division between states versus the federal government. Consequently, state powers may want to create more laws within themselves to prevent rule by one party over Australia. The continued constitutional monarchy within Australia will encourage unity between citizens and their government because no one head has complete power over the entire country. The Crown in the legislative process is the Queen’s representative who signs off on all newly introduced potential laws in the interest of both the monarchy as well as the Australian people. Having the Queen’s representative demonstrates that, although we are under the rule of the monarchy, it brings equality to legislation and policy being introduced.
Flawed republican arguments
The change of the head of state is occurring already, particularly in the public eye, between Queen Elizabeth II and Prince William. Similarly, changes within Australia, particularly multiculturalism, have altered things considerably. Often this forms the basis for a republican argument including a change to the head of state. It is important to prepare Australians for a potential republican movement to occur when the Queen passes her position as the head of the British royal family either to Prince Charles or to Prince William. Currently, however, Prince William, particularly in the eyes of the media, is interacting with the commonwealth community more as the aging Queen gradually recedes into the background. This is a representation that, although neither Prince William nor Prince Charles is yet king, Prince William is steadily assuming the role of head of state before the role has been passed on officially. Throughout Prince William’s increased presence within the public eye in commonwealth countries, republicans have not risen nor spoken against what the media portrays as Prince William taking on the role of the future king.
An argument presented by republicans is that we are sufficiently independent and multicultural to the extent we have deferred from and do not need our British ties anymore. But we cannot just rewrite our history simply because of our growth and multiculturalism. Another related argument is that an increase in multiculturalism should lead to a new national identity. Britain, like Australia, welcomes new nationalities from across the world every day; why, then, does this make Australia any different to Britain? Multiculturalism is an asset that Australia should embrace, however, we should use it to strengthen our ties with Britain by reinforcing our relationships with one another through the sharing of multicultural diversity.
Potential changes and sacrifices
If Australia ever were to become a republic, the costs and changes would be more than actually keeping the monarchy. There is an increase in potential to damage ties with other countries, and Australia would have to make sacrifices to our style of living including our ability to live overseas in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, our tax payment may alter to contribute to our potential president’s upkeep. Australia would have to alter traditions like the Queen’s Birthday weekend, also our coins would change, we would have to design new postage stamps, our constitution would be abolished and altered significantly, also perhaps change our national flag as well as anthem. This would be a direct recognition that we would no longer be a part of the commonwealth. Removing ourselves from the bond of the commonwealth has a high potential for other commonwealth countries, especially Britain, to see this as a direct sign of disrespect to our heritage and allegiances.
Australia becoming a republic would have the potential to jeopardise our defence force allegiances. This relates to our western allies, the United States and Britain. Britain and Australia both remain allied to the United States due to the authority and power they have through resources and armed forces. Although the United States is not a part of the commonwealth (having successfully fought for its independence from Britain over two centuries ago), Britain retains their allegiance to this power country. This situation may alter, however, if we removed ourselves from our commonwealth ties. It has the potential to cause bitterness or offence towards Britain, which then may diminish our relationship with the Anglo-American powers. Australia, although a large and somewhat independent country, cannot possibly defend itself.
Currently it is relatively straightforward for Australians to be able to apply for working visas within Australia to live in the United Kingdom for work or study. Australians who have a parent or grandparent born within the United Kingdom, for instance, are able to apply for an ancestry visa. This visa allows them to live in the United Kingdom for up to five years, and following this it is possible to apply for citizenship or permanent residency. These advantages over other non-commonwealth countries allow Australians to live, work, or study without too much hassle. For other nationalities not a part of the commonwealth, however, arranging to live in Britain is a difficult and drawn-out process. Allowing Australians to live in Britain is a benefit that we would no longer have if we became a republic. This would also have the potential to adversely affect those Australians currently living in the UK or anyone planning on applying for a visa in the near future.
Currently, Australia has an ‘Absent Monarchy’. In other words, the Queen does not reside in Australia, nor do Australian citizens have to bear the cost of her day-to-day living and security. Therefore, Australians do not currently contribute any direct finances to the Queen. If Australia were to become a republic then we would have to contribute monetary assistance to our president for their security as well as daily expenses.
To date, the Australian community has decided to retain its connections with Britain and the other commonwealth countries. Our forefathers recognised the importance of loyalty and respect to where our history has originated. To then abolish these connections would be disrespectful to our nation’s history and origins. Becoming a republic has the potential to damage our current constitution and political hierarchy. Similarly, it would cost Australians greatly with time as well as money for the amount of changes that would have to occur. Australia’s Constitution is and has been working well for its citizens since Federation, and so there is point in taking unnecessary risks by altering what is working.
Selected further reading:
Australian Government ‘Australia’s Federation’, http://australia.gov.au/about-australia/our-government/australias-federation, accessed 06/10/2012.
Household, The Royal ‘History and Present Government’, The Official Website of The British Monarchy http://www.royal.gov.uk/MonarchAndCommonwealth/Australia/Historyandpresentgovernment.aspx accessed 13/10/2012.
Politics, Australian ‘An Australian Republic?’, http://australianpolitics.com/topics/republic accessed 06/10/2012.
Professor George Winterton, Professor David Flint (19 July 1996), ‘The Election of an Australian President’, in Harry Evans (ed.), Department of the Senate Occasional Lecture Series, 11-13.
Republic, Citizens for a Canadian ‘Citizens for a Canadian Republic’, http://www.canadian-republic.ca/contact.html accessed 06/10/2012.
Rev. Kameel Majdali, ‘What are the Implications of a Successful Referendum?’ Australia’s Constitution, Crown, and Future http://www-personal.edfac.usyd.edu.au/staff/souters/republic/kmajdali/majdali2.html accessed 13/10/2012.
Unknown (September 1994), ‘Republicianism and the Australian Constitution’, in The House Magazine (ed.), Papers on Parliament (12: Parliament of Australia), 1.
© APH Network and contributors 2012. All rights reserved.
Citation: Hannah Simpson, Royalty over a Republic: Mounting a Historical Case for Australia remaining Loyal to the Crown. Australian Policy and History. October 2012.