If we want the best republic, the debate has to begin now

by David Muir

DEPUTY Prime Minister Wayne Swan joined Liberal MP Malcolm Turnbull last week to say a new debate on the republic was “overdue”. It is appropriate that this debate be associated with the Queen’s Birthday long weekend.

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Not only has Swan said a debate on the republic is overdue, he has also indicated that this time around there ought to be a two-stage process, the first stage involving a plebiscite on a choice of model. 

Once the Australian people have decided the best model, that model would at a later time be put to the people in a referendum.

The republic vote was lost in 1999 because the Australian people were not given a choice of model and the model presented was deeply flawed. The NO vote in 1999 was all about the model. It was not a NO to any kind of republic. Australians want the best kind of republic.

Turnbull says we should wait for the Queen to die or abdicate before having another vote for a republic. He is wrong about this. We should not be dictated to by the longevity of the monarch.

In fact, any delay waiting for the Queen to die or abdicate could be seen as a “get Charles” campaign.

Swan has stepped into the political vacuum left by former prime minister Kevin Rudd and Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

On his deathbed in December 2007, former Brisbane lord mayor Clem Jones urged Rudd to take up the republic issue.

Rudd did not heed these entreaties delivered to him publicly at Clem’s state funeral. This means the Australian Government failed to start a debate on the republic in 2007 when they had an opportunity to do so.

The Government also failed to start a debate on the 10th anniversary of the referendum in 2009, despite the urging of republicans Australia wide.

In a survey corresponding with the anniversary 59 per cent of Australians expressed their desire for an Australian republic, with 73 per cent of those preferring a republic with a directly elected head of state.

The 10-year anniversary polling also demonstrated that 82 per cent of the Australian people recognised the republic was lost last time because the wrong model was put to the people (without allowing any choice).

So it is certainly the case that a new debate on the republic is overdue.

Although the Queen is respected and liked, the monarchy is obsolete and adds nothing to the political life of our nation in the 21st century.

Modern Australia is very much a nation of immigrants, with fewer than 26 per cent of the population having English ancestry according to the 2011 census.

We share our head of state with Britain, New Zealand and Canada.

Australia is unable to project an unambiguous sense of self to the world without being a republic.

Also, no Australian can aspire to the highest office in the land. This simply does not make sense.

This time around there ought to be more debate about the model and whether the Australian people prefer to elect their own president.

There ought also to be debate about the role of the president.

A significant value-add for the Australian political system could be having a president who has the power to appoint the linesmen in our political system, such as ombudsmen and crime and misconduct commissions. This would facilitate more transparency, independence and accountability into our political system.

So let’s continue the modernisation and improvement of our political system, eliminate the ambiguity of our national identity and allow Australians to aspire to the highest office in the land.

Lawyer David Muir was an elected delegate to the 1998 Constitutional Convention and is chairman of the Real Republic

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