I was thrilled to have my new book on the history and future of Australian republicanism launched in Sydney by Chair of the Australian Republican Movement, Peter FitzSimons, and in Canberra by Shadow Minister for an Australian Head of State, Matt Thistlethwaite. Below is the speech I delivered at the Sydney launch. The book can be bought HERE.
Good evening fellow citizens. Thank you for coming out to support me and this new book and more importantly for supporting the noble cause of an Australian republic.
We have just survived January, the month where Australia has its annual identity crisis and the media is littered with articles proposing change. This year has been dominated by calls to change the date of Australia Day but there are also calls to change the flag, change the coins and, of course, to change the constitution so that Australia can have an Australian head of state.
Those who are passionate about these causes tend to see them as distinct from each other. And while they are different – a republic doesn’t need a new flag or vice-versa – there is clearly some overlap. The tension points when it comes to Australia’s constitution and national symbols are all places where anachronistic emblems of empire remain.
Is it a problem that these imperial relics remain in modern Australia? I would argue that it does because the purpose of national symbols and imperials symbols is quite different. National symbols exist to promote uniqueness whereas imperial symbols promote homogeneity.
In my new book, I differentiate between two Australias. There is no revolution, no precise date, and no definitive turning point, but the Australia that federated in 1901 is simply not the same as the Australia that cheered Cathy Freeman onto gold in the 2000 Olympics. I call this Old Australia and New Australia.
Old Australia saw itself as British first, Britons who lived abroad. Old Australia wanted a flag that did not stand apart but was similar to the one flown by British subjects in New Zealand or Canada. Old Australia celebrated, not Australia Day but Empire Day like their fellow Britons around the world. And, of course, Old Australia recognised and revered the British monarch just as much as their kith and kin at “home”.
New Australia is fundamentally different. It is different at a psychological and philosophical level. Psychologically, Australians no longer identify as Britons abroad but simply as Australian. Of equal importance, Australia has grown into its democracy. At a philosophic level, Australians do not accept that some are born to rule and others to serve. We are all equal under the Southern Cross and the principle of egalitarianism is a national totem.
Australians are good at celebrating our sporting achievements, we are good at respecting our Anzacs and remembering our military history, and historically we have been very good at showering honour on the British royals.
But Australia also has a remarkable democratic tradition and we should get better at cherishing our democracy. From the secret ballot to votes for women to compulsory voting, Australia has been a world leader in its commitment to democracy. But our democracy cannot be perfect unless every public position is filled democratically.
This new book has a lot of interesting history in it. It looks at colonial republicanism, the identity crisis after empire, the 1999 referendum and the current republic debate. It contains many suggestions for the way forward: a proposed preamble, a hybrid republic model that takes advantage of our current federal system, and a refutation of monarchist arguments. But most importantly, the book is conversation starter.
If we really care about our democracy and want the principles of meritocracy and egalitarianism enshrined in our law as well as our hearts, then republicans must fire up and push the issue back onto the national agenda.
I say this is an expectant Dad, until we can say to our children that they can grow up to be anything they want in this great country – and mean it – until we can honestly say to our kids you can rise as far as your talent and effort will take you, even to the very top – until we can say that truthfully, the system is broken. Let’s fix it.