Issue Report: Australian republic vs. monarchy

Should Australia become a republic or continue as a constitutional monarchy?

A debate exists in Australia over whether the country should adopt a republican form of government and abandon its current constitutional monarchy. The main proposal is to end the reign of the monarch of Australia (the Queen of England, Elizabeth the II) and her appointed Governor-General in Australia, replacing both with an elected president.This debate came to a head in 1999, when Australians were given a referendum on the question, in addition to other related constitutional amendments. The measure was voted down. Yet, of those that voted against the measure support a republic in principle, causing many to argue that the rejection of the referendum should not be interpreted as a complete rejection of the principle of a republic. Calls for a republic remain strong in Australia. In 2008, the debate rose again, particularly as newly elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said that he was both a republican and committed to seeking to establish a republican form of government in Australia. With such a prominent figure-head leading the cause, republicans appear to have regrouped and are launching a fresh campaign for a new referendum. They are being met by strong opposition by supporters of the constitutional monarchy. There are groups in this debate that range from favoring the monarchy to calling for modest changes to the status quo to those that call for a radical re-writing of the constitution along republican lines. They include traditional monarchists, pragmatic monarchists, minimal change republicans, ultra-minimalist, progressive republicans, and radical republicans. They all have different takes on the debate and take different positions in the range between pro-monarchy and pro-republic. While there are many proposals that reflect these differences, it is important to understand that all of them are debating the main pro/con principles of a republic vs. the constitutional monarchy. They simply give different consideration to the different arguments, causing them to fall differently within the spectrum. See the pros and cons below.

Independence: Is a republic important to Australian independence from Britain?

Ending the monarchy would establish Australian independence from Britain

William Byrne. "Republic Versus Monarchy". December, 1995

“Denial of Australian independence

To have an English Monarch as “ruler” of Australia is an impediment to our nation obtaining its own sense of full independence and true self-government.

A nation that does not have its own Head of State is not truly independent. It is ridiculous that the decision as to who shall be Australia’s Head of State is made in another country on the other side of the world (Australia has no say in who the Monarch is to be succeeded by). Some maintain that having a foreign Monarch is of no consequence, as it is only a “symbolic ruler” – but then why shouldn’t we be concerned about being “symbolic serfs”? Symbols are very important to people – evidenced by the heated debates over proposals to change the design of the national flag.”

Australia's history on Britain is irrelevant, Australia has a unique identity.

Australia no longer is dependent on England and there is no need to be part of the Commonwealth. Europeans from Engaland may have been the first white people in Australia but Aborigines have been there for over 40,000 years.

The Australian monarch is, in fact, a foreign monarch

Supporters of the monarchy often argue that the Queen is not a foreign queen, but “our queen”, and thus Australian. This notion is fictitious, not only because the Queen does not reside in Australia, but also because she does not focus her efforts on representing Australians. How could she? She has to represent Britain as well as dozens of other commonwealth countries simultaneously. But, this makes her a foreigner to Australians in the way of her interests and actions.

Foreign monarchs cannot adequately represent Australians

A central argument made by Australian republicans is that, as Australia is an independent country, it is inappropriate for the same person to be both the head of state of more than one country. They argue that a person who is resident primarily in another country cannot adequately represent Australia, neither to itself, nor to the rest of the world. As Australian Republican Movement member, Frank Cassidy put it in a speech on the issue: “In short, we want a resident for President”.

The queen represents British not Australian interests abroad

When the queen travels abroad, she focuses almost all of her energies on representing Britain’s interests. The foreign policy interests of Australia are of secondary concern, and receive little attention. This means that the queen is not representing the interests of Australians, further the undemocratic nature of the monarchy in Australia.

Ending the monarchy would foster an independent identity in Australia

The monarchy is a direct reflection of Australia’s past as a British colony and continues to symbolize Australia’s subservience to the British crown. Such symbolism has a powerfully negative effect on Australians’ sense of independence and identity. Ending the monarchy and establishing a republic would constitute a substantial stride in the direction of creating a greater sense of independence and national pride and identity.

Australia could actually remain in the commonwealth as a republic

Establishing a republic does not necessarily mean leaving the commonwealth. Certainly, it would establish a fully-independent, self-contained leadership structure in Australia. But this need not be equated with leaving the commonwealth. Australia could stay in the commonwealth just as many republics have opted to do in the 20th and 21st centuries. These nations are known as commonwealth republics.

Australia was founded by the Crown and so owes continued allegiances in the commonwealth.

The first European settlers in Australia were from England, arriving in the 1780s between the American and French revolutionary wars. For nearly 100 years, Australia was considered a British colony, and was completely dependent on England for money and resources. In 1901, Australia became independent but decided to remain a part of the commonwealth, where it continued to receive aid from Britain. It remains part of the British commonwealth with full independence, except for authority of the Queen and her appointed Governor-General. Given the fact that Australia would not exist without the initial decision of the crown to colonize Australia, it seems entirely appropriate that a token of allegiance remain to the Crown within the commonwealth system. To deny this allegiance and to demand independence would be to ignore Australia’s history and the debt of gratitude it owes to Britain.

The commonwealth is a sound community for Australia even in modernity.

The commonwealth has its place, even in modernity. It is a community-based on democracy and mutually beneficial relationships that is respected in modernity. Therefore, Australia should not feel compelled to leave the commonwealth to express its independence in the modern world; that independence is already expressed and respected.

Australians can vote to exit the commonwealth, but have chosen to remain.

Australians have chosen to remain within the commonwealth. Their hands have not been forced on the issue. Therefore, they have not been denied independence in any way. They have chosen to remain within the commonwealth on their own accord.

The Queen is not a "foreign queen", but is the "Queen of Australia"

"Queen of Australia". Retrieved April 21st, 2008

“The title, role and legal aspects of the Queen of Australia are not well understood by most Australians including those who advocate a republic and by most of those employed within the media industry. The purpose of this page is to help Australians get a better understanding of the legal role of the Queen in her capacity as the Queen of Australia. To refer to the Queen of Australia as the the British Queen, the English Queen or the foreign monarch is fallacious when considering the Queen’s role as outlined in the Australian Constitution and the several laws of Australia that relate to constitutional matters. There are several documents that legally confirm the Queen’s role as Queen of Australia. Some of those aspects are addressed below.”

The governor-general is an Australian head of state

Republicans make the argument that the monarchy needs to be abolished in order to secure an Australian head of state. This presumes that the Queen is the non-Australian head of state. But, what about the governor-general? The governor-general, part of the monarchy, is the head of state and a native Australian? So, the monarchy system does provide an Australian head-of-state.

Functionality: Is a republic more functional? Or does the monarchy "work just fine"?

The Australian monarchy is "broken" in so far as it is undemocratic.

In modernity, the degree to which a government is “undemocratic” is, in large part, the degree to which it can be considered “broken”. Therefore, in the areas where Australian government is considered undemocratic – in the hereditary control of the monarch and appointment of the Governor-General – it can certainly be considered “broken”. This does not mean all of Australian government is broken, and certainly most of it “works”, but those undemocratic things that are “broken” can and should be changed by adopting a republican form of government.

That the Australian monarchy "works" is a faulty argument against positive change

The argument that Australia’s government “isn’t broken, so why fix it”, is what is known as a status quo argument. It promotes the functionality of the status quo as a reason to avoid the hassle of change. This is an invalid argument because it shirks the responsibility within government to improve governance. When something can be made better, it should be made better. Turning Australia into a republic from a monarchy will certainly make it more democratic, and thus better. Therefore, this action should be taken.

The monarchy might "work", but it is inappropriate and wrong

That something works does not make it right. That Australia’s monarchy works does not make it democratic nor right. In fact, it is wrong. When something is wrong, it matters not that it works; it must be changed.

Republicanism is not more modern than constitutional monarchy

Constitutional monarchies exist in some of the most developed societies on earth. Britain, Canada, and Australia are among them. There are both strengths and weaknesses to a constitutional monarchy, but it is not clear that a republic is better, more democratic, and more stable overall. It is wrong to presume that a republic is a more advanced and modern system, and that Australia will inevitably make the move to a republican form of government. [see more arguments on this position in the next section]

If the Australian constitutional monarchy isn't broke, don't fix it

Pragmatic monarchists have maintained that, whatever the argued weaknesses of the current system, it also had many strengths; following the motto of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. The Australian Monarchist League’s Phillip Benwell told ABC in April 2008, “At a time when there’s no problem with our constitution, when there’s no constitutional crisis, why move to fix something that doesn’t need fixing, just because people don’t like one part of our constitution — and that is the Queen and the Crown?”.[1]

The Queen has never abused her power in Australia.

If the British Queen Elizabeth II violated the trust of Australians and abused her power despotically, perhaps there would be a major claim against the status quo. But, neither she nor the Governor-General has done so.

Democracy: Will a republic make Australia more democratic? Is this important?

Australia should perfect its democracy by becoming a republic

Any system that relies on hereditary appointment instead of elections is, inherently, undemocratic. There is really no dispute about this. The only question regards whether people think it is a problem that Australia’s process for selecting its head of state is undemocratic.

A "crowned republic" in Australia is not an adequate republic

William Byrne. "Republic Versus Monarchy". December, 1995

“Australia is a “Crowned Republic” anyway. It has been argued that Australia already has the “form” of a Republic, since we are basically an independent country. This ignores the concepts of true national sovereignty and independence, and of development of the national culture and psyche.

Anyway, if we are a “Crowned Republic”, why don’t we just take that extra step and become a true Republic?”

Monarchy undermines democratic development in Australia

Adam Wynn said, “It is inconsistent if not hypocritical to try to instill in people an appreciation of democratic ideals, when our own head of state is the epitome of the exact opposite”.[2]

Monarchies risk bringing completely incapable people to power

Monarchies, and their hereditary processes, can bring a child, mentally disabled, or plainly despotic person to power. In other words, the Australian monarchic system plays Russian Roulett with the country and its citizens’ future.

Desires for republic grow with increasingly democratic Australians

Cassandra Gelade. "Is the Republic inevitable?". June 7th, 1994

“Since a change in national consciousness has engendered a much greater focus on inclusionary policies that reflect the social conditions of the 1990s, the Australian constitution becomes increasingly out of date.”

Republicanism is not more modern than constitutional monarchy(above)

The monarchy checks the abuse of power by the executive

Selwyn Johnston, Indepednent, Elected Representatives' Advocate. "The 'no' case against a republic, and 'for' our constitutional monarchy." Retrieved April 21st, 2008

“Today [the monarchy] represents the denial of total power. While the Crown is at the head of all our great Institutions of State, nobody else can be the head of any of them. Thus the Crown represents the ultimate and untouchable guarantee of our freedom and our genius. Republicans resent the power that the Crown denies them. They resent the Senate having the power to block supply to a rogue Government. They resent the Governor-General’s ability to sack a rogue Prime Minister.”

Australia is already a republic; a "crowned republic"

Australia is not a monarchy. It is a democratic republic that puts the power in the hands of its people, but that also has small, largely-symbolic monarchic presence in the form of the Queen and the Governor General. This is why its can be considered a “crowned republic”. Since Australia is already a republic, it need not be re-made into a different kind of republic. It is a sufficiently sound republic as is.

The governor-general represents all Australians; not just his/her voters

With an elected head of state, a very large percentage of a national population find themselves being led by a person they did not vote for. The governor-general, conversely, is appointed by the monarch and so is able to stand above an election process that would divide his or her constituents. The governor-general, therefore, can represent all Australians, which is democratically appealing.

Australians democratically chose a constitutional monarchy; it wasn't imposed

Having chosen to establish a constitutional monarchy in 1901, Australians cannot now complain. They democratically enshrined a form of government that they now must live with.

Australian republicans are making a blatant power grab

This isn’t about democracy. This is about Republican elitist politicians wanting to increase their power by eliminating checks on them from the monarchy.

Reforming a constitution should be extremely exceptional in a democracy.

Constitutions are supposed to enshrine the rights of a country’s citizens permanently. It should be exceptionally rare, therefore, for a country to open its constitution to tampering.

Australia's monarchic system is equally democratic as Britain's.

Britain’s constitutional monarchy is a model democracy. Australia’s monarchy is equivalent in almost all respects. Whey, then, should we be concerned that Australia is undemocratic. It is not.

Symbolism: What are the pros and cons of republican and monarchy symbols in Aus.?

The symbolism of the Australian monarchy is important and bad

Some say that the Monarchy only has symbolic meaning, as a way to disclaim the significance of the monarchy and thus reduce the significance of the complaints raised against it. But, even if the monarchy had only a symbolic significance (which it does not – it engenders real power), its symbolic importance is both large and largely bad. The historic, commonwealth, hereditary, sexist, and even religiously discriminatory symbols associated with the crown are all significant, and significantly bad. They cannot be diminished in significance, only disowned.

The monarchy symbolizes principles Australians don't agree with

Modern Australians are worldly people whom do not agree with antiquated notions associated with the crown, such as hereditary power, royal dignity, male primogeniture, Anglican church supremacy, and other forms of elitism associated with the crown.

The Australian monarchy symbolizes a history of tyranny

The British monarchy has a history of tyranny and imperial exploitation as much as democracy and the law. This history should not be respected as much as condemned. The crown’s history is a liability to Australia’s monarchy as much as an asset.

The monarchy is not actually a model family for Australians

The royal family in Britain has not actually been a model of honor, dignity, and honesty. There have been many scandals that collectively are known as the “Royal Drama”. This does not set a good example for Australians.

An Australian republic will not mean rejecting the English heritage

The English heritage need not be rejected by establishing a republic. The history will certainly not be erased from the history books simply because Australia becomes a republic. In addition, an Australian republic would likely remain within the commonwealth, which would provide continual reminders of the British legacy in Australia.

Seeking an Australian republic does not disrespect the queen

Many commonwealth countries are “crown republics”. That they are republics does not offend the Queen. It will be no less the case if Australia becomes a republic.

Monarchy symbolizes all that Australia inherited from Britain

Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy, wrote in August, 2007, “the Union Flag to remind us that we have inherited precious traditions of parliamentary democracy, faith, law and language.”[3] Australians should respect this heritage, and its flag and the monarch are an important part of doing so.

The monarchy inspires justice, honor, and duty in Australia

The monarchy has a long history of justice, honor, and duty. The continued presence of the monarchy connects modern Australians to this history and inspires them to live up to it. Some describe this as the “glue” that binds Australian society together.

The Queen has served, united, and uplifted Australians

The Queen has had a particularly beneficial role in Australian society since taking power in 1947. In particular, she has inspired honor, respect and duty among Australians, unified peoples around her principles and respect for the constitutions within the commonwealth nations, and prevented controversies and the abuse of power from boiling over into damaging conflicts. For this reason, she is very popular among the Australian public. Why should Australia go in a direction contradictory to this popularity (and the reasons underlying it) by pushing to establish a republic?

Many modern states like Australia have foreign elements in identity

Tony Abbott. "Monarchy is the tie that binds us together." The Age. November 29, 2006

“The very idea of the monarchy offends people accustomed to think in aggressive slogans. It’s “foreign”, although that has never been held against other institutions to which great deference is offered (such as the United Nations). It’s shared with other countries, but so is our language and no one (so far) wants to change that.”

The Australian Monarchy is just a "symbol"

The British queen and monarch are not endowed with very much power in Australia. Her role is primarily symbolic, representing the commonwealth and its strong history of democracy, law, and faith. The symbol of the monarch should not be made into too big of an issue. Keeping they symbol will do very little to harm or benefit Australians; so the status quo should be maintained.

Republicanism is disrespectful to the queen.

Most Australians have a deep respect for the Queen. They should realize, however, that adopting a republican form of government would be a slap in the face to the Queen, abandoning her guidance and leadership on the basis that it cannot be trusted. Hasn’t her historic leadership earned greater respect than that?

Stability: Would a republic help stabilize Australian politics or is it the reverse?

The Australian monarchy does not ensure stability

William Byrne. "Republic Versus Monarchy". December, 1995
    • The Monarch creates unity and stability

Having a Monarchy does not create or ensure a nation’s stability.

  • Having the U.K. Monarch as Head of State has not ensured stability in:
  1. Northern Ireland, racked by internal fighting over the issues of religion, politics, and independence.
  2. Fiji, which has had two recent military coups (in May 1987 and September 1987).
  3. Grenada, which has also had two recent coups (in March 1979 and 1983), then invaded by the U.S.(32)”

Australia's monarchy is not really politically neutral

William Byrne. "Republic Versus Monarchy". December, 1995

the claim that the Monarch is politically neutral is not completely true. Indeed, the differences between Queen Elizabeth II and Margaret Thatcher (when she was Prime Minister) over British foreign policy became publicy known through the media.(36)

An Australian president will be no more political than the monarchy

The Australian monarchy is not necessary for national security post Cold War.

Supporters of the monarchy often argue that preserving the monarchy is necessary in upholding Australian national security. But, this was only true during the Cold War. Now, there are far fewer risks.

Arguing that republicanism is divisive is a status quo argument

William Byrne. "Republic Versus Monarchy". December, 1995

“Republicanism is a divisive issue. This is just another “status quo” argument.

Of course, there will be many people who will support the Republic, and many who will support the Monarchy. That people have opposing views is an inherent part of our democratic system.

Perhaps those who argue against even having a Republic vs. Monarchy debate, because it is “divisive”, should also argue against “divisive” parliamentary elections. It is a ridiculous argument.”

The Australian monarchy provides a non-political check on the political process.

Monarchists claim that the succession of an apolitical head of state provides a far more stable constitutional system compared to one involving appointing or electing a president who is likely to have a political agenda. The constitutional monarchy provides the basis for stable democratic government, with the Governor-General (the monarch’s nominal representative) acting as an impartial, non-political “umpire” of the political process.

A partisan head of state in a republic can be problematic.

Many Australians distrust the Australian political classes and believe the provision of executive powers to a local politician would result in an undesirably partisan head of state, and subsequent instability.

The monarchy checks the abuse of power by the executive

One of the reasons that Australia has enjoyed such great stability since its founding in 1901 is its constitutional check, in which the monarch can dismiss the Governor-General and the Governor-General can dismiss the Prime Minister in circumstances where these leaders abuse power or put the interests of Australia in jeopardy. The simple threat of dismissal also deters the Governor-General or the Prime Minister from abusing power. In the United States, many believe that President Bush abused his executive powers precisely because there was no check against such abuse (in a word, he could). This, some argue, allowed for the Iraq War and violations of individual rights in the name of the War on Terror, among other things. Australia’s constitution prevents such abuses and subsequent instabilities from occurring by providing a check against it – the monarchy.

Republicanism in Australia incites tensions between Protestants and Catholics.

It has also been claimed monarchism and republicanism in Australia delineate historical and persistent sectarian tensions with, broadly speaking, Catholics more likely to be republicans and Protestants more likely to be monarchists[9]. This developed out of a historical cleavage in nineteenth and twentieth century Australia in which republicans were predominantly of Irish Catholic background and loyalists were predominantly of British Protestant background[10]. Whilst mass immigration since the Second World War has diluted this conflict [11] — according to 2001 census data, 886,914 Australians identified themselves specifically as Catholics of Irish ethnicity and a total of 1,919,727 stated Irish ancestry, not to mention a large number of the Australian ancestry category would be of old Irish colonial immigration.[12] — the Catholic-Protestant divide has been cited as a dynamic in the republic debate, particularly in relation to the referendum campaign in 1999[13][14]. Nonetheless, others have stated that Catholic-Protestant tensions — at least in the sense of an Irish-British conflict — are at least forty years dead,[15] or simply “not there any more,” having been replaced with a general conflict between secular and religious Australians.[16]

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