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Crowning glory would be our own head of state

Date

Andrew Leigh

Illustration: John Shakespeare

Illustration: John Shakespeare

Walter Scott once wrote: ''Breathes there a man with soul so dead / Who never to himself hath said / This is my own, my native land.''

Alas, these fine words have never been uttered by any Australian head of state about Australia. Under our constitution, they never could be uttered.

That is because, while no British citizen can ever be Australia's head of government, only a British citizen can ever be Australia's head of state.

In 1999, Australia held a referendum. It was a three-cornered contest between bipartisan parliamentary appointment republicans, direct election republicans and monarchists.

As Malcolm Turnbull has pointed out, the monarchists ''delightedly, if cynically, exploited the division by promising the direct electionists that if the parliamentary model was defeated at a referendum they could have another referendum on a direct election model within a few years''.

We have waited half a generation since then. Some counsel patience. They argue that the push for an Australian as head of state should wait until King Charles III ascends the throne. This fundamentally misunderstands the argument for an Australian republic. Republicans' quibble is not with Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles and their heirs and successors. Each of these individuals has done their jobs diligently.

Indeed, a belief in the republic does not lessen our respect for them as individuals. In 2012, when Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall visited Canberra, I was pleased to welcome them on the tarmac of Canberra Airport (wearing my Australian Republican Movement cufflinks). Respect and politeness for the royal family sits alongside my passionate belief that Australia should have one of our own as head of state. Last year, Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge welcomed their baby, George, into the world and today at least 800 babies will be born in Australia. I congratulate William, Kate and all their parents. To be a parent is one of the greatest blessings we can receive. But I cannot for the life of me see why baby George is better suited than every Australian baby to grow up to be an Australian head of state.

The 800 children born in Australia will grow up around gumtrees and sandy beaches. They will call their friends ''mate'' and barrack for the Baggy Greens, the Wallabies and the Socceroos. Their success in life will not be decided by their surname. If they say they live in a castle, it will be because they are quoting Darryl Kerrigan.

In short, those 800 babies born today will be Australians. And every one of them should be able to aspire to be our head of state. Those who disagree with this view sometimes claim the governor-general is the head of state. At best, a contentious, strained protestation.

All members of the Australian Parliament swore or affirmed our allegiance to the Queen, not to the governor-general. At state dinners, visiting heads of state toast the Queen of Australia. Her image is on our currency.

Australian government websites say: ''Australia's head of state is Queen Elizabeth II.'' The slogan ''Don't know? Vote no'' has never been more powerful in Australian public life. Tony Abbott used it when he was campaigning for the monarchy in 1999 and has deployed it relentlessly in recent years, including against a market-based solution to climate change, fibre to the home broadband and fiscal stimulus to save jobs.

It is a seductively simple line but one that is more dangerous than ever as Australia grapples with complex challenges.

In the Asian century, how do we think it looks to our Indonesian, Chinese, Korean and Japanese friends that we cannot shrug off the anachronism of having a member of the house of Windsor as our head of state? How does it sit with our claimed belief in the ''fair go'' when the qualification to be our head of state is that one must be British, white and preferably male? Is this really the image we want to project?

In Parliament this week, I moved a motion calling on the government to hold a referendum to make Australia a republic. In so doing, Australia would make it clear to ourselves and the world that instead of a foreign child in a foreign land, we trust an Australian child to grow up and be an Australian head of state.

Such a child would be more appropriate for us, more representative of us and more worthy of us - a child who knows their own, native land in their living, Australian soul.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser. andrewleigh.com

43 comments

  • I suggest that if we can find a tolerable way to sustain the Westminster system of government without a monarch, Australia should become a republic. My problem is that I cannot imagine a way that the substitute could be installed without the appointment being politicized. Perhaps we should simply cut to the chase and legislate so that the Archbishop of Sydney always gets the top job ?

    Commenter
    adam
    Location
    yarrawonga
    Date and time
    March 26, 2014, 7:04AM
    • Great idea. Alas the nation is time travelling backwards right now.

      "Tony Abbott reintroduces knight and dame honours for Australians", 25/3/14

      PS: Where can I pick up a flux capacitor?

      Commenter
      Marty McFly
      Date and time
      March 26, 2014, 9:11AM
  • Oh, to be a fly on the wall when Malcolm first heard of this retrograde step.

    Commenter
    comment
    Date and time
    March 26, 2014, 7:38AM
    • I never thought I would say this but while we have to endure this government bring on Malcolm. Stop the daily flow of retrograde steps. I am aghast at Abbotts arrogance in imposing his conservative ideas on us. He is deluded in his thinking that knights and dames are what Australia needs.

      Commenter
      sb
      Date and time
      March 26, 2014, 10:32AM
    • A knighthood would silence all objections. 'Arise Sir Malcom of the Turnbull.'.

      Commenter
      adam
      Location
      yarrawonga
      Date and time
      March 26, 2014, 4:06PM
  • Tony De Yowie went to the Pope
    Said, "I'll be a saint now I hope"
    When the Pontiff asked why
    This was his reply,
    Two hundred days ago they elected a dope.

    Commenter
    Geronimo
    Location
    Yippee Yi Yo
    Date and time
    March 26, 2014, 7:46AM
    • Hear hear Andrew.

      Commenter
      Snakewoman
      Location
      Glenlyon
      Date and time
      March 26, 2014, 7:59AM
      • Our constitution embeds the Westminster system although separation between parliament and the executive is imperfect and the mechanisms rely on unwritten conventions. The election/appointment of an alternative head of state will always be political.

        I understand that Quentin Bryce has no intention to use her new rank - surely our appreciation of her undoubted accomplishments should be framed in a manner which is acceptable to her?

        Fiddling whilst Rome burns!!!

        . .

        Commenter
        david
        Location
        Speers Point
        Date and time
        March 26, 2014, 8:11AM
        • Hi Andrew, I respect your position but have to point out that our Indonesian, Korean, Chinese and Japanese friends will only look at our system and shake their heads in wonder and envy. Imagine, a system that has produced over 200 years of peace, safety and plenty. A system that has overseen the settlement since WWII (on a per capita basis and excluding Israel) of more migrants than any other nation on earth.

          Even taking into account the displacement and massacres of our Indigenous people our system has provided a framework for peace and prosperity that is the envy of the world.

          Commenter
          Bill
          Date and time
          March 26, 2014, 8:41AM
          • Bill, its no surprise that most of the most stable, most well governed countries in the world are constitutional monarchies. Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, the UK, Spain, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Japan. How many republics? Only Finland, Germany, Austria, France and the US have those same levels.

            Commenter
            Uncle Quentin
            Date and time
            March 26, 2014, 1:27PM

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