The struggle for Australia to have an Australian as head of state instead of the British monarch has already been a long one. It has been 20 years since the 1999 republic referendum, and nearly 30 years since the creation of the Australian Republican Movement as a vehicle to achieve the goal. But republicanism in Australia has a much longer history that that, and even the modern republican movement is at least 50 years old, dating back to individuals such as Geoffrey Dutton, Max Harris and Donald Horne.
There are many lessons to be found in this history, some of which were discussed at the "20 years on" event held last week at Old Parliament House, which was also the venue for the Constitutional Convention in 1998. Few then thought it would take this long. The first lesson is to be resilient, as the unpalatable alternative is to forget our republican dreams and to move on.
Much has changed over the past 20 years, including some positive developments - although unfortunately much also remains the same.
Perhaps the main change has been the elevation of Indigenous constitutional rights to our first national constitutional priority. There was total acceptance of this new priority by the three major speakers at the republican event - Malcolm Turnbull, Anthony Albanese and Richard di Natale. Republicans not just believe in principle in the prime importance of Indigenous rights, but in practice know that it must take precedence and be the first cab off the rank. It also must be successful if the move to an Australian head of state is to regain momentum.
Any suggestion that there is competition rather than complementarity between the two causes is detrimental to both. Jostling between advocates serves no useful purpose.
If Australia cannot resolve the Indigenous rights constitutional issue promptly and magnanimously then it will show that it has not only lost its appetite altogether for constitutional change, but also its sense of what is right and just.
It is now more than 40 years since the last successful constitutional referendum in 1977. And not only has there been no second republic referendum since 1999, but there have been no referendums at all on any topic (the same-sex marriage postal vote having been a non-binding survey).
The head of state issue must be one for Australians. Both Brexit and Prince Andrew are British problems. Neither will deliver an Australian republic. Andrew, an easy target, is an anachronistic joke, but ultimately an irrelevant one for Australia. Brexit is also no more than a distraction for Australian reformers.
Some interested parties, including Turnbull, believe that the future status of the United Kingdom should attract the attention of Australian republicans. If Scotland secedes there will be no United Kingdom any more, and the bond between the British monarch and the Australian constitution will dissolve. But it is just wishful thinking to see this as the way to an Australian republic.
The two current political leaders and the former political leader showed generosity of spirit towards each other last week. Albanese expressed admiration for Turnbull's guts in 1999. Di Natale's invocation of the transformational idea that the perfect can't be allowed to be the enemy of the good had admirers for its republican relevance too. However, that idea is a fragile aspiration in political life and a controversial thing for a Greens leader to say.
Each of the three shared common republican principles, with distinctive party emphases. What it means to be an independent Australia is a common element, but the Greens represent the broader democratic view of society.
Bipartisanship, much less multipartisanship, remains in very short supply in politics despite the suggestion that 58 per cent of the members of the Commonwealth Parliament are republicans. The pity is that Turnbull can no longer contribute to its achievement because, despite his many attributes, he has no capacity any more to bring the Liberal Party to the republican table. Nor have other recently departed senior Liberal republicans, including Christopher Pyne.
That task lies mainly with the senior republican Liberals remaining within the government, including two senators - Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne and Trade Minister Simon Birmingham. But Liberal republicans like Peter Costello found it difficult to fight the good fight under John Howard, who remains a determined culture warrior on the republic issue 20 years later.
Present day Liberal republicans will find it just as difficult under Scott Morrison's conservative leadership, and any intervention is likely to be condemned as destabilising. Turnbull's very presence in the debate opens such raw wounds within the party and the wider community that he would become an impediment rather than a healer in this context.
Turnbull is on stronger, though not new, ground in his suggestion that republican disunity was a major reason for the defeat of the 1999 referendum, and that building republican unity should be the first priority now. He wants a "good old barney" between direct election and parliamentary republicans, and the resolution of differences by a "binding" democratic vote in a plebiscite. There certainly is plenty of material for such a good old barney because of deeply held views which go to the heart of much broader visions of the good society and the place of parliamentary politics within democracy. But any barney must respect the search for compromise and common ground.
"Let's hope we achieve success before I die" is a constant refrain among older members in many social movements. Many republican advocates, including Donald Horne, George Winterton, and Tim Fischer, have failed to see the happy day come.
That's politics. The intellectual case for an Australian head of state remains compelling. The task for its advocates is to make the emotional and political case just as compelling.
- John Warhurst is an Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University and a former chair of the Australian Republican Movement.