The annual debate about the date on which we celebrate Australia Day is an important, growing conversation about what the day signifies for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that will not disappear any time soon, and nor should it.
It has become an increasingly heated debate and is treated as part of a culture war, from the response to Triple J moving the Hottest 100 to the Commonwealth government intervening to force local councils to host citizenship ceremonies on January 26.
There have been suggestions that becoming a republic might act as a circuit breaker, enabling us to have a new, more inclusive national day, free of the legacy of invasion and colonisation. While well-meaning, it misjudges the vision of an Australian republic that has been sold to the wider public, a vision that I increasingly do not agree with. The one-word change to the national anthem only emphasises the importance of avoiding empty symbolic changes.
I support Australia becoming a republic because a monarchy, even a constitutional one, runs counter to basic principles of equality and democracy. And yet I feel fundamentally ambivalent about the push for an Australian republic.
With each year that passes, despite my support, I find I am increasingly indifferent about whether Australia actually becomes a republic. Undoubtedly tackling problems such as inequality and climate change have become more urgent over the years, but at its heart my ambivalence is because the call for an Australian republic does not inspire me at all. It offers a timid vision of the status quo.
The British monarchy is framed as a relic that does not represent contemporary, multicultural Australia, while a republic somehow will (or at least be a version of what some think we are - an independent, egalitarian, multicultural democracy). But unless it is a transformative project, a republic will only represent a domestic status quo that does not reflect who we truly are. We may no longer have a queen (or a future king) but our institutions such as Parliament, the media, our culture and how Australia projects itself to the rest of the world will not automatically reflect Australia as it actually is. Our Parliament is less representative of Australia's cultural diversity than those of the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand, and a republic will not change that fact.
To me, the appeal of having an Australian head of state has little resonance if not much else changes. Replacing a hereditary British aristocrat with an elected affluent barrister from a private school, a military officer or a former government minister does not better reflect the diversity or breadth of Australia. Instead, it merely reflects our existing hierarchies, and provides equality of opportunity for our own domestic elites to become the head of state.
- Megan Davis: Toxicity swirls around January 26, but we can change the nation with a Voice to Parliament
- Kamahi Djordon King: Persecuted, ostracised. The treatment of the first people of this land is appalling. We need to change the date
- Ray Steinwall: Will our better angels prevail this Australia Day?
For all the talk about becoming a republic and its symbolic importance to the wider Asia-Pacific, it means little without a wider discussion about our own history of dispossession and how Australia's national identity was constructed in opposition to our region. As an Australian from a culturally diverse background, I know any discussion about race and identity is something too many Australians, even those who identify as politically progressive, find uncomfortable. A timid campaign for a republic means this discussion will not happen.
This timidity is best highlighted by how a republic is often discussed in complete separation from the Uluru Statement, which is only brought up after prompting rather than being the blueprint for a republic. It is almost as if becoming a republic is thought of in a vacuum, an obvious and straightforward technical change that no one will notice once it occurs. A republic, let alone a new national day, without prior truth-telling, a Voice and a treaty with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders will be empty and hollow from its inception.
I understand the belief that without bipartisan support, the constitutional change needed to become a republic will not pass. I get the argument that any campaign needs to be positive, safe and non-threatening. But as someone born after the Dismissal, without a transformative vision it is hard to get excited about an Australian republic. Instead, it becomes an academic debate about political and legal processes that will get bogged down in technicalities such as how a president will be chosen, detached from our everyday lives, lacking any emotional connection.
If a referendum were to be held tomorrow, I would vote for an Australian republic - but I won't pretend it will mean much to me or that the current vision will lay the foundations for a meaningful, new national day. I doubt I would be the only ambivalent republican out there too.
- Osmond Chiu is a research fellow at think tank Per Capita. Twitter: @redrabbleroz