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.
The debate can be framed by multiple questions. Is a republican form of government essential to breaking the bonds with the English monarchy and establishing independence?
Or is Australia already independent? Does it owe continued allegiance to the nation and crown that first established colonies in Australia in the 18th century? Or can we move away from that history in a new age with a new, independent Australia? Is a republican government and "full independence" essential to a sense of identity among Australians? Or, do they derive a strong sense of identity from the queen, crown, and monarchy? Does the monarchy violate modern principles of equality among genders as well as among faith? Is the Queen a foreign leader and thus unfitting as a head of state in Australia? Or, is she "Australia's Queen" an adequate leader of Australia? Does she insufficiently represent Australia's interests abroad? Is her representative, the Governor-General, subsequently also inadequate as a head of state? Or does the fact that he is a native Australian make a difference?
Is the monarchy undemocratic and subsequently "broken"? Or, is this a case of, "it isn't broke, so don't fix it?" Do the provisions of the monarchy give strong checks and balances against the abuse of power, and thus protect against the risks of despotic elected leaders? Or, is the monarch just as susceptible to despotism, if not more so? Is a republican form of government generally superior to a constitutional monarchy? What are the pros and cons of these systems? Is a republic really more democratic? Or is it the case that Australia is already a democratic republic; a "crowned republic"? What do examples from around the world tell us about republics vs. "crowned republics"? If Australia became a republic, could it remain within the commonwealth or would it have to leave? What result would be better?
What symbols are present in the monarchy? Are they bad symbols that represent a tyrannical and unjust past that Australians desire to part from?
Or, do the symbols surrounding the crown represent dignity, honor, and duty, and do Australians cling to these symbols as a part of their national identity? Are symbols important?
Has the monarchy jeopardized or ensured political stability in past years? Is it neutral, and thus stabilizing in this way? Or, is it not really that neutral and actually destabilizing? Is it destabilizing that the Governor-General is appointed, or does this allow him to stand above partisan politics in representing all Australians? Could an elected president assume these non-partisan qualities? And, is changing the system worth any divisiveness that it may create?
Is change possible and feasible? Would a referendum be difficult, too costly, or simply a waste of time because it may not pass? What about the subsequent drafting of changes? Is this simple, or would the constitution have to undergo a major overhaul? Would states accept or reject any newly drafted constitution? If they reject republican changes, does this create a constitutional crisis in Australia? What is the general position of the Australian public, and where is its opinion trending?
Is establishing a republic a priority in Australia among other competing issues? Is it inevitable? Even if it is inevitable, is it worth pressing the issue immediately, or should citizens wait for a couple more years for the right time (say, when the Queen dies)?
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.
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.
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?".
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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." 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?
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?
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.
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. 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. Whilst mass immigration since the Second World War has diluted this conflict  — 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. — the Catholic-Protestant divide has been cited as a dynamic in the republic debate, particularly in relation to the referendum campaign in 1999. Nonetheless, others have stated that Catholic-Protestant tensions — at least in the sense of an Irish-British conflict — are at least forty years dead, or simply "not there any more," having been replaced with a general conflict between secular and religious Australians.
Conducting a constitutional referendum in Australia would not be difficult. Refferendums are easy to conduct, it's a little bit like voting at an election. In the last century, over 30 referendums have been conducted in Australia. This should not be a constraint against reforming the constitution, nor should the costs, given how many referendums have been conducted on much less important issues in Australia.
Drafting a Republican constitution in Australia would not be difficultSenator Alan Eggleston. "The Republic: an idea that has reached its time". Address to the John Stuart Mill Society. September 22nd, 1997 - A Republican Constitution is too difficult to draft Conservative lawyers such as Sir Harry Gibbs have made fuss of the difficultly of drafting a set of words for a Republic constitution which would recreate the balances and political stability enjoyed by Australia under the present arrangements. Without doubt, the task will be complex, but I have long suspected more was being made of this difficultly than needed to be. To me, it has never been credible for monarchists to argue that, in a nation which has produced so many brilliant, clear thinking lawyers as Australia, a constitution could not be written which protected and preserved the rights of the Australian people, entrenched responsible parliamentary government under a Prime Minister and cabinet and created an institution for a Head of State not only having clearly designed and limited powers but also embodying formulae for the democratic means of resolution of crises should the good government of the Commonwealth be in jeopardy."
Creating a republic would require dramatically re-writing Australia's constitution. This is based on the notion that changing a constitutional monarchy to a republic demands much more than simply changing a couple of words in the constitution; it requires almost entirely re-writing it.
Better not to rush a republic in Australia Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said on April 20th, 2008, "I regard it as inevitable. I don't see it occurring in 2010. It's one of those things I think the nation state will attend to in due course."
Republic a bad idea before Queen Elizabeth II leaves Aus Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told Network Ten. Britain's Queen Elizabeth II is hugely popular in Australia, and that "There's... something of a view in the community that the appropriate time to move is when the current monarch moves off from her position and whenever that might be."
All the coins would have to be changed. If Australia was to suddenly drop out of the Commonwealth, all the coins with the picture of the Queen and the $5 (with the Queen on it) would need to be changed. This would need to call a National Coin Changing Day or Period where Australians get new coins and can exchabge their money. Is that feasible?
Australian republicanism is a diversion from other pressing issues. Republicanism in Australia is primarily about symbolism as opposed to the real problems facing Australia. It will only be a distraction of time and money that would better spent on more tangible problems in Australia.
Australian republicanism should be dealt with in the future. Even if there are good reasons to adopt a Republican form of government in Australia, now is not the time. It would be best done, for example, after the death of Queen Elizabeth II because she is popular.
The monarchy violates Australian laws against gender discrimination Succession to the British throne is based upon male primogeniture, in which male heirs take precedence and the right of succession belongs to the eldest son. The heir apparent has always been a male. A female heir to the throne can only be the heiress apparent, rather than the heiress presumptive ("presumptive" as she could be ousted at any time by the birth of a son to the reigning Monarch) if she were the sole, or eldest, surviving daughter of a dead heir apparent, who had no sons. A monarchy that promotes the sexist system of primogeniture is wrong and should be ended.
Queen Elizabeth II's existence undermines claims against a sexist Australian monarchy While an issue can be made over primogeniture, it is somewhat odd that opponents of the monarchy claim that the monarchy is sexist when Queen Elizabeth II, a woman, has been Queen for over sixty years. Clearly, she is a woman in power, which helps combat sexism, and she has upheld the rights of woman in Australia. If anything, she has been a hugely positive force against sexism in Australia around the world.
The Australian monarchy violates the separation of church and state Under the Act of Settlement, passed by the British Parliament in 1701, the monarch is prohibited from either being Catholic, or from marrying a Catholic. This law is in conflict with Australian anti-discrimination laws which prohibit arrangements under which males have precedence over females, or under which becoming or marrying a Catholic invalidates any legal rights.
The monarchy poses no real threat to secularism in Australia. The principle of separating church and state was designed to protect freedom of belief from a tyrannical state. But, there is no indication that the Australian state is acting to surpess freedom of belief in any way. So, what is the concern?
Australian constitution does not separate of church and state; monarchy is O.K. While many argue that the monarchy in Australia is unconstitutional due to its connection with the Anglican Church, this erroneously assumes that the constitution states a separation of Church and state. It doesn't. Therefore, any Anglican church influence in Australia is actually not at odds with the constitution. So, at leas the monarchy's Anglican connection is not creating a constitution crisis in Australia. As to whether a separation between church and state should exist (as opposed to the existing policy of "neutrality"), that is a question that has nothing to do with the Crown's policies and cannot be held against it; it is a question about the Australian constitution.
The principal of "neutrality" between Church and State is justified. The Constitution calls for "neutrality" between state institutions and religion. This means that the Church can have a prominent position in public life so long as the state is neutral. Many argue this is better than having a "separation of Church and State" because it better enables the state to fund religious practices, as long as it does so neutrally. If this system is better, what is the problem with the monarchy?
The 1999 referendum was rejected on specifics not the principle of Republicanism. It was the particular form of the republic offered which was criticised as the main reasion for the defeat of the referendum. Supporters of the republic disagreed about the best proposed mechanism for replacing the monarch and Governor-General with either a head of state appointed by the Parliament (which was widely criticised as being undemocratic), or with a directly-elected head of state (which was widely criticised as moving Australia away from the proven Westminster System toward an American-style presidential system, even though many Parliamentary republics directly elect non-executive Presidents). Many Republicans voted no, therefore, on the specifics of the referendum, despite supporting the general principle of moving toward a Republic. A referendum on the general principal of electing a head of state would have likely passed. If a new referendum is designed in these general terms, as a first step on the principals of a Republic, it would likely pass.
The 2020 summit on 19-20 April, 2008 agreed with a republic system. On 19-20 April, in Canberra, a 2020 summit was held where Australians gave ideas to the Prime Minister. Many people wanted for Australia to be a republic. They decided to have a vote and out of the 1000 people there, only 1 person voted 'no'. Australia does want a republic.
Professor Tony Blackshield - "it is overwhelmingly clear that the Australian people want the head of state directly elected, and if that's what they want they should have it. I actually then began to think that there might be good reasons for direct popular election, that the people might actually be right."
Aborigines and Australians of Irish origin see the Australian Crown as a symbol of British imperialism.
Support for Australian republic has waned in recent yearsTony Abbott. "Monarchy is the tie that binds us together." The Age. November 29, 2006 - "Still, there is some reason to think that long-standing attachments and traditional loyalties have not entirely lost their appeal. Support for Australia becoming a republic (as measured by Newspoll) is 8 per cent below its 2000 peak. Strong support for becoming a republic is actually at its lowest among young people. Although the monarchy has been out of favour since 1993 (when Newspoll first recorded more republicans than monarchists), 29 per cent of people aged between 18 and 34 remain uncommitted on the question, with 26 per cent of young people actually against Australia becoming a republic. Given almost all commentators' need to declare themselves republican, this suggests that the young may be less conformist than their parents."
Queen Elizabeth II is hugely popular in Australia.
The 1999 Republic referendum was voted down in Australia. In this referendum, roughly 55% of the nation voted "no" and all states voted "no". This should be seen as a sufficient rejection of the idea of a republic in Australia; no new referendum is appropriate.