Since 1832, republicanism has always been at the back of Australians’ minds. Anti-royal politicians, advocates, and pundits have risen throughout the country’s history. However, they failed to write off the British monarch’s title as Australia’s head of state, especially during Queen Elizabeth II’s seven-decade reign. But now that she has passed away on September 8, 2022, King Charles III carries his marriage scandals, entitled behavior, and past controversial statements with him. Without Queen Elizabeth II’s well-loved reputation and presence, antimonarchists have the momentum and the opportunity toward a republic of Australia.
Read On: Why Australia Must Become A Republic
What is a republic, anyways?
Most people debating this issue often use the word “republic” as a loaded term. After all, there are many failed, despotic republics worldwide. The United States of America can be considered a hero of republicanism until you see the failed republic states of sub-Saharan Africa and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea—North Korea.
Therefore, let us get this straight: a republic as a form of government has nothing to do with freedom, human rights, and political accountability. Instead, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “a government having a chief of state who is not a monarch and who in modern times is usually a president.” This denotation shows us that “republic” means having no royalty or monarch. Instead, as the same dictionary points out, the citizens are “entitled to vote … officers and representatives responsible to them.”
Why is Australia not a republic?
Australians can vote for their representatives in their Senate, House of Representatives, and local governments. However, this political structure makes them a representative democracy, not a republic, because the British monarch has the authority as Australia’s head of state. The king’s power is embodied and represented by the Governor-General.
Australia started as a British colony in 1788, adopting most of the mother country’s culture, lifestyle, and political traditions. Eventually, the six colonies in the island continent united into the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. Their federation declares that the monarch of the United Kingdom is also the newly formed country’s Head of State. His Governor-General in Australia approves the legislation, sets election dates, appoints the Prime Minister, and fulfills his duty as the British king’s representative in Australia.
Australia’s links to United Kingdom’s constitutional monarchy have persisted to the present day. Because of this, some Australians feel that we should become a republic since we have achieved independence as a country and deserve to have our own name rather than being a part of Britain. A republic in Australia is about the Australian citizenry, not the Queen, Prince Charles, or the global economy.
Pros of an Australian republic
Here are the reasons why Australia should be a republic rather than a constitutional monarchy:
1. Australia needs an Australian Head of State.
Although the Head of State does not have governing powers, he represents the nation and maintains its constitutional structure. Some think this role is useless because they do not make laws and policies. However, Australia’s Head of State symbolizes its heritage, traditions, and identity. His presence also marks the country’s stability and supervises the Parliament.
Republicans believe that the British monarch should not have this role. Instead, for them, Australians should elect their Head of State, who will represent and uphold the constitution. According to the Australian Republic Movement, the ruler of the United Kingdom cannot unify and uplift this nation during times of crisis.
2. Australia’s constitutional monarchy is less democratic.
Anti-monarchists in Australia believe that a ruler from an island fifteen thousand kilometers away should not represent them. Worse, this authority should not be hereditary, dynastic, or generational. Since Australia is an independent, democratic country, they assert that Australians should be able to vote who will symbolize them.
If the Australian Republic Movement has its way, they want the parliaments at different levels to nominate the most eligible and capable Australians. Then, the citizens will choose the Head of State from these candidates.
Even many Christians already frown at the idea that royal bloodlines have a God-given authority. Hence, a constitutional republican government is legitimate for religious and secular Australians. When citizens delegate authority to representatives, they have a say in how their country is run. Because rulers and officials are chosen for positions of power, a republican system of government is democratic. Representatives are held responsible to the people and can be voted out in this situation. Under a republican government, Australian law and order further protect citizens’ rights and liberties.
3. Republics provide more representation for average Australians.
An Australian republic has no symbolic Governor-General. Hence, such a system emphasizes the executive law-making body led and governed by the state constitution and legislation. The body enforces and establishes high-priority laws, policies, and decisions.
Meanwhile, people have the right and freedom to vote to participate in and contribute to national policy. They can vote for representatives whom they feel will reflect their legislative objectives. The republican Head of State will become more in touch with the electorate’s concerns and issues because he must deserve the people’s vote. This social-contract dynamic will speed up decision-making and government services. This administration method guarantees that elected authorities receive timely input on people-benefiting investment initiatives.
4. The Head of State will have more precise roles and powers.
In Australia’s constitutional monarchy, the authority of the Governor-General and the British monarch is primarily theoretical. Sure, the Governor-General has already set elections and dismissed a Prime Minister. But Governors-General have restrained what they could do historically. After all, the Australian constitution and laws do not provide a conclusive definition of their sovereignty and capacity.
If Australia becomes a republic, the government has the opportunity to lay out the powers of its Heads of State. They will become more accountable as elected officials as well.
5. In a republic, Australian citizens will participate in government even more.
If eligible citizens can vote for their Head of State, they will feel more confident about their voice in society. They can choose which leader best represents them and symbolizes their current ideologies. This system is more empowering than only voting for a party-based parliament.
Suppose everyone has a voice/representative in the federal government. In that case, citizens will be keener to find ideas and stay up with what is happening in the country and world government authorities. When many people vote in an election, they are valued when participating. Their ideas are taken into account by the government, according to national governance. Even though the opposition sometimes feels excluded because the elected official does not share their thoughts, this style of government is the most effective way of involving people in the country’s advancement.
According to a House of Representatives general election poll, 80 percent of registered voters said they are excited to elect someone they like and who shares their values, indicating that this is the best way to express their ideologies through someone they believe. They live in a culture where they must rely on others.
Furthermore, political representatives, each with a specific wish for people in diverse regions, enhance government allocation systems. Any advice an elected official gives is precisely what the people desire. It all boils down to what elected officials want for their constituents when it comes to government infrastructure, social amenities, and other disbursements. Even if the other team has a different point of view, the winning team’s ideas build a more stunning picture for the audience. They can be a practical choice if accepted since they influence a broader population segment.
Cons of an Australian republic
We have heard the beliefs and arguments of Australian republicans. Now, let’s listen to the response of Australians who seek to maintain its constitutional monarchy, ties to the British royals, and the Governor-General. These are the reasons why they believe that transitioning to an Australian republic is unnecessary and even harmful:
1. The Governor-General is already Australian.
All republicans point out that it is wrong to have a British monarch as a Head of State because an Australian should represent their nation. However, one must remember that the Governor-General, the King’s representative, is an Australian! He is also chosen by the British monarch on the Australian Prime Minister’s recommendation. Likewise, the King may remove him on the Prime Minister’s counsel.
Because the British King is not involved in Australian politics and governance, the Governor-General is the acting Head of State. He performs his daily duties and engagements on behalf of the King. However, the Governor-General regularly updates the British monarch about Australian issues and events.
2. The British monarch is neutral, ensuring stability and maintaining political order.
This passive relationship between the King and Australia serves the constitutional monarchy well for pro-monarchy Australians. The King’s neutrality indicates that he accepts the position taken by the majority, unlike before when kings asserted their power over the population. Thus, the King represents all Australians, whatever their political beliefs.
Such is not the case in a republic. An appointed president or head of state might only represent the party or interest groups that backed his candidacy. Because of this, partisan politics encourage destructive divisions and tension like in the United States and other republics.
Moreover, the monarch ideally serves Australia until his resignation or death without holding political power. He provides stability and a strong presence that reminds politicians to have a long-term perspective. Meanwhile, typical republican politicians only think of solutions and programs within their terms.
3. The British monarch represents Australia’s historical and cultural roots.
As of 2022, fifteen nations consider the British monarch their Head of State, from Canada to the Solomon Islands. The Commonwealth Realm, which includes Australia, recognizes the heritage of British influence. Such common history left a lasting legacy on these nations, such as parliamentary governments, similar laws, and Christianity. The British king represents this, and converting into a republic severs this relationship.
4. The United Kingdom does not intervene in the Australian government.
The country was utterly independent even before the Australia Act was signed in 1986 (the legislation that cut all of the British Parliament’s power over Australia). Hence, having a king as a Head of State does not mean that Australia is still under British rule.
Furthermore, Australia already represents the free world as a prosperous, democratic state. Having a British Head of State does not hamper this image. Instead, royalists argue that this British heritage and symbolism promotes the values that empower the West.
5. The British monarch links Australians to their past.
Royalists believe Australia’s constitutional monarchy is a continuous connection between the present and the country’s founding. For them, becoming a republic will break the present system that made Australia one of the leading nations in the world.
As mentioned earlier, the King unites the identity of independent countries in the Commonwealth realm (or the former British Empire). This “family” of nations embraces their common history rather than destroys it while maintaining their democratic and humanitarian values.
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6. A republican government encourages more election issues.
Critics of republicanism claim that the end of elections also marks the end of the people’s voice in state government. Taking away their access to the legislative branch does not guarantee that the person chosen will do the same. This kind of administration has failed in nations with high levels of corruption since politicians and elected officials usually forget what they promised. While one delegate is sincerely committed to representing the public, many others have hidden agendas/policies that benefit them or a small group of people.
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Even if the voting process was fair, the elected Head of State might not follow their pledge to the voters as soon as they are elected. They may instead labor for personal gain to further their entrenched interests. The major disadvantage is that it permits one elected individual to represent all of Australia, a deep flaw of partisan politics.
What is the future of Australia’s constitutional monarchy?
Republican Australians now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become relevant. Now that King Charles III has taken the throne, they can leverage his former scandals and issues to encourage Australians to ditch the constitutional monarchy. So, what will happen to the relationship between the Australian Parliament, the King, and the public?
Unfortunately for republicans, most Australians still prefer its present constitutional monarchy. A study by Roy Morgan, a political science statistics company, shows that 60% of Australians want to stay in a monarchy. More than half of the Australian public supported King Charles III even after Queen Elizabeth II passed away and Governor-General David Hurley announced the new monarch’s rule.
Most respondents who want Australia to stay as a constitutional monarchy appreciate that the current system is stable and working. Hence, they don’t have to fix what is not broken. This response shows how the British monarchs benefit from Australia’s relatively stable Parliament. Moreover, many respondents distrust politicians and see republicanism as a way toward bitter partisanship, similar to what currently divides the United States.
Meanwhile, republican respondents said that having a republic marks their country’s independence completely. Some also believe monarchies are antiquated, especially since colonization is a sensitive topic for Aboriginal people.
Roy Morgan CEO Michele Levine said that republicanism was popular from 1994 to 2008. However, the trend shifted. More Australians have grown fond and supportive of the British monarchy since 2012, during Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. Their popularity has risen even higher in the following years.
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