The Australian Republican Movement’s (ARM) recently revealed model for a republic is as unsurprising as it is bad – which probably goes a long way to explain why it was released while the country has been distracted by Djokovic, staff shortages, and rising case numbers.
It removes Australia from the familial bonds of a millennium-old institution – an institution that has evolved alongside our parliamentary democracy, our system of laws, our language, our culture, and our very way of life – and instead gives us a president chosen by politicians. The same politicians who, depending on your view, have either been unnecessarily risking our lives in a global pandemic or depriving us of our most fundamental freedoms.
It is not hard to see why this is the preferred option of the ARM, which is hardly the grassroots movement it professes to be. ARM is the preserve of media personalities and Group of Eight university students.
This is a model of the elites, by the elites, for the elites.
In the end, the candidates may be elected by the people but those candidates are carefully chosen by politicians. Perhaps not by a single party or government, but by the members of the political class who, despite their party affiliations, have much more in common with each other than with their constituents and the demos at large.
If we started a country from scratch – from the ground up and in a vacuum – perhaps we would not choose to have a monarchy. It seems wholly illogical, if we take the rationalist view. We are a self-governing people in a country known for its egalitarianism, mateship, and the fair go. Perhaps some of these things are more an ideal than a practice, but they are mainstream Australian values.
However, we do not exist in a vacuum. We are not starting on a blank page. We have a history behind us that, for most of the population, goes back in some way or another to the British Isles. Mainstream Australian culture has evolved from British culture. Our language, our sports, our laws, our government, our humour – even our drinking habits – while distinctly Australian, are also very British. This is not something to cringe from or to reject.
(It is important to note that removing the monarchy also would not make Australia any more symbolically Indigenous as a president is just as foreign to Indigenous culture as a monarch – and probably more so.)
We should take the empirical view.
Sometimes, I would argue most often, it is not the most rational or logical thing that works, but the slightly odd, illogical, eccentric thing that has evolved, shifted and changed to suit the situation. This is a point made well by Stephen Fry. In his writing, he refers to the monarchy as being like his crooked nose which, if changed, would be a vanity project that would only reveal that what was changed was not the problem at all. This sentiment was repeated during a talk in the Sydney Opera House where he urged Australians not to throw away the monarchy in a vain attempt to get with the times.
To remove the monarchy – for any republican model – would be a foolish endeavour. It would not make Australia any more Australian, as the ARM’s claim seems to run, because the monarchy is already as Australian as anything else brought to the continent by British settlement – cricket, rugby, fish and chips, or Peter FitzSimons himself for that matter. And it would not make her more democratic, least of all with this particular model in which the ultimate power to decide on the candidate would lie with the politicians.
Electing a president – especially one chosen by politicians – might give a veneer of democracy, but just like any set of sparkly, brand new chompers, it would only be a thin façade over a discoloured and possibly rotting core.
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