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The ARM Finds New Life with Peter FitzSimons

On Wednesday 26 August it was my good fortune to hear Peter FitzSimons give an address on the subject of an Australian Republic. He has recently been appointed as head of the Australian Republic Movement (ARM). It was an amusing, forthright and passionate speech.

Because I worked diligently with the Malcolm Turnbull led ARM in 1999 I was interested in how reinvigorated the movement had become.

Three points commanded my attention. The first was just how much the young of today had got caught up with the young royals as celebrities. Two, that a republic would be impossible as long as Tony Abbott was Prime Minister. Three, the use of a plebiscite (which I favour) as a means of going forward.

The third is a non-binding form of referendum. A journalist asked if all these questions on gay marriage, recognition of Indigenous peoples in the Constitution and a republic, over the next few years would be too much for the average Australian. “Why?”, I asked myself. “Do they think we are all morons?” So much so that we are unable to answer a few questions simultaneously.

If you want to engage the people in a truly representative democracy then I would think that plebiscites held at the same time would be rather instructive.

Why I support an Australian Republic

Has Australia ever elected a Prime Minister so ignorant of technology, the environment and science? So divorced from the growing need to fix inequality in all its forms? So oblivious of the needs of women and so out of touch with a modern multicultural pluralist society?

The answer is “probably not”. Those of us who have followed his political career and to whatever extent, his private life, and have written about it, will not be surprised with current events. His unsuitability for the position of Prime Minister of Australia has been known to us for some time.

As if to confirm our view and that of the vast majority of Australians, the conservative right-wing have also, if not belatedly, agreed. Jones, Bolt, Divine, Shanahan, Albrechtson together with their boss Rupert Murdoch, and others, have slammed him for one of the most idiotic decisions ever made by an Australian Prime Minister.

The fact that we have knighthoods at all is insulting and fundamentally undemocratic, and to give one to a bloke whose interest in Australia has been at best marginal, is extraordinary.

Whilst on the one hand seeing Tony Abbott expose himself as the pugilist unthinking, incomprehensible gutter politician that he is gives me some myopic sense of prophetic wisdom. On the other, his flirtation with all things royal has again placed the republican issue in the spotlight.

I have been a long-standing crusader for the cause and worked tirelessly on the issue in 1999. I even had the pleasure of introducing Sir Rupert Hamer a function I organised.

Vive la republique

Royal Parade, in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton is a magnificent leafy tree lined boulevard. It may not match the historical importance of St Kilda Road but for me it is where my Australian patriotism birthed.

At the North end of Royal Parade where the long journey to Sydney begins is the home of the Carlton Football Club. Australian Rules football is uniquely Australian. I played the game with some success and I have never lost my love for its indigenous flavor. It was at this ground that I saw my first match and passages of play remain indelible on my mind sixty years on.

However, this boulevard occupies another memory. The year of 1952 saw the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and in 1954 the new Queen visited Australia. On this occasion her motorcade from Essendon Airport was to take her to the city via Royal Parade and school children lined the route. We were given a small Australian flag and a Union Jack. I was familiar with our flag because we raised it every day at school. All the children waved in joyous spontaneity but I refused to wave the English flag and tossed it away.

One teacher gave me a decent clip behind my left ear but I would not conform. I sauntered of in adolescent anger and wagged school for the remainder of the day. To this day I cannot explain my journey into republicanism. I was too young to understand the ramifications of it all. Because I had spent my early childhood (with illness) in a home and attended five different schools in the space of six years I was really not qualified to form a definitive view on anything.

I left school at 13 and started work before my 14th birthday. I am, in the main self-educated. I suppose I could have been influenced by the Irish on my mother’s side but I think it was more the adornment of all things English in the society of the time in preference to Australia that took me down the republican path. Having said that, probably the socio economic environment in which I found myself helped form my views on social justice and other things.

I have always found this nationalistic worship of individuals (usually with no redeeming features) rather odd, if not dangerous. So when as a teenager I went to the flicks or on any occasion where “God Save The Queen” was played I refused point-blank to stand for the anthem. In fact I often wondered what it was that she needed saving from.

When in discussion about war and people talked about fighting for the mother country, Queen and flag I would simply say, how preposterous, we fight for what we believe to be right. Not a piece of cloth or person. I felt we owed them nothing anyway. After all Churchill was willing to sacrifice Australia for Britons gain during the Second World War.

We were lucky that John Curtin stood up to him. Churchill even resisted the return of Australian troops from the Middle East to defend their own country; he wanted to use them In Burma to defend India against the advancing Japanese.

At this time in my life, growing up in Australia where the Prime Minister was ostensibly more British (and spoke like it) than the British and people felt they owed the mother country something , although they couldn’t explain why. So I carried my republicanism in my back pocket until the Australian Republican Movement was formed with Malcolm Turnbull at its head. I worked diligently for the cause during the 1999 referendum and had the honour of introducing former Premier Sir Rupert Hamer at a function. There is no doubt in my mind that we had the right model to take to the people. We felt we had a reasonable chance of success but we were overwhelmed by the negativity of the media. Of course John Howard acted like he was being perfectly reasonable but he had his pit bull terriers Tony Abbott and Nick Minchen distorting the facts with outlandish lies and Howard never once repudiated them.

In fact Tony Abbott has never lost the capacity to tell the most outrageous untruths. Well he’s probably better at it now. One of course has to wonder why such a serious Catholic who knowingly accepts that one of his faith is by birth ineligible should support the monarchy at all.

So the country lost interest in the matter and it is generally accepted that until the current Monarch retires or dies, our apathy shall continue. Malcolm Turnbull believes this will be the catalyst for action and is in all probability correct.

The way forward is through a non-binding plebiscite with a simple question. For example.

“Do you think Australia should become a republic with an Australian as its own head of state?”

A majority of us would support this and it would pave the way for exploration and development of various models. And with consensus the final model would evolve. As I said earlier. I found nothing wrong with the original model. That being that from a short list the Prime Minister puts forward a person who is then given approval with a two-thirds majority by a joint sitting of both houses. I would argue that the people elect the parliament and then entrust their representatives to appoint a President on their behalf.

After all they entrust them to run the country. For those open to a direct election I would simply warn that this method would actually politicise the appointment. Suitable candidates may not be willing to stand in an election and would decline. They would not be interested in a popular contest. Conversely many unsuitable people would and could win on the basis of popularity.

The British Monarchy to my way of thinking is undemocratic and inequitable in so much as it goes against commonly accepted Australian values such as fairness and egalitarianism. Currently their head of state is selected not on merit but by the principle of hereditary male primogeniture (although that has since changed) and of course Catholics being specifically ineligible. This is discriminatory and unfair, and wouldn’t be allowed under the anti-discrimination provisions of Australian law, yet is still the method of selection for the Australian head of state.

Given that the people were fully informed and educated on the proposals for an Australian Republic with an Aussie as head of state and a consensus agreed upon, then we could proceed to a referendum. If successful, we would then be able to move forward into the new millennium as a fully free, united and confident nation. After 110 years of federation, we have grown up and if we are to take our place in the world, we must break our last constitutional links with England.

It is utterly preposterous that we don’t have an Australian head of state. Imagine if during the course of the recent hung parliament we had a President of the caliber of Sir William Deane or indeed, the current Governor General, Peter Cosgrove. Although a ceremonial head of state his/her quiet calm could have reduced the toxicity of public debate that has insinuated itself on the Australian public during that period.

I recall after the referendum reading Malcolm Turnbull’s book “The Reluctant Republic” where he accused John Howard (The lying rodent George Brandis called him) of breaking the hearts of Australians. He was in fact correct. He duded us and this Australian shed a tear.

 

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15 comments

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  1. Kaye Lee

    “A journalist asked if all these questions on gay marriage, recognition of indigenous peoples in the constitution and a republic, over the next few years would be too much for the average Australian”

    John,

    I think we could have a vote on all these things tomorrow. The trouble is that never happens. We have unending talkfests which, the longer they go on, only serve to make the division between the two camps more pronounced.

    I am really concerned about the consequences of a public campaign for and against same sex marriage. In my view, the discussion gets too complicated. How hard can Indigenous recognition be? We have been talking about talking about it for years. We had a popular model for a Republic. Explain it simply and get it done. The lethargy infuriates me.

    Let’s vote on all three at the next federal election and save some time and money. Add in changing the flag as well. If we are going to allow “the people to decide”, let’s be productive about it. Let’s tell Tony that we want to have a say on all these things at the next election. Why should he choose when it happens? We can make the case easily. We have already had the discussions about these things – you have 12 months to convince voters. Our politicians are frozen….let’s get it done.

  2. Terry2

    John

    The only problem with holding a plebiscite on a Republic is that – if it finds favour – it then has to go to a full Constitutional referendum so that the Constitution can be brought into line : just one of many examples of the need to update our creaking Constitution :

    Section 59 of the Constitution provides

    The Queen may disallow any law within one year from the Governor‑General’s assent, and such disallowance on being made known by the Governor‑General by speech or message to each of the Houses of the Parliament, or by Proclamation, shall annul the law from the day when the disallowance is so made known.

  3. John Lord

    So right Kaye. We vote every three years and then we are expected to toe the line and believe that all wisdom comes from the winner. That is not representative democracy.

    there are other questions that could be asked. Do you think the Australian parliament should have a truly independent speaker? for example. One day a leader will come along, recognise all this, engage the people and change the nation.

  4. Kaye Lee

    We better get rid of Murdoch first if we are going to engage the people because they need facts to make informed decisions.

  5. Kate M

    Hear hear John. Viva la republique!! Although, as Terry2 says, legally it does have to go to a referendum for any change to take place – unlike marriage equality which doesn’t – but we should not repeat the mistake of last time, of tying the question about becoming a republic to an actual model. The two could be split.

    But I also think like Kaye, that we should just get it done. This five year plan they are talking about is ridiculous.

  6. M-R

    I’m with Kate (I always am, it seems): what’s the point of a 5-year leadup ? Is it in case the dreadful mad people get re-elected ? If not, this is the kind of thing that needs a lot of grunt put into it NOW. Carry us all along. Don’t hasten slowly; festina lente was not a phrase thought up for the development of ideas that need to be carried with excitement.

  7. M-R

    Oh, and P.S., John: it’s FitzSimons with only the one ‘m’.

  8. Adrianne Haddow

    I remember well the last referendum regarding Australia becoming a republic. I used the referendum materials for my students to examine the use of propaganda techniques in constructing a persuasive argument. That document ticked all the boxes.

    An English friend of mine couldn’t believe that Australia had passed off the chance to rid themselves of an expensive yoke around the necks of the economy.

    I remember the dissolution of the Whitlam government by the representative of a queen whose right to rule came from a series of slights of hand by the ruling classes of Europe.

    I can’t believe that Australians are not ready to embrace a republic.
    I’m sure those who like the gossip and glimpse of royal children and the display of largesse enjoyed by the royals would still get their celebrity fix through the Murdoch press.

  9. Diane

    As far as I can see, the biggest argument AGAINST becoming a republic is the type of person we would then get as a Head of State. Look at some of the awful people that we have as politicians. They stand for election purely for self-aggrandisement and personal gain, and that’s what we’d get from those putting themselves up for election as ‘President’ (or Governor General). The present GG is too much in Abbott’s pockets to be anything other than a puppet. At least the Queen is there out of duty. My solution to the issue is that Australia should have its own Royal Family – let’s bring Harry over (he’s not needed for the succession line in the UK any more, but it would be nice to maintain links with the UK Royal Family through him, in case we ever need them for anything), get him married off to Bindi Irwin (quintessentially Australian because of her Dad, yet with useful links to the US through her Mum), installed in a palace on Sydney Harbor (is Tony not using Kirribilli House these days?) and start a new Australian Royal Dynasty. Only downside I can see is the amount of sunblock poor Harry would get through, but he’d be serving the country out of duty, and he’s larrikin enough to fit right into the Aussie way of life.

  10. stephentardrew

    Great article John and yes lets vote Kaye.

  11. Florence nee Fedup

    John, from kindergarten is a one teacher school, had same feelings. I can remember as it it was yesterday, how I felt every Monday morning when we lined up to sing God save the Queen and salute the flag. Just thought the whole exercise stupid. Why I reacted this was, I have no idea. Why the experience remains with me, I don’t know.

    Same reaction when the Queen came. Was in Macquarie Street Sydney most days when she was in Sydney. Seen her more than most. Went back to school, where the school was going to Wagga to see her. I caused a ruckus when I refused to go. Just was not interested.

    I had same reactions when we were rounded up for visits of the GG of the day. Very royal looking man that left me cold.

    I must have been born a republican.

    What I can’t stand, and heard it expressed once again by a leading Monarchist, that we already have our own Australian born head state in the GG. That is a lie and misleading. Only supports those who want to see the present system discarded.

    What we have is at least half population having no respect or belief in present system. Wanting to be a republic is a easy question, in fact for most a non brainer.

    What we replace the Monarchy with is not so easy.

    Most people seem to see the USA system as being the only model. Don’t understand there are many models across the globe.

    For me a minimalist model is the order of the day. In fact I see no need for a nominal head at all. That is an extreme view though. The duty of a GG could be met by some type statutory board could be used to do official duties of the GG today.

    I would like to see the Queen being removed from the constitution, leaving the role of GG being same as today. Change name to president or whatever people want, Being appointed as now. Better still by at least 60% vote in both houses. That would reduce the role being politically tainted. Nothing much else would need to be changed.

    An elected President would entail unnecessary expense. Would create situation where they might end up with powers, in competition to the parliament.

    Always also found it stupid stand in picture theater to national anthem.

  12. Florence nee Fedup

    “Catholic who knowingly accepts that one of his faith is by birth ineligible should support the monarchy at all.”

    Could be be because his father’s family converted to Catholicism. I don’t and never have felt any connection to the British or their monarchy. My admiration from a early age was for those, including convicts and free settlers that made this country what it is. Maybe because I am many generations Australian. No convicts. Just settlers and small business people of the time.

  13. corvus boreus

    Florence nee Fedup,
    The geology of this land and the life that evolved upon it, and the long sequence of activities by successive colonizers and migrants (voluntary or other) from various lineages of humanity have all gone towards making this country what it is today, for better or worse.

  14. markgeary2013

    Peter FitzSimons has a problem. He writes articles calling people who boo Adam Goodes racists. I agree with that. However, I also believe people who write jokes that imply certain races are stupid, or corrupt, are also racists. He repeatedly has included joke about “Paddy from outside Dublin” in his Fairfax articles. You can google them. I want my Australian Republic to be one where all of us are treated on our merits, not a hierarchy of those that you can be racist against, those that you can’t be racist against. So, Peter F needs to denounce his own racism and cease repeating his racist jokes, or let someone worthy be the head of ARM.

  15. Mike oxsor

    I agree with the above regarding Peter Firzsimons and his continuing jokes perpetuating Irish stereo types . He wouldn’t make jokes about other cultures in Australia but because of his surname and distant relationship with Ireland he believes he can slur as he likes. That kind of bigotry will lose him a lot of support from any Irish background voters. He needs to grow up.

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