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A Republic: To Be Or Not To Be? The Right Question Is When…

There is no doubt that the impending visit of Queen Elizabeth II will on some level stir up debate on whether or not Australia should, in the near future, sever her ties with the Commonwealth and the monarchy. The republic vs  monarchy debate has faded into the background of the Australian political discourse since the 1999 referendum on Australia becoming a republic. Now, with the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting next week and the visit of Her Majesty the Queen, who may be coming toward the end of her reign, the debate has reared its head again.Since the republican referendum of 1999 under John Howard, there has been little or not forthright expression of the need to break away from the ties of monarchy. Indeed, at best in the last 4 to 5 years it has gained minor attention through the statements of our politicians, mostly paying lip service to the idea of Australia becoming a republic in the near or foreseeable future.

It is almost inevitable, that in the life-time of my generation, we will see Australia become a republic. This will not happen under the current Government and would likely not even figure in the agenda of a future Abbott Government, being the staunch monarchist that he is.

A reason for the status quo staying the way that it is at present, with a constitutional monarchy and a part in the Commonwealth, is that the situation at present is not altogether different from that of the situation Australia would find itself in as a republic. We are no longer a colony or colonies striving for at least partial independence from the United Kingdom, we have our own set of laws which we as a nation have made and a Governor-General representing the Queen. We also no longer have a final right of appeal to the Privy Council in the UK.

Furthermore, we do not just trade with Commonwealth countries. As a nation we have a wide array of trading arrangements with a variety of nations across the globe. So independence would not have any foreseeable fiscal benefits as such.

On the other hand, a republic could be the time and opportunity to bring in something that we do not have as yet, a Bill of Rights. A Bill of Rights would guarantee citizens have all the basic human rights enshrined in law, rather than for them to be implied in the Constitution or in our laws.

Further, becoming a republic would also be a good time to recognise our indigenous Australians, the first people of our nation Australia. Whilst symbolic, coupled with real policy work and assistance, this could help lift some indigenous people out of poverty.

It is probably the right thing to wait until the end of the reign of the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth, to really discuss whether or not it is an urgent priority to become a republic. Limited differences between the status quo and Australia becoming a republic are what is holding the republican movement back. The republican movement need to begin to mobilise louder and stronger in selling the differences between monarchy and a republic.

It looks likely that a vote on a republic could be as long as 10 to 15 years away at the present rate of movement and taking into account the political realities at present in Australia. The reign of Queen Elizabeth also seems a major factor in the timing of a future referendum, with both sides seemingly shy now to debate the issue with vigour while the Queen remains in power. Having a republic over the status quo does have some major benefits for all Australians and specifically also for the forgotten minorities. It will not impact on the overall wealth of the nation or our trading relationships in a positive or negative way. The question remains, would you want to wait up to 10-15 years for a republic? Some time around then, it is bound to happen.

The Report on Bolt and Its Implications

Yesterday, as you should be aware, Andrew Bolt of the Herald Sun was found guilty of racially vilifying a group of indigenous Australians in the newspaper. The articles argued that the complainants used their aboriginality to gain employment. The case has been controversial not just for what was said, but also the potential implications of the guilty verdict, for the media and perhaps even for the broader public.

First of all I would like to say that I do not agree with what Andrew Bolt said in the article in relation to the identified group. I think it was incredibly stupid and perhaps misinformed at best. There is a perfectly good reason for what is called ‘positive discrimination’ at times in society, particularly when such striking disadvantage exists between indigenous Australia and the rest of the population. At the same time I do believe that merit is the most important feature in employment and as long as educational opportunities exist for all, then a culture largely based on merit should prevail.

Second, I must point out that freedom of speech is not a right enshrined into our Constitution or our laws. It is however, implied through our common law, but this perhaps is not strong enough in the face of the court result yesterday.

It is quite ironic, that a Bill of Rights, which Andrew Bolt spoke against, could have possibly saved him from losing this case. A Bill of Rights would do no more than provide for the most basic and fundamental of human rights, including freedom of speech to be enshrined in law more forcefully. Yes it could be changed by an Act of Parliament and if put to Constitutional referendum would likely result in failure.

I cast no aspersions on the court for the decision that was made. It was obviously made with due regard to existing legislation and common law. What the decision, in my opinion does is to make it harder for people to voice an opinion on racial based issues, in print, on the airwaves and online. Furthermore, I am concerned as to the implications it has for private citizens, if any (I am not a lawyer).

Whether or not you agree with what Andrew Bolt said, if you believe in free speech you should accept his ability to voice an opinion that is not hateful. A Bill of Rights should now be discussed more openly and as a matter of priority, not to usurp anyone, but to guarantee the fundamental human rights of all. Allow opinions to be be aired and leave it to bodies such as ACMA and the Press Council to decide whether or not it is based on fact or not. As Voltaire said ‘I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’. I hold this to be true insofar as the speech involved is not hateful, inflammatory or discriminatory.

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