Yesterday I attended a debate under the auspices of the Centre for Independant Studies on the subject of changing the date for Australia Day. One of the speakers in favour of making a change was Peter FitzSimons, Chair of The Australian Republican Movement. During the ‘question and answer’ segment it occurred to me to ask Peter if he thought it would be a good idea, if a change was to be made some time in the future, to make it effective from Australia Day-26th January. Thus providing yet another reason for keeping Australia Day on 26th January.
I didn’t get the opportunity to do this publically, but did so in private discussion afterwards. He did not seem to be opposed to the idea. In discussion he challenged me to declare my position on the issue of Australia becoming a republic. I gave him my stock reply saying that I was a “minimalist republican”. By that I mean that we should change nothing except the formality of “rubber stamping” by the Queen of the Australian Government’s decision on who should be appointed Governor General.
In other words, we should retain “Commonwealth” (not Republic) of Australia. The method of choosing who should be GG should remain as is (we don’t want a campaigning politician to be our Head of State) and the title should be GG not President. I conveniently overlook any legal hurdles or dealing with the position for State Governors, but where there is a will there is a way.
In my view we should take extreme care in changing the Constitution and doing anything that endangers what is acknowledged as one of the world’s most successful democracies. However, I do think the referral to the Queen is an anachronism in the modern Australia.
On reflection, I fear that the debate has become excessively polarised. Those who want the change have over-played their hand and “Republicanism” in Australia has become seen as major change supported by those of “left wing” political inclination. In the current vernacular I wouldn’t brand myself as a Republican. I would simply like to see what I, possibly in my constitutional legal ignorance, is a minor change, the impact of which should not be overstated. And there is no hurry.
During the recent England/Australia Ashes cricket series I had the pleasure of attending the Test matches in Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Sydney. All good contests, all won by Australia. England was supported by their very own Balmy Army and I much enjoyed their surprisingly good rendition of "Jerusalem" to begin each day's play. Their repertoire included "God Save YOUR Gracious Queen" with particular emphasis "long may she reign OVER YOU! Accompanied by finger pointing and an implied sense of ridicule. I think that says it all. My long dead anglophile Mother would be ashamed of me!