Despite a little criticism, the Australian Republic Movement (ARM) is certain we were right to make no comment during the mourning period after the death of her majesty Queen Elizabeth II. In the face of the record tidal wave of high emotion and grief sweeping across the nation, the idea that we should stand on the shore waving the ARM flag to try and turn it or divert it, was as absurd as it would have been jarring and counter-productive.
As to the three polls taken in the very depths of that mourning period showing a drop in support for the idea of an Australian republic, I am both amazed and heartened that on average, it was less than five per cent. In our strong view the significance of such polling at such a time is closer to zero per cent.
Australian Republican Movement chair Peter FitzSimons launches the new Australian republic model in January.Credit:Kate Geraghty
The charge that the ARM is not diverse enough? I will take that from those with a background of pushing diversity on all fronts, and we are addressing it. (Big news to come shortly.) But I’ll be damned if I’ll take it from critics with a track record of fawning and cooing to all of the English royal family bar its one actually diverse member, who they incessantly criticise for everything: Meghan. You’re the ones who value diversity?
And could those royalists with a sideline in proselytising diversity explain how they bow and curtsy to a system which allows only the first born of a white English family – who promises to “inviolably maintain and preserve the … true Protestant religion” – to sit on the Australian throne?
There have also been a few commentators who, while they know exactly how things should have been done by the ARM because it’s all so obvious, haven’t actually been involved in doing it. I have, since 2015 – and I am proud of what has been achieved in my time by our hard-working elected officers, staff and volunteers across our brown and pleasant land.
The “winter soldiers” who kept the ARM alive in the lean years after last century’s republic referendum are heroes. But as they are the first to concede, it was nigh on impossible to make serious headway in those times. Building on their work, and with the munificence of generous donors, we hired professional staff, organised our social media, co-ordinated republican pushes across the country, lobbied key politicians, and by July 2017 we had then-opposition leader Bill Shorten commit to a referendum in his first term if elected.
Of course, that did not occur, but it was the foundation stone for the next breakthrough: the Albanese government having an Assistant Minister for the Republic devoted to removing the crown, to use monarchist Lyle Shelton’s felicitous phrase. Who thinks that would have magically happened without the noise made and agitation by the ARM? None of the principals doubt it, I can assure you, and they have been generous in their remarks.
From here, as ever, we will push our case in every forum that will have us, organising our members to join that push, engaging with politicians and endeavouring to put our case to the public by all means available – but this time there will be a key difference. Two weeks ago, Australia boasted many people like Malcolm Turnbull, who were both republicans and “Elizabethans”. For many, the latter was a disqualification from getting involved and helping us.
For many ‘Republican Elizabethans’ like Malcolm Turnbull, the Queen’s presence was a disqualification from getting involved and helping us.Credit:Dallas Kilponen
When I asked John Singleton for some money a few years ago, he declined, saying, “In my life, I’ve had six wives, 10 houses and many jobs. The only thing that has not changed in my life is the Queen.” I got it. In a fast-changing world, her rock-solid stability was one of her principal attractions.
But the simple reality is that Queen Elizabeth II’s reign coming to an end changes everything. We at the ARM have always been in the business of evolution not revolution, and the fact that Australia has now demonstrably evolved to an entirely new era – under a new monarch not enjoying the same fierce loyalty as his predecessor – is lost on no one.
Charles III’s ascension does focus the Australian mind as never before on the absurdity of having an Englishman as our “King”. How does the very notion of a, literally, born-to-rule monarch, sit with our cherished egalitarian values? Does it not seem ludicrous to you that, come the next Ashes campaign, our Head of State – an unelected English aristocrat, installed by the last gasp of colonialism – will be cheering for the other side?
I am, you are, we are Australian, but he is an Englishman.
There’s no shame in being an Englishman, but an Englishman as King of the Australians? Please.
And yes, getting Australians to embrace one republican model has been a key challenge we’ve faced. Show me 10 Australian republicans, I will show you six preferred models, and at least two who say vehemently, “Unless you accept my model, I’m out.” (See the 1999 referendum, for the results of that approach.)
I am confident that the model we developed over two years and released in January, the Australian Choice Model, is singularly strong and minimises such fall out. At the very least, it is the starting point for the conversation that the Albanese government will be pushing from here.
Most of the 54 nations in the Commonwealth are already republics, and six of the remaining 15 nations being reigned over by King Charles III are now embarked on joining them. If the likes of Belize, the Bahamas and Jamaica can do it, why can’t we?
It is not easy. It never has been. But in the post-Elizabethan era, once that tidal wave of emotion for her majesty has settled, it will be easier than before. Traffic to our website is up a hundred-fold, and in the ARM’s history we’ve never seen anything like the surge in membership we’ve experienced in the past fortnight. We just need ever-more Australians of good will to join us and get this done.
Peter FitzSimons is Chair of the Australian Republic Movement. He is also a regular Herald columnist.
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