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The Left

Why I Support Australian Republicanism

(Prince Charles and Princess Diana in Sydney, Australia in 1983—Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)

A republic represents the ability for Australians to recognize formally what has been long known: that we are willing and capable of charting our own future released from the bonds of the past.”

It is time for Australia to embrace becoming a republic. Although Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has indicated that any republican conversations ought to be put on hold for the foreseeable future out of respect for Queen Elizabeth II’s life, it is possible to appreciate her impressive 70-year rule and her admirable stewardship of the British monarchy while also acknowledging that the monarchy is not necessary for the prosperity of Australia or Australians. We, as Australians, can acknowledge a strong historic connection to the Crown but, as other commonwealth nations also consider the republican path, that does not necessarily mean we must continue to be tethered to that part of our history. 

The monarchy’s implied divine right to rule, apparent skirting of the law, and recent run-ins with free expression run counter to the kind of Australian society we ought to desire. Australia should be advancing rather than looking to the past. The recent passing of the Queen has highlighted that the pro-monarchy argument runs deeper; alongside deep affection for the person the Queen was, there is a more fundamental and sincerely-held belief that Australia is incapable of navigating the world without continuing to hold the hand of our English history. This belief is misguided, not least because since the 1960’s Australia’s primary ally, economically, militarily, and culturally has been the United States and not the United Kingdom. 

The strongest argument in favor of the monarchy contends that, as a people, we require a sovereign to form the basis of a society. In other words, we need an unbreakable initial building block to form the anchor of society: something that a politically-appointed head of state cannot offer. Again, to subscribe to this argument is increasingly tempting when one reflects on the great life that was the Queen’s; however, moving forward, we do not need a King Charles III to chart the future direction of our country. 

The British monarchy, one gets the sense, understands the precarious position it currently occupies as it comes under greater scrutiny. Modern societies demand both meritocracy and democracy: two elements out of step with what the monarchy represents. The King knows he cannot pit divine right against democracy; that, after all, is a battle that leads to revolutions and republics. Relegated to the apolitical, the royal family, thus, finds itself alienated from the exact job any monarchy was formed to do: namely, to rule. 

Australians, recalling the 1975 dismissal of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, are well aware of how democracy can be thwarted by the vestiges of monarchy. If one recalls, Prime Minister Whitlam faced a hostile senate and was unable to pass appropriation bills, so he approached the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, to seek a new election to break the deadlock. Instead of granting the election, the Governor-General dismissed Prime Minister Whitlam and appointed the Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Fraser, in a caretaker role. In essence, Australia witnessed the Queen’s representative unilaterally dissolve an elected government. With this in mind, I ask: “If such an action were to take place in 2022, would it spell the revival or the end of Australia’s support for the monarchy?” Even the most hard-line monarchist would find it difficult to defend such a move. Consequently, this necessitates the question: “Why we should ever let it be an option for the monarchy or its representatives to commandeer our country?”

Supporters of the monarchy may accept its apolitical role and ignore the threat it poses to democracy yet still insist the royal family provides value as a social role model. Although society is apt at rapidly decrying privilege, there is hesitancy to call out the greatest privilege of all: royal birthright. And there is also considerable reason to question whether today’s royal family is worthy of emulation. 

The practical arguments made in favor of the monarchy also lack substance. Many contend that benefits such as the monarchy’s economic value make it preferable to remain in the Commonwealth. But are we really to respect an institution, one that supposedly rules through the word of God and once commanded the largest empire in history, whose value is being measured in the same way we would decide on the investment feasibility of a fast-food chain: by profit?

As for the costs of transitioning to an Australian republic, we are witnessing a dry run with the coronation of the King. The weakest of all arguments against a republic,  yet one of the most common, involves the bothersome issue of changing our currency, flags, and other symbols. This argument would now appear invalid given thatAustralia is about to embark on the process of swapping out all things Elizabeth for all things Charles. If anything, it would make the changeover to a Republic even smoother; we just had some practice. 

Times change, as do government structures. Such is the nature of progress. A republic represents the ability for Australians to recognize formally what has been long known: that we are willing and capable of charting our own future released from the bonds of the past. The Royal family is now a curious relic of Australia’s past: one that can gently—but firmly—be removed and replaced with a thriving republic.

Jack Ryan is a former Operations Officer in the Royal Australian Air Force. He now lives in Barcelona, where he is working on a master’s degree in political philosophy at Universitat Pompeu Fabra. He can be found on Twitter @jjackrryan

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