Well we’re getting smashed by the poms in the cricket. But at least we can all console each other together and bond over our collective wallowing; all Australians except of course our head of state. Let’s think about that for a second; Queen Elizabeth II – the Queen of Australia – is not suffering with us, she’s cheering on the other side! This is bizarre. Of course the Queen of Australia is also the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island. For some reason many Australians seem not to have a problem with this. And of course our Queen supports others in perhaps more serious matters too. When she travels abroad she represents and advocates for British diplomatic and trade interests, not ours; and that is all well and good unless (as is quite foreseeable) our interests lie in conflict with those of the British. The current situation is, in short, a mess and so today I say let’s try and get some good out of this terrible terrible Ashes series and re-launch the republican movement.
It is an awkward fact that the left of Australian politics – who usually shy away from overt displays of patriotism – are the standard bearers of the republic, whilst the right – who love nothing more to shout about Australia being a unique, special and greater nation than all others – tend to carry on with this absurd cultural cringe of respecting a foreign monarch as our own. This peculiar inverse of positions grants the left with ample room to reclaim patriotism for its own purposes. Tim Soutphommasane, a moderately left leaning political philosopher and ALP member, argues that social democrats unnecessarily shoot themselves in the foot by turning their noses up at patriotism as an idea. After all, pride in one’s country need not necessarily come at the expense of compassion for and solidarity with other nations. But more importantly, by handing the Cronulla Riot types a monopoly on the notion of patriotism we actually feed into the narrative that it is white anglo-celtics that care most about Australia and Australian values (whatever they are) and that hence non-whites must be a threat to Australia. So perhaps we shouldn’t be letting xenophobes and jingoists set the agenda, we should be reclaiming the notion of Australia and Australian identity for the left. One way to do this is through pushing the idea of an Australian republic.
If we do reignite the republican debate in this way then the inconsistency of the conservative position becomes clear for all to see: they say they are proud of Australia (more so than anyone else, especially those ‘black armband wearing inner city lefties’) and yet actually they are proud of us only to the extent that we are a former British colony. Their pride comes in no small part from our links to what they see as one of history’s greatest institutions, the British monarchy and empire. This is pretty pathetic. An adult doesn’t take her self-worth from her association with someone else. The pride for Australia that we on the left might have is far more genuine and forward looking. We are proud of Australia as a new and modern society not tied down by the weight of thousands of years of historical conflict. We are proud of Australia as an egalitarian, multicultural country where you can say ‘mate’ instead of ‘sir’; a country where there is no caste system, no hereditary limits on social mobility, no aristocracy and hopefully one day no monarchy. In America they have a phrase – ‘a more perfect union’. It appears in the preamble of their constitution and has been used by Barack Obama in many of his speeches – he has spoken of always trying to move towards a more perfect union. There is no doubting that it is a patriotic phrase. Yet it also expresses a desire – a need – to continuously improve their nation. Patriots need to realise that one can be proud of one’s country and at the same time one can also want to change how it is. Some seem to feel that if we are looking to change then we are admitting we aren’t that good, but change is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength and maturity. We matured when we got our own currency, we matured when Gough Whitlam changed our national anthem, we matured with the passing of the Australia Act in 1986 and now we are certainly mature enough for a republic.
Yet not only is the conservative pride in monarchy pathetic, it is also deeply misplaced. The British monarchy is not a great institution. They live off the tax payer dollar (the Queen has just accepted a 5 percent increase in living expenses despite the rest of Britain being close to recession), doing nothing, living a life that no regular person can relate to, and expecting near religious devotion in return. If anyone is honest with themselves they will admit that aristocracy is indefensible. The idea that someone deserves to be legally of a higher rank to someone else by virtue of their birth is offensive to anyone with a shred of liberalism in them, and all people of common decency. The fact that the birth of William and Kate’s first child is heralded with such excitement is understandable in an age of celebrity, but makes me mad nonetheless. This baby is no more important than any other baby.
Furthermore, the multicultural nature of Australia and our ever increasing ties to Asia make our monarchy not only obsolete but damaging. Unlike some conservative Australians, those in Asia do not view the British Empire as great and awesome. They remember the imperialism, the oppression of the British and they remember our own past attempts to ‘remain British’ through the White Australia policy, which Asian nations rightly found gravely offensive. If we are to be a nation that is embraced in Asia, we must continue to perfect our multicultural society. To seek a more perfect union of people. As long as we can only legally have an old white member of the Church of England on our coins, an impediment to this perfection will remain. And of course, the same goes for the first Australians. As it stands we are bound through the monarchy to our colonial past, a past that continues to do so much damage to the lives of aboriginal people across the country. The creation of a Republic of Australia will help to heal some of those wounds. A republic will say that we no longer see Australia as a nation created when Captain Philip planted that Union Jack on the soil of Botany Bay. We no longer see Australian identity linked to British identity. To be Australian is not to be a descendant of a Briton, it is its own unique thing – not linked to race, ethnicity or religion. We see Australia as an ever evolving and improving modern nation; a nation where divisions of caste and race need not play any major role. Now that would be an Australia we can be proud of. So don’t get sucked in by the power of celebrity and fairy tale. Forget about the royal birth! And remember the Ashes!