It’s not time for a republic

Simon Cowan

12 January 2018 | IDEAS@THECENTRE

After mistakenly opening the door earlier this week to the idea of a quick postal survey on Australia becoming a republic, the Prime Minister has rightly shot down this thought bubble.

The biggest problem is that the republican movement has identified few tangible benefits from making a change. The website of the Australian Republican Movement talks about a head of state that puts Australian interests first and represents Australian values, but these claims ring very hollow.

Does anyone honestly believe the reason that houses aren’t more affordable or wages aren’t growing is the Queen?

The other big problem is that, nearly 20 years after the referendum on the issue was decisively defeated, there is no settled model for change. That the republican movement needs a postal survey to give their big change a definitive identity clearly shows the campaign isn’t ready.

It’s hard to imagine how the putative ‘yes’ campaign might convince an already sceptical and jaded public to vote for constitutional change when they have neither a model to advocate for, nor any clear rationale for making the change.

In a lot of ways, the two unresolved problems in the republic campaign are similar to those manifest in the campaign for Indigenous recognition. For all the claims about the benefits of the Indigenous voice to activists, little time was invested in clarifying how this would translate into better outcomes on the ground or identifying what benefits would accrue to the wider community.

And while the choice not to settle on a model for the Indigenous voice was putatively made to respect parliamentary supremacy, it seems as much motivated by the practical difficulty in resolving the fundamentally incompatible goals of Indigenous activists and constitutional conservatives.

It is hard to reconcile the Indigenous activists’ desire for substantive, meaningful change with the idea that the bedrock principles of Australian government would be unaffected. So too is the difficulty for those advocating for a republic: an argument that things won’t change is always a better argument for the status quo than those seeking reform.

This is an edited extract from an opinion piece published across Fairfax Media earlier this week.

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