10 Sep Should Australia continue to be a constitutional monarchy or become a republic?
To answer that question I believe language plays an important role in determining which direction would provide the most suitable structure for a future Australia. Which is why I first looked up the following dictionary definitions for Monarchy and Democracy because they are the two current structural ideals of governance that Australia currently identifies with.
New Oxford American Dictionary definitions:
Monarchy: A form of government with a monarch at the head.
(the monarchy) the monarch and royal family of a country, the monarch is the focus of loyalty and service.
Democracy: A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.
(Late Latin Greek demokratia, from demos, the people + kratia power, rule.
From these definitions we are able to comprehend just how much these two forms of governance are at odds with each other. Their fusion is not a strengthing force rather it is a weakening of democracy that continues to validate a monarchies prime position within a modern society. The monarchy is about service and loyalty to the royal family and democracy is essentially about people power that allows for loyalty and service to be focused on the people for their benefit.
For context however we must recognise what a constitutional monarchy is for Australia “This means that the head of State is a monarch, or sovereign, who is governed and bound by the Constitution.” (Constitutional Monarchy. 1995-2017. www.australianpolitics.com/democracy/key-terms/constitutional-monarchy)
So for Australia the majority of the power is restricted within to the guidelines of the Australian constitution diminishing the power of the head of state, making it more of a figure head rather than direct ruler. This brings it back to a question of language and what that represents in terms of influence, acknowledging that influence also wields a certain amount of power in this context.
Having a monarch as a head of state validates undemocratic values giving monarchies influence that can undermine democracy. If a person is given a highly regarded and therefore influential position by virtue of birth this transfers to the creation of a class system that is inherently unfair. The prestige of the station still persuades power through influence even when the power is restrained through Acts of parliament.
It becomes so enshrined in our society that it can even seem somehow disloyal to write this article. That’s the true power they have in way of influence in our lives. We give someone our loyalty without really knowing them. Even if they are truly lovely people is that really a legitimate reason to keep them as head of state?
There are after all lots of lovely Australians, shouldn’t they have a chance at the job?
A monarchy tells us that power and money are birthrights. Then we also accept the opposite that being powerless and being born into poverty is just part of the natural order of things. We give respect to those born at the top of the birth hierarchy and tell those at the bottom of this hierarchy they must earn it. This can be intrinsically damaging to the fair go attitude that Australians try to strive for within society.
It becomes more of a question of not monarchy or republic but is it appropriate to continue to enshrine this hierarchy of birth within our political system?
The monarchy does represent a significant part of our history in terms of monumental change. Perhaps it is better represented in our history books rather than our modern government?
The first peoples of this country have a history that remains mainly untold even though it goes back some 50,000 years. We still focus heavily on the last 230 years, is this because the head of state has remained the British monarchy?
It would be very arrogant to say that we had nothing to learn from a civilisation that managed to survive for so long in what could be argued, in better balance with their natural environment. So yes let us remember history but lets make sure that history is also told in a way that would enable a fair and balanced lifestyle for all Australians. Not to mention it seems blatantly unjust to keep a head of state that represents the uninvited colonisation of the country they called home first.
When it comes to history and the importance of language we should also pay attention to the overthrow of the democratically elected Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. Due to the loopholes of having a governor general with special reserve on the 11 November 1975 “Invoking archaic vice-regal reserve powers, Kerr sacked the democratically elected prime minister. The Whitlam problem was solved, and Australian politics never recovered, nor the nation its true independence” (John Pilger. The British-American coup that ended Australian independence. 23 October 2014. https://www.theguardian.com)
A further look at these reserve powers reveals the following:
There are some powers, which the Governor-General may, in certain circumstances, exercise without – or contrary to – ministerial advice. These are known as the reserve powers. While the reserve powers are not codified as such, they are generally agreed to at least include (Governer-Generals Role. www.gg.gov.au)
1. The power to appoint a Prime Minister if an election has resulted in a ‘hung parliament’;
2. The power to dismiss a Prime Minister where he or she has lost the confidence of the Parliament;
3. The power to dismiss a Prime Minister or Minister when he or she is acting unlawfully; and
4. The power to refuse to dissolve the House of Representatives despite a request from the Prime Minister.
The significance of language is highlighted in the lines “there are some powers which the Governor-General may, in certain circumstances, exercise without – or contrary to – ministerial advice. These are known as the reserve powers” (www.gg.gov.au). These words unilaterally undermine the very fabric of democracy and allowed for outside powers to exploit the pitfalls of having a governor general. I have read that the royal family did summit correspondence indicating they did not wish to interfere with ‘domestic politics’. However by having a monarch as head of state meant the appointment of a governor general that allowed for the exploitation to take place. (see John Pilger’s article The British-American coup that ended Australian independence)
So the insidious effect on society of having a head of state be the monarchy is the validation it gives to a class system. Combined with the weakness to democracy through reserve powers of a governor general. The language conveyed is that of an undemocratic structuring within the Australian political spectrum.
Given that the Australian government is one that aims to achieve full democracy then it seems entirely appropriate to look at what it would mean for the country to become a republic. Relying again on language I will again refer to the dictionary for the meaning of a republic:
A state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch.
That appears to be some very powerful democratic language that could be very meaningful in terms of Australia being able to further its position of democratic rule. After all we may not all have a chance at becoming a Queen, King, Prince or Princess but we should within a democratic country use the language that enables us all the opportunity to become the head of state. That language begins with the word Republic. For the question is better understood when we ask ourselves do we want our democracy weakened by a monarchy as the head of state or do we want to strengthen our democratic ideals through the establishment of a republic? In even simpler terms a weak democracy or strong democracy, which would the Australian people prefer?
Some poems inspired by my reading and research of the monarchy.
Watch your language
Words weave in and out of our lives
Hold the power to tell truth or lies
Can build a bridge or a wall
Spoken in foolishness they divide
Conveyed in understanding they unify
This is why I carry a dictionary by my side
Disassemble the literal meaning
Enfold in modern discourse
Watch to see if it holds its burden
For there is no hiding intention in expression
Misuse reveals their mark
As much as missing lines are a sign
A stranglehold has prevailed in silence
Shoved into mouths conversations are lost
So watch your language
For it communicates the composition of society
Written by Camille Barr
10th September 2018