Why I’m an ambivalent republican

Over the past year, there has been a renewed push for a republic and momentum seems like it is on its side. The Australian Republican Movement got a new chair and its membership has grown significantly, high profile Australians have endorsed the call for a republic and it is a topic in public discussion. Its latest achievement was a joint show of support from state and territory leaders for a republic last weekend.

As someone whose politics is left-of-centre I obviously support an Australian republic. You cannot have truly egalitarian politics and support a monarchy, even a constitutional one. And yet I feel fundamentally ambivalent about the republic.

While I have significant reservations about how the campaign being run and its elite-top down nature, it is not the root cause of my ambivalence. At its heart, my ambivalence is because the call for an Australian republic is not transformative, it is a conservative and timid vision of a republic.

The monarchy is framed a relic that does not represent contemporary Australia but the institution of a President somehow will, or at least a version of what some think we are. The problem is that unless it is transformative, a republic will only reflect the status quo. It will not actually reflect the diversity or breadth of Australia or be less exclusionary, rather it will entrench this elite idea of cosmo-multiculturalism that has taken shape.

We may no longer have a Queen but our institutions such as Parliament, the media, our culture and how Australia projects itself to the rest of the world won’t necessarily reflect Australia as it actually is. The appeal for an Australian for a head of state has little resonance to platitudes about our identity and belonging when it means not much else changes.

The lack of a transformative vision is best highlighted by how a republic is discussed in complete separation from a treaty or reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. It is almost as if becoming a republic will happen in a vacuum. As Mark Bahnisch points out, it is because such a conversation is about how we do whiteness and requires real change.

This issue of whiteness and Australian identity is important because for all the talk about becoming a republic and reflecting that we are in the Asia-Pacific, it means little without this discussion of whiteness and national identity. The timidity means that this discussion will not happen.

I understand the timidity because there is the belief that without bi-partisan support it will not pass but without a transformative vision, it is hard to get excited about Australian republic. It becomes a debate about process and bogged down as an academic exercise.

If a referendum was to be held tomorrow, I would vote for a republic but I won’t pretend that what would be on offer will change Australia or my own sense of identity or belonging.

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