The debate over an Australian republic tends to focus on the way power functions — where ought the seat of power rest and how that interacts with our mode of government. As the slogan on the ARM homepage puts it: ‘Let’s give an Australian the top job.’
Questions about power are worth asking but it is also important to note who is asking them and driving conversation. Is it ultimately those in already dominant groups having this discussion earnestly among themselves?
It is good that Australians from a range of backgrounds appeared in an ARM ad earlier this year. I hope that signals a first small step toward street-level consensus, with buy-in from sections of Australian contemporary society.
What do Aboriginal co-ops think? How do Asian-Australian or African-Australian community associations feel about it? What grassroots spaces are being created for this conversation?
Perhaps the most pertinent question: what is the nature of the republic that we are asking Australians to buy into?
Unless that answer is grounded in freedom and social justice, then it is cosmetic. A new republic that does not prioritise constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians, treaty, or an Uluru-designed First Nations voice in parliament will only replicate the injustices of the past.
Who our head of state ought to be becomes meaningless if a change in power perpetuates the status quo.
A new republic that continues to over-incarcerate young Aboriginal people, dehumanises asylum seekers, discriminates against queer Australians and Muslims, and systematically makes intergenerational mobility impossible — that is not a republic worth fighting for.
The idea of an Australian republic should be exciting — if it opens up new, more inclusive ways of talking about ourselves as a nation. If we are going to talk about a republic, then let’s not be timid.
Australia is a stained glass window, with panes cut and coloured differently and through which light shines in equal measure. The parts are meant to present a meaningful picture together, one that challenges and inspires.
Otherwise, it is just an aesthetic, decorative.