What’s to be gained by an Australian republic?

On New Year’s Day, the Prime Minister was goaded into commenting on the prospect of opening up the debate on an Australian republic following an attack on his republican credentials by former PM Paul Keating. Despite acknowledging there is ‘little appetite’ for such a move, he then went on to expound on what methods he’d like to use if we were to debate the issue again. Coupled with Bill Shorten’s election promise of July last year to appoint a minister to advance a republic debate should Labor win office, it is likely that the debate will be revived sometime in the near future.

Yet what is there to be gained by such a change? Some would say that the greatest benefit is that we would have an Australian occupying our highest office – a ‘mate for a head of state’. And yet we already have one. The governors-general, the Queen’s representatives, have been Australian citizens since 1965. The Governor-General holds the highest office in government and carries out the duties and functions of a head of state both at home and internationally.

Perhaps it is full independence that is most desired? We already have that also. The Australia Acts 1986, ended all residual power of the UK government over Australia, and referenced Australia as ‘a sovereign, independent and federal nation”. The Queen, our monarch, has been titled the Queen of Australia since 1953, and in 1973 parliament removed from her Australian style and titles all reference to her as sovereign of the United Kingdom and Defender of the Faith. Her status as our monarch is distinct from her other titles and roles.

The idea of a reigning monarch who attains their rank by dint of birth sticks in the craw of many. And yet this is one of the greatest benefits of our constitutional monarchy. The legal entity is The Crown. The person who holds the positio holds it only on the basis of their birth. They are not a political animal, and their character and motivations, it can be assumed, are very different from a careerist whose goal is to attain the highest position in the land. Their status as unelected office holders contributes to the separation of powers and undergirds continuity, security and freedom.

It has taken Britain hundreds of years and a revolution or two to tame the monarchy. Queen Elizabeth II and her immediate predecessors are no Henry VIII’s or Charles I’s. The Crown of the modern era has limited power and little inclination to exercise it. It exists as a check on the parliament, and parliament ensures that the powers of the Crown remain limited. The Queen acts on the advice of her prime minister and when necessary her commanders in chief. Her appointments and stamps of approval are largely ceremonial. It is as close to a perfect system as has so far been achieved.

As things stand, the governor-general can sack the prime minister, but only under certain circumstances. The Prime Minister can also remove the governor-general if they act inappropriately. How? By writing a letter to the Queen ‘requesting’ that the governor-general be dismissed; the Queen then must act on the advice of her prime minister. In this way, the benign nature of the Crown protects our democracy from overreach by both parliament and our head of state.

Under any republican model, our president would either be directly elected by the people or voted in by parliament. Either way, instead of our head of state being recommended based on their community standing or services to Australia, their appointment would become politicised. Do we need another elected official in high office, who perceives they have a mandate to pursue their own special interests? The governor-general, in contrast, is appointed by The Crown on the advice of the prime minister and serves a uniting and neutral role, above politics and partisanship.

To be content with our constitutional monarchy does not require adulation and worship of the reigning monarch. It is not a requirement that we believe them to be superior types of people. The argument in favour of the monarchy is a utilitarian one; the outcome is all that matters. Indeed, although there is much to respect and admire in the person of Queen Elizabeth II; her son, with his eco-babble and alleged anti-Israel sentiments, is a less appealing prospect for many. And yet he will exert no political power over our Australian parliament.

The financial cost of becoming a republic is considerable. Not only is there the expense of referendums, plebiscites or postal votes to consider (yes more than one – the states would need to conduct their own separate votes), we would also foot the bill for the very many committees that would be needed to be formed to address the logistics of any change. Add to that the cost of new coats of arms, new flag designs, the rebadging of our emergency services and the expenses really start to add up. In contrast, the cost to the Australian public of maintaining the monarchy and the royal household is exactly nil.

There are no rational reasons to support an Australian republic. Individual Australians will not become freer, more independent or more prosperous as a result of having an Australian president, indeed we would risk the opposite. An Australian republic would not address our national debt, the housing crisis, our failing education system or the black hole that is our spending on health. It wouldn’t close the gap or put an end to welfare dependency. We would be no freer; we would be no richer, and we would lose the non-political check on power we already enjoy, at great financial cost.

As the saying goes, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. In becoming a republic Australians have nothing to gain, and a great deal to lose.

This article was also published by The Spectator Australia, 10th January, 2017. 

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Nicola Wright

Nicola is passionate about liberty and human flourishing and has an interest in free speech advocacy, and resisting the 'nanny state'. She has had contributions in The Spectator Australia, Online Opinion, Spiked Online and Quillette, and is Managing Editor at LibertyWorks.
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17 Comments on "What’s to be gained by an Australian republic?"

  1. You want President Triggs? This is how you get it.

  2. President Crudd?

  3. A republic? Hmmm…? What kind of an Australian republic would it be? Well, if this Australian republic was going to be more like a constitutional republic, a form of government that was like the United States of America, then I could definitely reconcile with the idea. Other then that, there are more important issues to tackle. Now is not the time to think about Australia becoming a republic.

  4. How many times do they have to ask the question expecting a different answer than the one that got last time. NO! – – – – Which part of NO do they not understand?

  5. I like a head of state (if we really have to have one) to be living on the other side of the globe and paying her own costs. We must never create the conditions where there could be a power struggle between the head of state and the head of government.

  6. Its a Scam to deliver the Commonwealth to the hands of Uber capitalist vested interests.

  7. I agree with this, though being a libertarian puts me in a strange position here, since I am against centralised government and any sort of political power attained merely by being born into the right family.
    I’ll try to put my thoughts simply. A president is one with executive power. They are kept in check by other branches of government (as in the US, though as we know this doesn’t always work out in practice). In a constitutional monarchy such as Australia, we have a head of state which, as Nicola states perfectly, is not politicised and for the most part, ceremonial. If a president started introducing laws that eroded our freedoms and gave the executive too much power, we would not have the same recourse as we could theoretically have now, being a dismissal of a Prime Minister. Hopefully we never have to find out if that sort of protection stands today, but it does bring into question whether a symbolic head of state with limited power and political ideology is preferable over an elected head of state who played politics to get there, has the support of groups with vested interests in getting their nominee to that position and if such a path would send us hurtling down the same path as the US.
    So many ‘what ifs’ and yet the current system, while not perfect, is one of the few in the world that has led to prosperity of which our ancestors would never have even dreamed.

  8. More power to bigger dickheads!

  9. Andrew Russell | 12/01/2018 at 2:34 pm |

    That’s an interesting argument. But in some ways it is also an argument that depends on the idea of Australia being a free-rider on British taxpayers (whom have to pay money to support the monarchy), and some would argue such free-riding is objectionable (even if it imposes no additional costs on the British).

    I certainly agree there would be costs in setting up a republic, but you also need to remember that there are benefits to a republic. These benefits could indeed be dismissed as psychological or emotional, but all costs and benefits are subjective aren’t they? Some people may think it is worth it.

    I also agree that the politicization of the role of Head Of State, and additional Public Choice issues, means that there is potential danger in a republic. But can’t these basically be mitigated by keeping the Head Of State in the current, mostly-ceremonial role the position still has? Your argument there is about the type of government which we may choose, not about the issue of a republic in principle.

    Your defense of the monarchy is based on, effectively, saying that its meaningless and symbolic and therefore “no one really believes in its own internal logic” and thus dismissing the actual claims of monarchy as irrelevant. But this is no different to the Noble Lie argument for Christianity or for “cultural Christianity” – if the argument for X depends on no one really believing in X, it doesn’t really strike me as a convincing argument for X. Not only that but it means X is inherently unstable because people are not natural doublethinkers and if they know something is a lie (or based on lies) they will progressively get less attached to it. True loyalty to a set of institutions requires people to actually believe in these institutions.

    Like it or not, monarchy (and in particular the British monarchy) makes several claims. It makes the claim that a specific bloodline has been elected by divine forces to a special political position. Persons of this bloodline are literally seen as ‘superior’ or at least entitled to “ceremonial” deferential grovelling (in the form of bowing and silly titles). Even if this is a giant pantomime no one really believes it is an inherently degrading practice. Monarchy is literally incompatible with the notion that all human beings have an innate equal human dignity (since we are all human and no one is “more human” than anyone else). Monarchy is not logically compatible with liberalism (even if an insincere ceremonial monarchy may be practically compatible with it). The British monarchy, by the way, also makes a claim that the King/Queen of the United Kingdom is the spiritual leader (Supreme Governor in particular) of the Church of England. This is incompatible with a belief in secular national identities broadly.

    Yes, a transition to a republic does have costs. These costs can be variable depending on the model of republic chosen. I fully agree. But symbolism has value and costs/benefits are subjective. I know I personally experience psychic costs at the whole concept of monarchy, of the idea of having to bow to someone or practice some silly code of pretentious pseudo-politeness towards someone because of the circumstances of their birth. The actual beliefs of the Christian religion (again, the actual beliefs, not Jiminy-Cricket-cultural-Christianity) being wedded into the concept of monarchy only make it worse in my view.

    Surely, the utility of myself and those who think similarly needs to be considered as a benefit in this calculus. I also fully accept that there will be some people that incur psychic costs over the loss of the monarchy, but ironically it is your case which ignores this since it is premised on no one having any real belief in the monarchy.

    I fully accept that there is always a problem where principle clashes with real-world politics. As an in-principle republican, I would’ve voted no in the previous referendum for a republic because the model proposed basically gave more power to the politicians (even if it was “token” power to elect someone to a generally meaningless position and didn’t really change anything from the current status quo). Indeed should we change our constitution I’d actually prefer a shift away from the Parliamentary system and towards a more Presidential-style or Semi-Presidential model with a democratically elected Head of State. But I know in a debate surrounding an Australian republic, there would be many who’d advocate for a republic where the government will get more power, or a republic that doesn’t embrace truly liberal principles in some way. This is a fair argument, but it doesn’t really contest the in-principle argument surrounding a republic.

  10. Australia’s soon to be Head of State…suck it up…

  11. President wombat.

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