Jul 1

An Australian Republic, Ritual and Symbolism

Megan Davis starts her discussion about the empty symbolism of Acknowledgements of Country spoken by non-Indigenous Australians with reference to the Republic. She writes: "There is an uncritical but flawed assumption that Aboriginal people are unquestionably Australian republicans. Professor Marcia Langton, responding to republican ridicule of the pomp and circumstance of the British royal family, pointed out that many Aboriginal people in fact have deep respect for the ceremony of the Crown, because our culture understands the power of ritual and symbolism. Such customary protocols speak to the conservatism of culture - it is slow to change - but provide continuity between the past and the present." Although WfaAR was aware of this while campaigning for the 1999 referendum and since, this is timely reminder for the Australian republican movement that it cannot take the support of Indigenous people for the Republic as a given. ["The Promise of an Australian Homecoming" by Megan Davis, The Monthly July 2020 edition, p8-11)

Jun 27

The Voice of the People

Commenting on the federal Government's slowness to provide funding for the arts industry crippled by the pandemic with thousands of job losses, Chris Endrey comments, "The sad conclusion is one that lies at the end of too many questions - Australia is either not interested in nor capable of valuing its own voice, its own cultures". How deeply it resonates to see the word "voice" used to express this idea: the Voice of our Indigenous nations and cultures at the heart of the Uluru Statement - now more than three years since announcement - or, indeed, the voice of the people expressed in a self-created, self-governing Republic. See also News Item of 11 May 2020. ["Our fight for legitimacy carries on" by Chris Endrey, The Canberra Times print and online, 27 June 2020]

Jun 22

In the Left Corner

If we didn't exactly realise this or when it happened, historian Judith Brett neatly captures the political shift in Australia since the mid 1990s to create the binary political world manoeuvred by Prime Minister John Howard. She says that our Republic was characterised as an issue of Labor and the Greens, along with "affirmative action for women, multiculturism, racial inclusiveness, native title, Indigenous self-determination, Reconciliation along with acknowledging violence and injustice towards our First Peoples, increased environmental regulation and a commitment to internationalism." So that neatly incapsulates it. Australian republicanism was lumped in with other so-called soft, non-essential, progressive causes and there we have stayed. Also clear is that the 1999 referendum was a practice run for what was to follow - and it worked a treat. ["The Coal Curse" by Judith Brett, Quarterly Essay Issue 78, June 2020, p52]

Jun 8

Weariness Over Queen's Birthday Holiday & the Honours

Another tired old Queen's Birthday holiday, a relic of the predominantly white Dominions and maybe a tired Queen at 94 years and 2 months, her real birthday being on 21 April. And with it comes that tired old warhorse, the Queen's Birthday honours, all 933 of them. Not much to rejoice about even if 41 percent of the 710 awards made in the civilian division went to women this year (and off those only 28 percent of the gongs in the top two tiers went to women). As we have said before there are far too many Australian honours awarded. Once a year for Australia Day is more than enough. More important is the fact that this so-called Australian honours system has a structure approved by the Queen of England herself.

Here's a good explainer written by Cai Holroyd: "Being appointed to the Order of Australia is really more of an honorary commendation for civilians, however, it is nonetheless structured as a more traditional order of chivalry. The reigning monarch (our Head of State ed) is the head and the Governor-General acts as chancellor. Australian are recognised twice a year to join the Order, on Australia Day and the day set aside in June to celebrate the Queen's birthday.

Below the officials and any royal members, the order is separated into civilian and military divisions, with three ranks and one medal.

In order of ascending rank, the recipients are appointed the rank of a member or an officer or a companion of the order. Below these, anyone can receive a medal of the Order but this does not include them in the ranks."

Clearly, it is hierarchical. By far the most awards, including the ones recognising community work, are the medals at the bottom and apart from the more deserving whose awardees are to be found in ranks. Most of the latter hail from "the establishment" and the upper middle class and are honoured for doing their paid jobs. In an egalitarian country like Australia, there should be one level of awards that recognises all recipients equally.

Read all of Cai's article on the link. ["Why do we appoint people to the Order of Australia" by Cai Holroyd, The Canberra Times, print and online, 7 June 2020]


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May 29

High Court Decision in Palace Letters Case

The High Court decides 6-1 in favour of Professor Jenny Hocking's bid to have 211 personal letters between our Head of State and Governor-General John Kerr released. The Court decided that the photocopies of the correspondence were Commonwealth property and, therefore, subject to the National Archives Act 1986. The originals and the official copies are still locked up in the Royal Archives at Windsor. where Australians can't access them. This is an important decision - not just in Australia - and chips away more of the power and secrecy of the British monarch over our affairs. WfaAR has followed the "Palace Letters" case through three court cases and crowd-funding for legal costs that started in 2010. For more information see our News Items of 18 January and 5 February 2020. Republican and historian Jenny Hocking is also currently a member of ARM's National Council. A week after the decision, the NAA informed Jenny that she would have to wait another 90 days for release procedures to be completed including decisions on exemptions. On 18 June, she gave a videocast to ARM members talking about what she expected to find in the letters. So we wait and see. Professor Anne Twomey from Sydney University discusses the complicated  in's and out's of the case and the implications of the decision on the link below ["High Court ruling on 'Palace letters' case paves way to learn more about The Dismissal - and our Constitution" by Anne Twomey, The Conversation online 29 May 2020]

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May 27

Indigenous Recognition Referendum Scuttled

Right in Reconciliation Week comes confirmation - by way of tweets from the MInister for Indigenous Australians - that the Indigenous Recognition vote was not going to take place before 2022 and had been shunted to the next term of the federal parliament. This matter has been going steadily backwards since it formed the first major announcement of the new Morrison Government last year. By October 2019, it had become a "limited' constitutional referendum sure 'to break some hearts" so things weren't looking promising. In January 2020 just before Australia Day, the Minister had reportedly set a timeline but that was quickly followed by a Coalition party room revolt (see News of 12 February 2020). There were Committees coming up with multiple models for how it would work at federal, State and local government level (a sure recipe for disaster); controversy over statements made by appointed members and sackings and, finally, the pandemic was blamed. More recently, rumours are circulating that female Indigenous leaders want to push ahead with truth telling (Makarrata) before there's a vote. So this announcement came as no surprise even if the timing was. It duly passed into the ether pretty well unnoticed. Michelle Grattan puts it all in context on the link below. ["Pandemic kills Indigenous referendum" by Michelle Grattan, The Conversation online, 4 June 2020]

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May 11

In the Time of the Coronavirus

The Greens release a new policy that piqued WfaAR's interest: Let's Recreate Australia. Not a surprising theme in the time of a pandemic which often brings about serious rethinking of history and the future at both personal and societal levels. But it wasn't about the Constitution and our governance. Instead it had an admirable short-term focus to get artists back to work and our own stories back on our screens. As Sarah Hanson-Young (Senator for South Australia) comments: "If we are going to restore our social fabric, we need to bring people back together through the arts". WfaAR agrees. It is essential to have the insights and commentary of our artists consistently applied to the state of our government, our country and its future.

Mar 23

COVID-19 Shutdown Silences Constitutional Issues

As the country began to slowdown and shutdown with strict pandemic prevention measures in place nationally, it is clear that public health and immediate economic issues would be the focus for at least the next 6 months. Non-survival topics like Indigenous Recognition and the Republic dropped instantly from public discourse and the media (see also  News Item of 6 June 2020). The only vague reminder about the Republic was the publication of Malcolm Turnbull's "A Bigger Picture" in mid April but that aspect of the book gained no attention. The time of major threat from the pandemic was barren territory for constitutional matters as if they didn't exist or belonged to a long-forgotten past.

Feb 17

WfaAR Meets with ARM to Talk Direct Election

National Convenor, Sarah Brasch, meets with ARM Executive Director, Sandy Biar, in Sydney. The main topic for discussion was Direct Election. A useful exchange of views and mull over the details with general agreement about how we could directly elect a Head of State - other than ARM still not giving any thought to how any campaign for the Republic should or might be affected by Indigenous Recognition. It is encouraging to see ARM shifting its stance to encompass all possibilities for the eventual Republic campaign.

Feb 12

No Referendum on Indigenous Recognition

The Australian today reports that Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt has walked back from a commitment by the Morrison Government to hold a referendum on Indigenous recognition in this term after a backlash in the Coalition party room over the vote. Mentioned were Senators Dean Smith (WA), James McGrath and Amanda Stoker (both Qld) who were claimed to have stated that there has been no consultation with MPs over the timeline and no model to take to the electorate. Wyatt described the timeframe as "aspirational" while conceding that he had to work closely with party members and the party room in Canberra to determine what was possible. WfaAR comment: if not to take place by 2022, the rocky road of Indigenous Recognition as well as that of the Republic, just got rockier.

Feb 9

Another Commonwealth Scandal

And still we identify with this organisation! The Commonwealth Secretariat in London is now the subject of a major financial and impropriety scandal. Australia is its third largest donor. To read further information, click on link below. Meanwhile, a reported divorce involving one of our Head of State's grandchildren and two of her great-grandchildren can hardly be considered a scandal in todays terms.

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Feb 6

No Anthem at Indigenous Rugby League Match

The Australian Rugby League Commission has dropped playing of the national anthem at its annual All Stars match. The chair said today, "We have listened to our players' concerns that the words of the anthem do not represent them or their families and does not include an acknowledgement of First Nations people. We respect their wishes and have agreed that the anthem will not be played at the All Stars match on February 22." WfaAR comment: Something has significantly shifted here after so much consistent nay-saying and in the right direction. Such a public move that directly involves the game's players and supporters is timely and long-overdue. It is a pity that the Government is unwilling to be as accommodating towards another request by our Indigenous peoples to fully implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart, a critically important constitutional change that will be a necessary precursor to any successful vote on the Republic.

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Feb 5

High Court Hearing on Palace Letters is Republican Paradise

On 4 and 5 February, the High Court has heard submissions from opposing sides in Professor Jenny Hocking's appeal to have the personal correspondence of GG John Kerr with our Head of State between 1974 and 1977 declared Commonwealth records. To do so, would allow the documents to be considered by the National Archives of Australia (where copies are held) for release. For one and a half whole days, the Court heard discussion about the roles of the Queen and Governor-General and how power is exercised between the two offices. This got a thorough airing in relation to Sections 1 and 2 as well as many other sections of the Constitution where the G-G's powers are set out. It was, in short, republican heaven for hardy campaigners and so timely that this matter and the secrecy of the House of Windsor were given such a comprehensive airing in the highest court in the land. The full-bench of seven justices took a lively interest in proceedings as did the packed gallery in the High Court in Canberra. Both barristers - one an SC and one a QC - raised numerous issues and examples directly relevant to the arguments for a Republic. WfaAR was present for most of the hearing and could only conclude "republic, republic, republic asap" as the cases were laid out and argued. If nothing else, a new start and a new Constitution would sort out some of the vagaries and muddled mess that we now find ourselves in. Most interesting of all was defence barrister Bret Walker's argument that the British Monarch has a role and is not powerless, it's just a special one exercised only by the monarch as Head of State on the advice of her Australian Ministers. The court has adjourned to consider its decision, not expected until later in the year. WfaAR tweeted key points for republicans. There were plenty of them!

Feb 3

Sleep, Australia, Sleep

Paul Kelly released a new song early February with lyrics that explain how the country is sleep-walking towards inaction on climate change - and one might add long-overdue constitutional and governance change. Set to become a seminal Oz anthem, it is a lullaby as well as a wake-up call, available on Spotify, Facebook and YouTube. It was featured on the 8 February edition of the ABC Arts program,The Mix. ["'A Tipping Point': Paul Kelly's new song attacks climate inaction" by Shona Martin, smh.com.au, 31 January 2020]

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Jan 31

Ozexit - and soon!

In the aftermath of another torrid Australia Day, a letter writer to The Canberra Times captures the mood of Brexit day perfectly: "Following Brexit and Megxit, it's time for Ozexit. Aren't we mature enough to select a workable system of government not dependent on the imprimatur of a foreign monarch?"  WfaAR couldn't have put it better. [Thank you to contributor, Mark Slater of Melba ACT, Letters to the Editor: The Canberra Times, 27 January 2020]

Jan 25

Forget the Flag of Domination

Wise but also tough words from Sydney author and architecture critic Elizabeth Farrelly who writes regularly for The Sydney Morning Herald. She essentially labels modern Australia as a country unable to listen or heed. She poses the questions for an Australia Day in the middle of an immediate climate crisis as the forested (habited) parts of the country in the south-east are burned to the ground in wild firestorms: "What, at this crossroads, does it mean to be Australian?.....Who are we as a nation, and who do we wish to be going forward?" How pertinent for 20 years after the failed Republic referendum. She even touches on the Republic in her conclusions when she singles out the Union Jack bedecked flag as the symbol of the last 232 years of occupation in the light of European Australians - and those who have come post WWII - stubbornness, even refusal, to change and adapt. The whole article is thought-provoking and well worth a read. Click on link below. Elizabeth Farrelly is a republican. ["Survival-by-respect or death-by-stupid: your choice Straya" by Elizabeth Farrelly, The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 January 2020]

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Jan 18

Less Access to Australia's Records held in Windsor Castle

The Australian newspaper reports that "Government House" and the National Archives of Australia made an agreement in 1991, approved by our Head of State Queen Elizabeth II, that provided for the letters of Governors-General Casey, Hasluck, Kerr, Cowen and Stephen to be released after 50 years unless vetoed by either side's officials. The newspaper's request for the vice-regal letters of G-G Richard Casey from 1965-69, eligible for release on 1 May 2019, was refused. The agreement has seemingly been revised and the Palace is henceforth to have sole veto on release over a longer timeframe, ie five years after the Queen dies. This merely adds to lack of transparency over our governance where our Head of State - at its apex - is concerned. See also WfaAR New Updates (16 August 2019 and previous) about Professor Jenny Hocking's lengthy and frustrated attempts to obtain the letters between G-G John Kerr and the Palace over the 1975 sacking of the elected Australian Government. The High Court will hear Hocking's appeal in February 2020. ["Buckingham Palace backtracks on G-G letters deal with National Archives" by Troy Bramston, The Australian online, 18 January 2020]

Jan 9

Let's Give the British Royals the Flick

Meghan and Harry have quit the British Royal family, so should we. It would be a good time to do it as Australia contemplates the future of its Federation in light of the summer's dangerous, destructive and crippling bushfires. The Guardian described the British as having "an infantile fixation "with its royal family and all the trappings. The newpaper forgot to add the three former Dominions still with the British monarch as Head of State having the identical reverence, most particularly Australia.

Quick Info

For a brief but useful guide to republicanism in Australia, see the entry in Wikipedia

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Woman for an Australian Republic, Adelaide Ironside, republican poet and artist, 1831-1867

Self portrait 1855, Newcastle Region Art Gallery NSW

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Senate Inquiry

Report of Senate Inquiry into the Republic Plebiscite Bill released 15 June 2009

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