Aug 29

Query on Head of State Role as UK Parliament is Prorogued

Britain's Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, recommends to the Queen as Britain's Head of State - and ours - that the Parliament be prorogued and she immediately agrees. Speculation about a possible opportunity for the Queen to exercise her powers differently and not follow the advice of her Government or MInisters is immediately dispelled. This article from Foreign Policy sets out the issues and the context. Click on link below. ["The Queen can't do anything about Brexit" by James Palmer, Foreign Policy online, 29 August 2019]

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Aug 19

Government Rules Out Essential Plank of Indigenous Recognition Vote

In a public and formal sense, Indigenous recognition in the Constitution has come to a sudden - but not unexpected - grinding halt. Ken Wyatt, Minister for Indigenous Australians, announces at the annual Lingiari lecture in Darwin on 16 August that the Government will not be putting a question on a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament - as sought by Indigenous people - to referendum. This clearly signals that the Government intends to put recognition Coalition style to the vote promised within three years with a general recognition statement in the preamble or as a standalone clause.  Work will continue behind the scenes but it is going to be an uphill battle to achieve the modest proposals that Indigenous people now support. Republican campaigners urge them to stick to their guns and not resile even if it's a long and hard-fought battle, already 231 years in the making. This is, additionally, not an encouraging development for the inevitable Republic vote. ["Ken Wyatt under fire for ruling out Indigenous voice referendum question" by Lorena Allam, The Guardian online, 19 August 2019]

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Aug 16

"Palace Letters" Appeal to be heard by High Court

The High Court grants the special leave application against the Full Federal Court's decision in the Palace Letters case lodged by Professor Jenny Hocking - see News Updates of 2 and 24 July 2019.  This case is of particular interest to republic campaigners.

Aug 11

Dying Days of the Old Order

The  Brexit impasse in British politics that has continued for more than three years to its current grinding crescendo may be symbolic of something more. Observer columnist, Will Hutton, discusses the outcomes beyond Brexit in Britain and Trump in the US as the culmination and death of a revolution - a clearly failed experiment - that began more than 40 years ago. He covers the need for the UK Head of State to act politically in the absence of a written constitution when dire circumstances demand it - an act that can only be carried out once - and concludes that these times in Britain demand an elected Head of State accountable at the ballot box. He says that as the dying days of a rotten old order are upon us, we should rejoice. The UK Constitution dates back to 1689 and consists of eight words: "What the Crown assents in Parliament is the law" and that's it. ["There are reasons to be cheerful. These are the dying days of the rancid old order" by Will Hutton, The Guardian online, 11 August 2019]

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Aug 8

Convincing Activism: The Black Swan and the Crown

Art critic, Sasha Grishin, reviews "Activism" opening at the Canberra Museum and Gallery, a history of political engagement by Canberrans in the capital's short history. Prominent among the works on display is Indigenous artist, playwright and poet Kevin Gilbert's "Colonising Species" 1994. As Grishin describes it: "In this colour linocut, a white swan, designating European colonial powers, clutches in its beak the neck of a lifeless black swan, denoting Indigenous peoples. Blood drips on the British crown, while Aboriginal sacred figures look on from the background. The colours of the print may suggest the Aboriginal flag." Powerful indeed, cutting. Quite coincidentally a black (Indigenous) and a white (European) swan dominate the coat of arms of the City of Canberra. A recent Legislative Assembly committee report recommends that a new Coat of Arms for the Australian Capital Territory should be chosen. See more on the link below. The exhibition is on until 2 November.  sa catalogue entry CMAG for this work by Kevin Gilbert ["Activism: forces for change in Canberra at CMAG is engaging" by Sasha Grishin, The Canberra Times online, 8 August 2019]

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Jul 29

Inquiry into National Identity

The Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs sets up an Inquiry into Nationhood, National Identity and Democracy. It was proposed by the unlikely pairing of Senator Kim Carr (Labor Vic) and Senator Amanda Stoker (Liberal Qld). The deadline for submissions to the extremely wide-ranging inquiry is 30 September. Click on the link below for the terms of reference and discussion paper issued by the Committee to guide submissions. This should be a pretty interesting exercise alround given its potential for the venting of extreme and/or uncomfortable opinions. The Committee's report to the Senate is due by the last sitting day of May 2020.

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Jul 24

More on Gaining Access to the "Palace Letters"

Here is another article about this case published on Independent Australia. The excessive secrecy surrounding these documents both in Australia and at the behest of the Queen in England tells us much about our fraught  - and unclear - constitutional relationship with the Crown to the point that our history is being distorted and access to the truth denied. ["The National Archives, Whitlam and the Queen: Manipulating History" by Jenny Hocking, Independent Australia online 24 July 2019]

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Jul 12

Indigenous Recognition - Politics and Strategy

In the cold light of day, commentator Michelle Grattan, lines up the political ducks, the lie of the land and possible strategies. She assesses what it will take to get any national vote on Indigenous Recognition over the line and a majority in four States. A lot. At present, federal political buy-in at the most senior levels does not exist. She states that " both content and potential support will present major problems" and adds "Even formulating the question will be an extremely challenging hurdle."  She correctly identifies that the Prime Minister - and the Government at the next election - has little to lose from any back-tracking on this issue while for the small cohort of Indigenous federal parliamentarians, it is highly personal and the challenges frightening. Her article -  click on link below - appeared on The Conversation online and on ABC online. ["Indigenous constitutional recognition a difficult goal for Scott Morrison and Ken Wyatt by Michelle Grattan, The Conversation online, 12 July 2019]

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Jul 11

Alarm Bells Ringing on Indigenous Recognition

It did not take long. Things started getting ominous as soon as Ken Wyatt had delivered his speech on the proposed referendum the day before. By mid August, it was all but done for. Here, however, is a pertinent commentary from a veteran of the several recent parliamentary enquiries - all inconclusive - committee co-chair, Senator Patrick Dodson, an Indigenous Senator from WA, who speaks with long experience and commonsense. Dodson is blunt, rightly so: "We either deliver the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full or continue down the failed path of soft reconciliation measures". WfaAR comments that there is no reconciled Republic on offer on this track because there is no central focus to rally the cause around. On the link is the article that he had published in Nine Media the next day. ["Treaty when? Dodson warns of betrayal and airbrushing of Indigenous ambition" by Patrick Dodson, Nine Media, 11 July 2019]

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Jul 10

Important Announcement on Indigenous Recognition Vote

Newly appointed Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt from WA, announces at the National Press Club in Canberra that the Government intends to hold a referendum on Indigenous Recognition within this term, so by 2022. This is one of the first major announcements made by the Coalition Government since winning the election in May. The reaction was immediately positive despite coming with powerful qualifications such as the likelihood of its success. However, after two days the expected nay-saying voices, eg the IPA and Pauline Hanson, were in the ascendant and the Prime Minister himself entered the fray and said he did not support a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament. It quickly became evident that the devil is in the detail and it was very unclear what the details are - because, at this stage, there aren't any - as well as the proposed "model" for Recognition, legislatively prescribed Voices and so on. Republicans were not surprised: they have heard all of this before. Shame such discord was being piled on so quickly and on such an important issue, one that needs to be resolved before we embark again on an inclusive and reconciled Australian Republic. Interestingly, the Minister describes the Republic as "having gathered substantial dust" after its failed referendum and added that he doesn't want Recognition to go the same way. Read the speech on the link below

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Jul 6

States Make Progress on Uluru Statement

For NAIDOC Week comes the welcome news that the South Australian Labor Opposition proposes to take a plan for a state version of the Uluru Statement, including a Voice to Parliament, to the next State election in 2022.This follows the negotiations in progress for a Treaty by the Victorian Government with elections for a 33 member First People's Assembly to take place this month. Good to see the States moving in light of the sclerotic situation at the federal level. Whatever the new Government in Canberra comes up with will be I"ndigenous Recognition Coalition style" (maybe some statements in the preamble?) and certainly not reflecting the wishes of Indigenous people as set out in the Uluru Statement. Read more on the link below. The Victorian negotiations are being led by Gunditjmara woman and Victorian Treaty Advancement Commissioner, Jill Gallagher AO. A separate exercise is being led by Mick Dodson in the Northern Territory. [Indigenous Leaders welcome SA Labor's vow to take Uluru Statement to Polls" by Calla Wahlquist, The Guardian online 6 July 2019]

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Jul 2

Appeal in "Palace Letters" Case

Professor Jenny Hocking's long-running case against the National Archives of Australia for the release of letters between the Governor-General and our Head of State before the dismissal of the Prime Minister in 1975 and the ensuing constitutional crisis enters another stage. The case is about NAA's and the Queen's refusal to release documents in response to requests made as far back as 2011. Professor Hocking sets out the background to her case on the link below. ["The 'Palace Letters' case heads to High Court" by Jenny Hocking. John Menadue - Pearls and Irritations online 2 July 2019]

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Jun 21

Stifling British Republicanism

In Britain, unlike Australia where political timidity and inactivity are the main stumbling blocks to a Republic, the monarchy has applied itself to the task since the destabilising Diana years. This century, the British royals have shored up their position by a) understanding that there was no need to rush or panic as the brand was strong enough to withstand the shocks; b) the younger royals, particularly William and Harry, assuming centre stage and showing that they have a commitment to public duty and charitable causes while being more accessible, speaking more plainly and openly, with more empathy, than preceding generations and c) engaging the best PR and image consultants. All this has taken place in a climate that has left little time for dealing with anything other than the constant state of political and economic crisis since the early years of the century and against a background of inherent British conservatism. None of this applies in Australia of course. ["How the British royal family managed to kill off republicanism" by Larry Elliott, The Guardian Weekly 21 June 2019]

May 18

More Delay on Republic Vote

Today we found out, with the ALP's defeat in the federal election, that it will be  at least another three years, maybe even another six or seven, before there's any possibility of a vote on the Republic.

May 8

Keep the British Monarchy - our Monarchy - in perspective

With much silliness - and acres of column inches - over the birth of the latest British royal, seventh in line to our throne, this article in The New York Times nails it. We just have to keep the royals in perspective: there's nothing new or particularly modern to see.  Although a self-proclaimed feminist, Meghan must be a conservative and a monarchist to fulfil her  ordained role of wife, womb and wardrobe. It's all reinvention of the same stuff and the same history. There are no real change agents in the British royal family, imported or otherwise. Click on link below for the full story. ["Meghan Markle is the Duchess the Royal Family Needs" by Tanya Gold in The New York Times online, 6 May 2019].  Tanya Gold is a British journalist who writes for Harper's Magazine.

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Apr 29

Prince Harry Not Recommended for GG

In reponse to Wendy Tuohy's article in Nine media "Why Prince Harry would be a top GG" published on 23 April, WfaAR wrote to The Canberra Times saying that just because the Sussexes are fashionable, they are no particular use to us. But we noted that there are no selection or citizenship requirements for Governor-General and that Harry (why not Meghan?) could fill the role if our Head of State so wished and leaned on our loyally monarchist Prime Ministers to recommend him to Her Majesty for appointment. This rather silly article was followed by press reports of a possible appointment in Africa for the royal couple - anywhere but the UK it seems. Here is the text of our letter in full, click on link below

Download: Letter to Canberra Times 29 April 2019 [47KB, pdf]

Apr 12

Queen to Intervene in Brexit?

The second Brexit day comes and goes as calls - that started in earnest in January - for our Head of State to intervene get louder. This is considered unlikely given the Queen's role as neutral constitutional monarch of the United Kingdom but she does meet fortnightly with the British Prime Minister when she can express her views. But no doubt, the Palace is watching closely especially if things start to look anarchical at any point in time between now and 31 October.  The BBC has reported that our Head of State is unable to dissolve parliament and call an election in Britain as this power was removed from the monarch by the 2011 Fixed-term Parliament Act. It is interesting that our Governor-General, her representative in Australia, retains this power as one of the 'reserve', ie unwritten and undefined powers, of that office. For more on this click on link below: "Can the Queen intervene in Brexit?  Why Elizabeth II could do something but (almost certainly) won't" by Serina Sandhu inews.co.uk online 10 April 2019.

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Apr 11

Vote Compass is Back

The ABC releases the 2019 version of Vote Compass that attempts to align one's views and opinions with the major party policy platforms: Greens, Labor, Coalition and One Nation. Responses in both 2013 and 2016 were 1.3 million making it a very large and very useful survey. The republic proposition is also back. Framed in the same, strange way as in 2013 and 2016 it is: "Australia should end the monarchy and become a republic". We won't be ending the British monarchy of course, rather severing our constitutional ties with that country. It will remain as the United Kingdom's head of state as well as of those former Commonwealth realms not republics. If we change, there will still be 14 of them left including Canada and New Zealand. But the intent is clear and this statement is good enough for the purpose of Vote Compass. The 2013 results for this statement were released late in the year in a speech given by then Governor-General, Quentin Bryce and revealed that if somewhat and strongly agree were combined with neutral and slightly disagree (read persuadable), then the respondents in favour stood at 75 percent. WfaAR expects little to have changed since then. To access Vote Compass, click on the link below:

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Mar 18

Polling Shows Australian Voters are Socially Progressive

Social and market researcher Rebecca Huntley says that Australian voters are way ahead of their politicians when it comes to social change. She states that there is little evidence that the policy agenda of major parties has been shaped by opinion polls. She reveals a long list of topics that attract 60 percent or higher support across "all the available surveys, a basic agreement crossing party lines, stretching from soft Liberal and Labor to Green and independent voters – and even (on some issues such as euthanasia and donation reform) to One Nation voters." One thing she says that we would have already started on is the Republic. Her Quarterly Essay, "Australia Fair, Listening to the Nation" is published this month. ["Fairer, Greener, Smarter: ordinary voters are way ahead of the political class" by Rebecca Huntley, The Guardian online 18 March 2019] - click on link below.

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Mar 3

Wasn't that "The Republic and Us"?

ABC TV broadcasts as two-part documentary in the prime Sunday evening timeslot: "The Crown and Us" but really it should have been "The Republic and Us with seductive shots of the Royals since 1954". This doco attempted to get to grips with ups and downs in Australian republicanism post WWII, while pretending not to, but was more of a talk fest without much of a central or cohesive theme other than we didn't like the royals other than Diana much in the 1990s along with everyone else and that sentiment found its way into our Republic referendum (WfaAR disputes this thesis) but since then we do aided by moreish shots of new generation of royal clotheshorses and their consorts with plenty of the bejewelled young queen for dessert. It wasn't quite clear where it ended up with the republicans campaigners (all male as usual, not good enough ABC) still hopeful especially with Charles and Camilla in prospect. ARM CEO, Michael Cooney, even went big salivating over the actuarial figures for 92 year old British women; others were not so sure. The most interesting contributions were from women among them: historians Julia Baird and Cindy McCreery; Indigenous activist Megan Davis commenting on the need for Indigenous Recognition first and the non-ceding of sovereignty; social commentators Nikki Gemmell on the glamour of royalty, Rebecca Huntley and Dee Madigan with Rachel Bailes for the (young) monarchists although her Kate-lookalike hair was more convincing that the rest of what she had to say.

Feb 24

Art and the Republic at APT 9

WfaAR is visiting the 9th edition of the Asia Pacific Triennial at QAGOMA in Brisbane. Three works stood out.The first two were by Australian artist Vincent Namatjira, born Alice Springs, lives and works South Australia. He has sprung to prominence since his first public exhibition in 2011 and is now held in many Australian and international collections. He will be exhibiting at Art Basel Hong Kong later this month. Many of his works feature Captain Cook and the British Royal Family especially the Queen. A clever sequence of mirrors at varying heights and dress-ups transformed the viewer. In one of them, we found ourselves with a familiar grey curly wig, a sparkling golden coronet, bright orange lipstick, long white gloves and a couple of yapping bejewelled corgis jumping at our feet - unmistakably our Head of State herself. But the face was ours. We could only burst out laughing, it looked so ridiculous as our everyday garb was dolled up with bling to make us a queen. Doesn't take much. In a more serious work, slightly contorted portraits of seven recent Prime Ministers and our seven richest citizens, all smiling, were intersected with portraits of seven unknown Indigenous people. They looked both calmer and wiser but eminently at home in such a context - why not? Meanwhile Meiro Koizumi's "Rite for a Dream. Today my empire sings" 2016 is a video of a performance enacting the Hantenren anti-emperor rally, a controversial republic demonstration held annually in Tokyo on 15 August, the anniversary of the Japanese surrender at the end of the Pacific war in 1945. This showed the significant antagonism, both noisy and violent, of conservative forces in Japan towards the small number of protesters. More information on anti-monarchy protests in Japan is available here: https://throwoutyourbooks.wordpress.com/2017/06/12/emperor-akihito-abdication-anti-emperor-protest-movement-japan/ or find out more about Vincent Namatjira, including visuals of his work, on the link below.

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Feb 16

Adamant about the Republic

In an interview given to Nine Media, Nova Peris speaks up about her confidence that Australia is ready to change. The first Aboriginal woman to be elected to federal parliament in the Senate; Olympic gold medallist in hockey as well as medal winner in international athletics says "we can't move forward as a nation until we reconcile the past and part of reconciling the past is knowing what you are reconciling." She doesn't want the Constitution to be changed to recognise our First Peoples. Instead, she says, "I want this country to become a republic. Press restart. You're trying to tell us how we should be recognised in your founding document when we've never been lost".  She maintains contact with country and describes her attachment to the land as spiritual. In her first speech to Parliament, she declared herself "a descendant of the Gija people of the East Kimberley and the Yarwuru people of the West Kimberley; also Iwatja from Western Arnhem Land through her father" while her mother was raised on the Tiwi Islands off the coast of the Northern Territory. ["NOVA Peris" by Kerrie O'Brien, Nine media, 16 February 2019]

Feb 4

Feuding and Familiarity

Meghan and Kate now officially don't get on with each other and are actively feuding. Women are never depicted as cooperative, tolerant or professional, they are always calcuating rivals, over what it's not clear. Nothing new here going back to Diana and Fergie and later Camilla and Kate as duelling consorts. But it keeps us interested and sells. Why is that, why are women so interested in and highly connected to the British royals? Dr Daniel Kruger, an evolutionary biologist from the University of Michigan is quoted as saying: "we hear about these people that we might never encounter in our lives but we still see them as part of our social world" and adds that the media can convince us that they are relevant to us because, in the past, most of the people that you had information about were important to your survival. "We are particularly susceptible to high-status people eg royalty and we pay attention to them because in the much smaller societies than those of today, they wielded power that could have had tangible consequences for us." Celebrity exposure must also play a part in convincing us that we are familiar with and like these people that we don't actually know at close quarters while we admire their glamour and their wardrobes. ["Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton 'feud' has a familiar script for royal watchers" by Yasmin Jeffery, ABC online, 4 February 2019)

 

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Jan 25

Honours System has Inherent Class Bias

Nicholas Gruen nails it when he says that honours and awards mostly go to people for doing their (already well paid) day jobs. What his article also neatly underscores(click on link below) is that there is a class structure inherent in the Australian, imperially approved, honours system ie the establishment people like judges and senior public servants, get the top gongs (for doing their jobs) while community members and volunteers get the lowest level awards. The structure of our honours system, although not the actual awards themselves, are approved by our Head of State, Queen Elizabeth II of England. When PM Abbott reintroduced the very unpopular knighthoods in 2014, he had to get the Head of State's approval while PM Turnbull had to get her approval to remove them again in late 2015. A truly Australian award system introduced under a Republic should be an improvement on this inequitable arrangement that favours certain groups in our society. ["We're awarding the Order of Australia to the wrong people", Nicholas Gruen, The Conversation online, 25 January 2019]

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Jan 23

Captain Cook and All That Followed

January is usually a time for raking over the coals on the Republic. So far, it's been quiet. This year, the annual Australia Day schisms have been overshadowed by disputes over James Cook's place in our history. Dr Benjamin T Jones' conclusions in this article interest us (click on link) about the current Government's obsession with and overfunding of the Cook voyage 250th anniversary coming up in 2020, not to mention various of its members' slim to non-existent grasp of the historical facts of British discovery and settlement. Jones states clearly: "Our nation has changed. Cook is no longer the national hero he once was, for the simple reason that Australians no longer see themselves as British, sharing in British achievements." This observation, with which WfaAR agrees, is exactly why the coming Republic will need to be presented to the nation by Indigenous leaders as well as State and Federal Parliaments to make sure that it represents all of us. That cannot take place until such time as Indigenous Recognition in the Constitution has been dealt with as well as creating a Voice to Parliaments as set out in the Uluru Statement. Australia Day can only ever mark the arrival of the British to set up a penal colony in NSW. It is not a grand national day of achievement and celebration, more an excuse for a long weekend, beer and BBQs. We understand why Indigenous people name it Invasion Day, the start of their dispossession and disadvantage. This must also be addressed by 21st century Australians in a serious and respectful way. ["Rough seas ahead: why the government's infatuation with James Cook may further divide the nation" by Benjamin T Jones, The Conversation online, 23 January 2019]

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Jan 17

The British Royals Are Not Like Us

Prince Philip, husband of our Head of State, is involved in a car accident near one of their large estates; in fact, he appears to have caused it. The next day an identical new car is delivered to the door, then he is seen driving without a seatbelt two days later. One of the injured people in the other car appears on television. After this, the Prince issues an apology - or more likely his PR people do - and he voluntarily surrenders his driving licence at 97 after the police decline to press charges. The British Royals are not like us.

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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