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Chapter 8
The republic, democracy and
Mark McKenna
Dr Mark McKenna is an Austr:tl.ian Research Council QEII Fellow
jn Histoiy in the School of Social Sciences at the Australian National
University, Canbe
a. He is the best-selling author of several books
including The Captive Rept1h!ic: A HislO!JI ef Republiranism i11 A/fstrctlia
XXXXXXXXXX, published in 1996 by Cam
idge University Press and
Gokingjor Blackfella's Point, published by UNS\~ Press in 2002.
On 28 l\fay 2000, hundreds of thousands of people walked across
the Sydney Ha
our Bridge in support of Reconciliation between
Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. On the same day,
thousands more waUzed in other cities and towns across the nation.
The desire for reconciliation moved people to march in numbers
that had not been seen in Australia since the Vietnam \\far. Imagine
now, if you can, a walk for an .Australian head-of-state. While the
econciliation movement goes to the heart of our country's identity,
the mere thought of a public march for an Australian head-of-state
orders on farce. But this sense of farce is only made possibl.e by
the way in which we imagined the idea of a repnblic from 1991 until
ecently - or rather, the '.vay we have failed to imagine it.
In this chapter, I want to present an argument for imagining the
epublic anew. Since 1991, when the Australian Republican Move-
ment (ARM) was formed in Sydney, republicans have focused o n
the nationality of the head-of-state rather than democratic repub-
licanism or reconciliation. T his .remained the focus up to, and even
after the first republic referendum, which failed in November 1999.
Yet it is only by re-examining the meaning of republicanism in
terms of democracy that 'the republic' will come to embody any
meaningful goal. This applies equally to the process by which we
ecome a republic and the content of our republic's institution al
'model'. Similarly Australian republicanism must become synon-
ymous with the vital constitutional issues of our time, particuJady
econciliation. I will take these issues in turn.
Much of the process by which debate about the republic was
conducted in the 1990s is summed up by an event that took place in
Paul Keating's Prime Ministerial Office in 1995. From Don Wat-
son's memoir, Recollections q/ a Bleeding Heatt, we now know that in
early 1995 Mr Keating was toying with the idea of 'handing the
epublic over to the people'. Watson fails to explain precisely what
he means by this, but given Keatings aversion to holding a Cons-
titutional Convention and to a popularly elected head-of-state, it can
only mean that Keating was thinking of an indicative plebiscite on
one question - republic or monarchy. Having written the page-and-
a-half on the plebiscite proposal for one of Keating's speecbes,
\X!atson discovered unexpectedly the following morning, when rea-
ding the press, that the Prime Minister bad decided to drop the idea.
The fact that Keating decided at the last minute to cut the
speech is less surprising than another frank, if not distu
admission by Watson. The idea of 'handing the republic over to the -
people' was designed in part to counter any negative publicity that
might emerge from the release of former Prime l\llinister Bob
Hawke's memoirs. Handing the republic over to the people was a
'good story', especially if it could knock 'Hawkey' off the front page:
(:.'(le) thought it would be a boon both to the republic's fortunes
and to ours. \Xie hnd no doubt it would be the story, and we hoped
it would be big enough to at least partly smother anything emerging
from the I-:lawke affair (\X/atson 2002: 507) .
This seems a grotesque motivation for the government's desire to
e seen as the champion of democracy. \X/atson's revelation offers
further support to the attacks on 'Keating's republic' employed by
constitutional monarchists and the conservative parties against the
whole idea of republican change in the early 1990s. Between 1991
and 1996, Keating kept the republic at arms' length from popular
involvement. As Watson admits, 'we never found a place for the
people in the big picture' (Watson 2002: 529).
The two biggest failings of tl1e republican movement in the
1990s were the failure to project a vision of an .Australian republic
that would inspire the people, and the failure to involve the people
folly in the process of change. The quandary in which the repub-
lican movement now finds itself, is in knowing what to retain from
a decade of 'minimalist' thinking and what to leave behind. The
epublican movement stands at a crossroads. The decision it must
1nake is whether to
oaden the debate or to persist with the
strategy of pursuing a limited process of co nstitutional change.
The starting point of re-imagining the republic, I beli.eve, lies in
ejecting the notion that a republic is a synonym for the head-of-
st:ate. An Australian republic can and must mean much more than
this, especially if it is going to matter to the J\ ustralian people. To
date, the republic has not mattered enough. A common republican
efrain has been that if Australians woke up tomo
ow and found
themselves living under a republic, they would detect little change.
Hence, the paradoxical argument that people should vote for
change because nothing substantial would change.
Don Watson recently admitted that although Paul Keating's
arguments for a repnblic were sound, 'they were never going to
inspire everyone' (Watson 2002: 429). Inspiration and passion are
two things that have been conspicuously absent from the republic
debate. In order to make the republic safe and less threatening, we
succeeded in making it dull and uninteresting. So much so that it is
now seen as a second order issue, or even worse, an issue that ,vjJJ
eventually fall into place. Like a shipwrecked explorer, the republic
waits on the beach for time to pass, and for a passing vessel to come
to the rescue. Perhaps, it will be a change of government - perhaps
an .inspirational leader. In reality, rescue may never come unless
some bold steps are taken.
Process and content
If the first step .is to
oaden our conception of ·what a republic
might mean, the second must be to case as.ide the focus on the
search for the perfect 'model' that characterised Australian repub-
licanism in the 1990s. Too often in the republic debate, the issues of
process and model have been conflated. On many occasions, the
assumption seems to be that if we can get the model right then a
esounding 'Yes' vote will follow accordingly. But this logic is
flawed, not least because many of the difficulties that beset repub-
licans in the 1999 referendum campaign turned on matters of trus t,
legitimacy, democracy and sovereignty. These matters related as
much to the guescion of process as they did to the model on o ffer.
If ' republicanism stands for popular sovereignty', as the A.Rl\{'s
John Warhurst and Greg Barns have written, then republicans m ust
focus their attention on advancing proposals for a democratic pro-
cess that will create a sense of popular ownership of the republic.
Process should now be the focus. Republicans must put aside the
question of the model, and the limited focus on the need for an
Australian head-of-state, an argument which has no\v been won. As
yet, this is not happening. For example, \".farhurst and Barns
continue to insist that the expression o f poplLlar sovereignty can be
ealised solely through the instalment of a new head-of-state, most
probably nffw one elected by popular vote. FuU participation by
Australians will be reached finally by creating for us an Australian
president as head-of-state in place of a foreign monarch. Australian
democracy will flower in an Australian republic. Our symbols will
have been repatriated from a land far away.
This view is simply old 'rninimaust' thinking dressed in new
clothes. It remains a view too restrictive and limited in its vision of a
epublic. The essence of our republican democracy is not the natio-
nality of our head-of-state; it is the democratic process that we put
in place to discuss issues of constitutional change and the new
constitution we must write. In other words, the way in which we
ecome a republic matters as much as the model we eventually
choose. Constitution-making is the source of popular sovereignty.
Constitution-making is where the principles that underlie a repub-
lican Constitution can be seen in practice.
One process that deserves support is similar to one of the
proposals incluclecl in the recent ARM pa.per on democratic
processes that might resolve the issue of the republic (see AR.t\11
website ). This is a process that offers the
Australian people the opportunity co be fully consulted. The first
step would involve a two-question plebiscite:
1. 'Republic' or ':Monarchy';
2. Rank the following four republic models in order of your
preference -
• Prime MinisteriaJ appointment;
• the parliamentary appointment model;
election by Electoral College; or
election by popular vote.
Assuming that the answer to the first question is an emphatic 'yes',
and that under preferential voting a clear choice emerged in
question two, the next step should be a Constitutional Convention
elected by compulsory vote. The Convention should sit in various
cities arow1d the nation. W11en releasing its redraft of the Cons-
titution, the Convention should adjourn
Answered Same Day Apr 01, 2020


Shashank answered on Apr 02 2020
148 Votes
The republic, democracy and reconciliation
Submitted By
Student Name
The author makes an argument for envisioning the republic once again. The argument looks quite normal but there seems to be a deep meaning attached to it. He has stated that the word republic has never been embodied in meaningful manner, the way it should have been. Instead of the democratic republicanism or reconciliation, the focus has been on the nationality of head of state. There is still time when constitutional issues like reconciliation should have become synonymous with Republicanism, but this has not happened yet. (Patmore, 2009, p.11,12)
The idea of republic has never been thought that support people or think about them. In fact, the people of the state could never become a part of the change that was happening in Australia. The author makes clear that when...

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