Thursday, 19 August 2010

An Australian Republic and a Scottish one too

I was struck by this story on the radio and newspapers today.
'Australia should drop its ties to the British monarchy when this Queen dies and move to a republic' said Prime Minister Julia Gillard campaigning in Queensland today ahead of next weeks General election.
What a good idea and something Scotland should emulate.
Strange as it may seem the issue is highly contentious in Australia. Gillard's opponent in the election, Liberal Party leader Tony Abbot, is a staunch monarchist. He supports the existing constitutional arrangements which have, according to him, 'worked well in the past and can continue to work well in the future.'
I say strange because it highlights how much Australia, despite recent strengthening of relations with South East Asian, has not shaken off her colonial past.
It all reminds me of a speaking tour I undertook in Australia during November 2003 shortly after being elected to the Scottish Parliament. I was struck then how ridiculous that year's referendum on the monarchy must have seemed to millions of Australian Aboriginals, or citizens of Melbourne living within the world's second biggest Greek population after Athens, or the huge population from the former Yugoslavia to say nothing of the Irish. And in Sydney, Australia's biggest city, with its burgeoning Chinese and South East Asian communities, how ludicrous it must have seemed to hear how they should 'tug a forelock to the feudal Queen, her heirs and successors'.
In 2003 Australia's crafty monarchists were able to stir up more contempt for the new Constitutional proposals to counter the huge majority for a republic.
I remember telling audiences from Hobart to Brisbane that on behalf of the people of Scotland I was instructed to say if they wanted the Queen so much they could have her. They were mightily impressed by the 6 SSP MSP's refusal to swear an oath of allegiance before taking our seats at Holyrood.

1 comment:

  1. The big difference, Colin, between Scotland and Australia is that we here are not economically exploited by England in the sense that occurs in Scotland. The monarchy, the governor generalship and all that baggage serves to consolidate a conservative agenda and undermine prospects of democratic reform. Even the whole federalist system here was a sleight of hand business manipulated into place without democratic input in 1901.

    The complication is that the monarchy is not an over-bearing issue day to day but any hint of fiddling with the constitution leads to a discourse that could break out of control. The associated problem with such an exchange is that it can feed Australian nationalism which is built on a dedicated zenophobia and racism . Underpinning federation here was a white Australia policy which was insisted upon by the trade union movement among other sectors. In the years that followed Kanaks and Chinese were deported in thousands from the country. White Australia as an official policy lasted until the late 1960s.

    The irony being that today Australia's third largest export earner is education services offered to students primarily from Asia. And when there's an outbreak of racism --as has occurred in Melbourne recently focused on the Indian community -- education providers get anxious when it impacts on their business.

    So the Monarchy per se is also deployed as an assertion not so much of Britishness, but of "European culture" -- a connection to a past that supposedly is Christian and English speaking.