In honour of Australia Day, the 2011 NSW Australian of the Year, Larissa Behrendt, has had an opinion column full of heart-warming bonhomie about “national values” published in the Sydney Morning Herald. It’s quite difficult to disagree with Behrendt’s sentiment and the positive prism through which she views our people and our sense of nation; particularly on a day like today. There are lots of objectively laudable things that Australians tend to do as a people and ideals that we represent through our actions that collectively, we should probably all be a bit prouder of. Our determination to reject the recent flood crises and our willingness to dip into our pockets to help out those affected are contemporary cases in point.
On the other hand, being a bit constructively critical now, our handling of the republic issue over the course of the last decade has been poor. Despite some dubious recent polling and some unhelpful dithering over timing, support (e.g. Newspoll [PDF]) for the constitutionalisation of an Australian Head of State is strong and has remained strong since the 1990’s. In what is beginning (after all these years) to seem like an Australia Day variation on Godwin’s Law, Behrendt issues a call for a move to a republic in her column, but she does so with philosophical kid gloves firmly on:
At the time Australia became a Federation, it was a very different country to the one it is now. It had different values, including its embrace of a White Australia Policy, women were excluded from public life and Aboriginal people from mainstream society. The national conversation about a republic is an opportunity to define ourselves by new values through a process of inclusive nation building.
While there is some fearsome juggling of issues going on at the moment on the front benches of the Gillard Government, I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments of 2009 Australian of the Year Patrick McGorry; in this age of near-universal multi-tasking, the government damn well should be able to “walk and chew gum at the same time”. The rationale for delay is flimsy and unedifying. Waiting on the resignation or death of the Queen is a curiously morbid and cowardly way to approach a profound issue concerning our national identity. Must we meekly wait for the “mother country” to cut a few more emotional strings for us before we will deign to tackle the issue ourselves, as a proud and independent people?
As even the Barmy Army have realised, an Australian republic is laughably beyond due. Its time (surely? please??) to exhume the models, dust-off the arguments and restart the process anew, starting with a plebiscite reaffirming the nation’s desire to have its own Head of State.
The alternative, well… doesn’t speak too highly of us really, does it?
Cross-posted at Larvatus Prodeo.