PETER ARKELL. Choosing our head of state does not need to be difficult.

Nov 15, 2018

The Australian Republic appears to be coming back into the community’s discussion. The stumbling block for previous models seems to have been how the head of state will be chosen and even concern that we do not offend the Queen. Perhaps there is a solution that she would be pleased to step aside for. 

I wonder if living a long way away from Australia for fifteen years, while maintaining a keen interest in home, helps to bring a clarity to observing affairs back there. Perhaps it is because the day-to-day matters don’t clutter the view and I can see things in the context of the broader issues that are swirling around the community in which I live, Shanghai. I walk a lot each day in the city’s parks and often find myself thinking of matters that are topical at home.

One such moment was when the Aboriginal community presented their Uluru Statement from the Heart. It seemed to me that the presentation of a document to the Australian government by leaders from the First Nations with such a sincere title, a Statement from the Heart, would have been the lightbulb moment for our society. I saw it as a heartfelt expression that was a response to the Apology and gave us a chance to settle the wrongs that had their beginnings 230 years ago. Looking from afar, it seemed that these First Nations leaders were giving us a chance to grow up. How disappointing that the hands that were offered were not grasped but were turned away. I felt so sad for the leaders who worked so hard to have extensive dialogue among their communities to arrive at a position that was nation building.

The Federal Opposition has announced that it will ask the “Republic” question at a plebiscite if Labor is returned to government at the next election. The timing is interesting after observing the significant publicity surrounding the recent visit to Australia by Prince Harry. Perhaps that visit reminded the pro-republicans that the monarchy is nothing more than a symbolic head of state and that the country cannot kick this particular can down the road indefinitely.

So, from my perch far from home, I wonder if there is a method of selecting a truly unifying head of state within the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The issue that seemed to spook the government and probably caused it to walk away from the Statement was the proposed First Nations’ chamber of review. Imagine if that chamber’s role included the recommendation of the head of state. At last, Australia could have its government house in order, with the representative of the monarch of Great Britain being replaced by our First Nations’ representative.

Who knows, my perception of affairs appearing more clear from a distance may just be a mirage and nothing like the reality of the view on the ground. Perhaps I’m dreaming, but a positive response to the Statement from the Heart that gave us an Australian Republic with a unifying head of State is a pretty good dream.

Peter Arkell has lived in Shanghai for the last fifteen years. He is the Chairman of the Global Mining Association of China and former Chairman of AustCham Shanghai. In his day job he is Managing Director of Carrington Day, a China-based HR consulting company.


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