What kind of Republic? Who will campaign for it?Oct 2, 2022
The passing of the Queen has reawakened the Republic issue. A quite varied number of responses appeared in the media recently. That is a most heartening by-product of a sad event.
Clearly the ARM needs a major rebrand. The minimalist approach was never convincing. It was in fact a part of the problem. Why a Republic unless major governance issues are tackled at the same time? Some have begun to question whether we need a new Head of State at all. The Prime Minister can do it they say but the problem here could be that we had no less than six PMs in the last 10 years or so. The issue of improving Australia’s democracy is not something that can wait.
Australia has a lot of serious governance problems which are at least as important to fix. One of them is that knowledge of political system problems is very inadequate in Australia, the result of lack of objective political education. Most people don’t know how it all works; or why it doesn’t work very well, and what can be done about it. Essentially, it still operates like a British federal colony with the Governor-General representing the Monarchy. With federal states even behaving like independent states internationally; and a two-party system that does not produce democratic representation.
Political education at both high school and university levels is seriously inadequate in Australia. The universities used to do a reasonable job until about the mid 1990s and after that less so. The number of students who majored in Political Science seem to have declined significantly. Neo-liberalism and a growing number of paying foreign students, who opted for different subjects, probably reduced offerings of government and politics-oriented subjects. The conservatism of the two-party system prevailed over other options. Alternative systems in European countries were rarely studied. Students who went “overseas”, to do higher degrees, primarily went to other English-speaking countries. As a result, they actually missed out to see remarkable, often superior alternatives compared to what is happening here. Even long service leave was not often used to study alternatives in non-English-speaking countries.
So, before returning to another inadequate Republic campaign we might consider fixing some serious governance system issues or, ideally, at the same time. What matters most of all surely is:
What KIND of a Republic?
That is an attitude that was basically absent from the start in the 1990s. The ARM approach was “nothing else would change, except the Head of State would be an Australian”. Considering what else could or should change would be a much more profitable approach! Certainly now!
The current discussion by the Joint Standing Committee of Election Matters (2022) will look at the desirability of adopting Proportion Representation-Party List, used in 85 countries. This would end the bipolar adversarial mess of the current electoral Single Member District System. What are we still doing with the very costly Federal structure in a country that has excellent communication systems, incomparably superior to the situation of 1901 when the colonial federation made sense? The federal and most state governments are now looking at huge financial problems for years. A comprehensive unitary Government structure of essentially two levels, central and local government, combined with major city government would be less costly.
Why don’t we rewrite the entire Constitution, keep the bits that are useful and add several others that are missing, an unbelievably large number of importance matters not mentioned at all! Let alone that it can hardly be amended as it is. The Voice of Indigenous people could easily be included in that new Constitution. The conservatism in relation to the Constitution and the electoral system is holding this nation back every day! How about upgrading our archaic industrial relations system? 15% union membership:
What does that tell us?
How about Workplace Democracy? Employee Share Ownership? We urgently need women recognised in the Constitution, the Indigenous people, the enormous cultural diversity of this nation as compared to 1901, a source of immense pride and productivity. Then, we can add the Republic and venture into something to be proud of. PM Albanese, what is your view on major system change? And what is the ARM’s response? We may well ask: Does Australia urgently need a new, progressive Republic Movement?
Is it conceivable that the several new Independent MPs and Senators concentrate on governance system reform AND the Republic? There are some bright new MPs there who are not tied up with the limitations of the major parties.
And what about the media in Australia, including the ABC?
When are they going to publish articles and programs about governance system change?