Should Australia become a republic?

June 7, 2012 • Blogs, Summer 2012 Blog, Summer Blogs • Views: 808

by Madeleine Barrow

On the fourth of June, Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her diamond jubilee. Approximately 1 million people gathered on the shore of the Thames to watch a parade in the Queen’s honour; many others held street festivities to commemorate her rule.

Australians were not exempt from the celebrations. As Australia is part of the British Commonwealth, the official head of state is the Queen. The procession down the Thames included Australian surf lifesavers, and the Australian edition of magazines such as Women’s Weekly included insets with information about the Queen’s life (my sister flicked through the edition and informed me that Prince Philip’s pet name for the Queen was “cabbage”).

The Queen’s diamond jubilee has certainly brought the monarchy into the Australian media. And this presence has stirred up debate over whether Australia should become a republic.

Suggestions of forming a republic have existed in Australia since the 19th century, yet action has only been taken recently. In 1991, the then leader of the Labor party and prime minister– Bob Hawke – announced that republicanism was supported by the party, and suggested that the formation of a republic was inevitable.

Republican debate continued, and in 1999, a referendum was held. Australians voted on whether the constitution should be modified to remove the monarchy and to have a president chosen by the Parliament. 55% of voters were against the change.

Arguments for and against a republic, especially in light of the Queen’s diamond jubilee, are complex. Proponents of the republic argue that many Australians would have supported the referendum if a different structure for a republic had been proposed. The debate is further nuanced by asking when Australia should become a republic, if at all. The current Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has voiced her support for an Australian republic, but has stated equally that Australia should remain a constitutional monarchy, so long as Queen Elizabeth II rules.

Queen Elizabeth arriving in Perth, Australia (Flickr Creative Commons).

Jon Faine, a presenter for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, recently asked listeners to his radio program whether they felt comfortable being described as “subjects” of the Queen. Many individuals rang into the station, and voiced that to have true sovereignty, Australia needed a citizen as the head of state. But a handful of callers disagreed. One woman called into the station, complained that Faine was disrespectful to a Queen who had served the country, and hung up on air.

The debate rages on.

Madeleine Barrow ’15 is in Jonathan Edwards College.  Contact her at madeleine.barrow@yale.edu.

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