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Practicality, not Ideology

By Sophie Panopolous - posted Wednesday, 15 September 1999


I am a convert from a republic. In my late teens and rebelling against a system that I did not understand, I was a republican. Just like many republicans today, I meant well but I was debating theory, knew little about Australia's Constitution and was not prepared to examine the strengths and values of the current system.

When Keating successfully diverted attention to his republican vision from the political issues that mattered, I had cause to re-think. I could not align myself with a cause so full of embarrassing and incorrect generalisations. For the first time I made the effort to learn about Australia's constitutional arrangements. Where I had been blinded by ignorance I became enriched by knowledge, so I changed my mind.

I am not an ideological monarchist. I just support one of the oldest, most stable, independent and democratic systems in the world. Until someone presents me with an alternative republican constitution that is at least as good as what we have, I will support Australia's current constitution.

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We are legally, judicially and constitutionally independent. By borrowing ideas from the Westminster, the Swiss, the Canadian and United States constitutions, the founding fathers were globalists ahead of their time. We should not be embarrassed about our antecedents nor should we tread in the steps of imitative nationalism. Some republicans claim that those who support the present system are not patriotic. This is nonsense intended to dumb down the debate to a level where embarrassing national stereotypes define Australian national identity.

The ARM and their supporters insult intelligent debate by masquerading their republicanism as nationalism. Reasoned and intellectually honest debate was sacrificed long ago by the ARM in its scramble to get a republic at any cost.

Perhaps the lack of public interest in this debate stems from the fact that this phase in the republican movement has been forced onto us from the top. It is not the people's republic and they will not be misled into thinking that it is.

The corporatist style of decision making perfected by previous Labor Governments set the parameters for the current debate. The ARM have compartmentalised society into convenient packages which they try to cajole and bedazzle. They seem to be treating the lead-up to the Referendum, not as a debate but as a slick, cynical marketing project. "Superstars", football celebrities and the like may be useful in selling washing powder or advertising designer gear, but it would be a sad day in the history of my country if we were to overhaul one of the most sophisticated and democratic systems of government in the world simply in order to titillate the millennium trivialities of merchant bankers, socialites and wealthy widows.

The irony is inescapable that those who are pushing the hardest for the ARM model under an egalitarian banner, probably have the least contact with "ordinary" Australians.

Is it any wonder that most Australians, including young Australians have switched off?

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A comparison between the passionate, thoughtful and progressive interchange that characterises the constitutional debates of the 1890's and the vacuous slogans of republican populists today is extremely revealing. Discussion of ideas about the foundation of a new constitution has been replaced by one huge glitzy soiree.

As for the opportunism and intellectual dishonesty that has come to characterise a significant number of our politicians, all I can say is "what else should we expect?" These are the same politicians who took months to agree on a preamble that is uninspiring, daggy, serves no purpose at all and yet they expect us to trust them to elect a President!

Some in the Yes camp claim that "ethnic" Australians feel detached from our current system. This whole line of thought is utterly untrue and quite unnecessarily made. For a start, of course, these so-called "ethnic" Australians either came to this country of their own free will or are directly descended from people who came to this country as immigrants. It is both ignorant and insulting to automatically label anyone who qualifies as an "ethnic" with one uniform point of view. Like other Australians, they are intelligent and individualistic enough to have a wide variety of points of view.

Those who chant to the mantra of "a resident for president", give the impression that they have either never read the Constitution or if they have at least made that much of an effort, have not understood a thing. What they do not understand is that the written constitution is only part of the story and the monarch can do nothing in Australia except on the advice of the Australian Government. The only thing that the monarch does on behalf of Australia is make the formal appointment of Governors-General when the Prime Minister asks her to. This is useful because it ensures that the person who actually has the lawful authority to act as the Australian head of state (a diplomatic term), is the Governor-General, and always has been.

In its desperation to avoid genuine debate, the ARM has attached itself to the dishonest claim that we do not have an Australian head of state. Clearly, the Governor-General is our Australian Head of State. The Australian public has shown in the past that when it comes to constitutional amendments, it will not hoodwinked by myths and illusions.

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About the Author

Sophie Panopoulos is a Melbourne barrister, a spokesperson for ACM and was an elected delegate to the Constitutional Convention.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Sophie Panopolous
Related Links
Australian Republican Movement
Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy
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