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An Aussie head of state matters globally

By Jieh-Yung Lo - posted Thursday, 28 February 2013

In my various roles, I have the opportunity to come across many new and young diplomats from China posted to Australia. One of them posed the question to me, "I do not understand why the Governor General of Australia greets the Chinese President when he visits Australia. Shouldn't it be the Prime Minister, the leader of the national government?" What can I say guys, our elected Prime Minister is not our head of state.

Another Australia Day has gone and like many Australians who support an Australian republic, I am given pause to wonder how Australia's identity as a sovereign nation is perceived by other nations. Australia is becoming more active with our regional and global neighbours. We have signed the Kyoto Protocol, pledged to restart the nuclear non-proliferation push, working to establish deeper alliances within APEC and more importantly, joined the UN Security Council.

The Australian Republic Movement's (ARM) latest campaign to focus on asking Australians to explore their identity is on the right track. Throughout history, an indisputable national identity has been integral to a nation's involvement and value within the international political environment. In order for Australia to establish itself as a global player that leads by example, our nation must work towards absolute independence. The Australian Government and its people must be clear on the position of our Head of State.


While I do not always agree with a lot of the foreign policies coming out of the United States, I can't help but notice the impact they have on the global stage due to an established national identity. The US has a tendency of perceiving itself as an exceptional state. They believe in themselves to be an extraordinary nation with a special role to play in global politics.

Australia can surely do the same. We operate under similar values of liberty, freedom of speech and equality. However, before we can exert a similar level of influence to our regional neighbours, we must complete our own democratic journey first. An elected Head of State will project a more confident and complete identity to further build on our long term strategic engagements with other nations. We will be in a better position to build a stronger brand for Australia and to tell the Australian story. Our Head of State will not just be conducting ceremonial activities at home, he or she will be promoting our political and economic interests both at home and aboard.

Venture Capitalist Bill Ferris paints this picture perfectly. Ferris sees the connection between an Australian Head of State and the representation of our business and economic interests offshore. For instance, we can't ask the Queen of England to represent our exporters, services and products at an international trade show. Her priority will be with England. We need one of us, an Australian to do that, someone who lives here and is accountable to the Australian people.

Going back to the earlier question from that young Chinese diplomat I came across, when Heads of State exchange the ceremonial toast during a visit, are they toasting the Queen of England or the Queen of Australia? Symbolism in this instance is very important. The Head of State symbolises what and who Australia is. Currently, we are just a subsidiary, an extension of another nation thousands of miles away.

Ferris states that Australia needs to develop an innovation culture that allows us to deal with our own situations and respond to our own problems. As a nation, we need to be more self confident and truly interested in self independence.

Again, I shall refer to the United States as the example. Since its separation from Great Britain, the US has developed a constitutional system that reflects the values and beliefs of the American people. As a result, nations around the world see the US as a nation and government that represents the voices and views of its own people on the international stage.


Our region is experiencing vast political, economic and social change that presents positive opportunities for Australia to capitalise and take a lead in. We need to do more than just make money and talk about business with them. We need to build closer friendships and strengthen cultural understanding in order to build trust and cooperation. Our Asian trading partners needs to see an engaged Australia, not just one dimensional that still has a connection with our old colonial past.

Having one of our own as the Head of State would strengthen our national identity and influence in the region and around the world. More importantly, we will complete our democratic and constitutional journey and be in a position to adequately represent Australian interests overseas. This symbolism matters not just locally but globally. We need an Aussie Head of State!

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About the Author

Jieh-Yung Lo is a Melbourne based writer and Associate Producer of the upcoming documentary film New Gold Mountain - Your Chinese Australia.

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