Bill Shorten has kicked off the annual debate about Australia that tends to ignite around Australia Day, which usually includes: pondering why we’re treated to a public holiday to celebrate a sordid day in Indigenous Australians’ history, why the Caramello Koala is red, why our National Anthem is so dry, why everyone abroad thinks we actually chug Fosters, why our flag needs a change-up, and why the Queen still sits calmly on our coins and notes as an outdated head of state on the other side of the world – by urging Australians to renew the debate about becoming a republic.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten delivered a speech today encouraging Australia to open a debate regarding our position in the Commonwealth, urging the idea of becoming a republic to be put more seriously on the table: “Australians found the courage and goodwill to transform this continent into a Commonwealth, in the 21st Century, let us live up to their example – let us declare that our head of state should be one of us,” Shorten said.
Shorten continued, “Let us rally behind an Australian republic – a model that truly speaks for who we are: our modern identity, our place in our region and our world.”
Republicanism in Australia has been on the periphery for a good while now, the possibility of splitting from the Commonwealth has always been a favourite for radio hosts and public figures to think out loud about come January 26. However, the movement arguably peaked in 1999, with the Republican Referendum – a “yes” or “no” vote which saw 55% of voters reject the proposition of becoming a Republic.
16 years on and with a population that has expanded massively since then, would a referendum, if it were staged, be received in the same way? Would it flop, like Scotland’s attempt to break from the UK?
Opening up the debate, at least, is an important move. Shorten criticised Prime Minister Abbott‘s comments in late 2014, when he claimed that the question of becoming a republic ended with John Howard: “No leader can ‘end’ a conversation about our nation’s sense of self. No leader can ‘settle’ the question of Australia’s global role and responsibilities. And no leader should take pride in trying,” Shorten said, adding: “There is no last word in this conversation. And that is something we should celebrate, not shrink from. We are the product of our past, but never its prisoners.”
Look, national independence or not, I’m really just hanging out for Australia to get the flag it needs, nay, deserves:
Lead image by Darrian Traynor via Getty.