Why Australia must become a republic

Or why KRISHNA NEELAMRAJU joined the Australian Republican Movement

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The Australian society takes immense pride in giving a ‘fair go’ to anyone who tries. We are all told that, as Australians, no opportunity or job is denied to us. Except for one job which happens to be a pretty important one in a democracy. You should be enraged to know that the very fact that you are an Australian citizen disqualifies you from that job.

Allow me to remind you that the Head of State of Australia is the British Queen and only her son or her grandson or someone in that line of succession can inherit that role. Australian citizens like you and I are, constitutionally speaking, mere ‘subjects’ of the said Queen or King. Which means we can never be good enough to become the head of this country. To me, that disqualification remains bothersome. And it continues to remind me that there is still work to be done to make Australia fully independent.

To a majority of Australians, having the British Queen as our Head of State represents a harmless link to a quaint institution. A wink and a nod to the ‘origin story’ of modern Australia, if you will. However, scratch the surface of this seemingly benign arrangement and you will discover some prickly legal issues. There are dangers lurking just under the surface that are not as well-known as they should be.

The Australian Parliament still passes laws ‘In the name of Her Majesty’. In 2002, the High Court of Australia ruled that ‘the fundamental criterion of membership (of the Australian nation) is allegiance to the Queen’. As per an analysis published on the Australian Parliament House’s website, that High Court ruling gave greater rights to non-citizen British residents (even those convicted of serious crimes) than those enjoyed by some Australian citizens. This is a shocking example of how having the Queen as a Head of State could lead to multiple classes of citizenship.

Another issue is foreign interference in Australian politics. For decades, Buckingham Palace kept secret its involvement in the dismissal of an Australian government in 1975. Legal experts still debate about the unconstitutionality of those events. It took an epic legal battle in recent years by a tenacious Australian historian in alliance with Australia’s best legal minds to force Buckingham Palace to tear down that wall of secrecy. This is another example of the dangers of the status quo.

To someone like me, whose formative years were spent in India, bowing to a King or Queen represents a moth-eaten class system that is well past its ‘Best Before’ date. Celebrating India’s Republic Day every year, I learnt the difference between gaining Independence and becoming a Republic. When the country became ‘independent’ in 1947, Indians gained the right to self-governance. However, every single Act of the Indian Parliament in the first few years was passed in the name of the British monarch, King George VI. This was not what the freedom fighters of India laid down their lives for. It was still ‘His Majesty’s Government’ on paper in India and that didn’t sound like real independence. India quickly became a Republic and on January 26 1950, Dr. Rajendra Prasad replaced the King as India’s Head of State and proclaimed equality as a birth right to all Indians. What a moment of pride that was! With great enthusiasm and pride, Indians still celebrate the day when they stopped being the ‘subjects’ of a foreign monarch.

Consider my dilemma then, when I learnt that becoming an Australian citizen meant implicitly pledging allegiance to the British monarch! Long before I became a citizen, I started following the Australian Republic Movement, an organisation founded in 1991 to campaign for an Australian Head of State replacing the Queen. The closer I got to my citizenship ceremony, the more important it became to deal with my discomfort with allegiance to monarchy. My love for Australia and the pride I took in becoming Australian would have been greater if I had pledged allegiance to an Australian Head of State instead.

Filled with this Republican spirit, my first political act as an Australian citizen was to become a paid member of the Australian Republic Movement, the day after my citizenship ceremony. I have since been active in the Movement and was recently elected to the NSW Branch Council. It is my belief that we are on the cusp of history due to a unique set of expected future events that could make the Republican dream a reality. However, I also believe that the Republic is neither inevitable nor imminent unless there is an active push to bring the issue to fore. To channel Bob Hawke from 1983, a Republic is great to have but it is still not a matter of great importance to Australians. It appears to be of even less importance to multicultural communities including the Indian community. Despite our strong republican roots, Indian Australians are yet to show up in numbers to advocate and campaign for a Republic.

My efforts are to publicise the Republican cause among the desi community, and it is my strong belief that we have a central role to play. We have a unique understanding of the importance of being a Republic and let us not forget, our forebears have done it once already.

We must become a Republic so that each one of us and our children are given that ‘fair go’ that we are so often promised in Australia.

Vive la République!

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