By Akira Lawson
On both sides of politics, the Greens and the Labor Party, and members of the left-wing faction of the Liberal Party (including the current P.M. Malcolm Turnbull) have pushed for a referenda seeking to change Australia’s system of government from a constitutional monarchy to a republic, inevitably replacing HM Queen Elizabeth II with a parliamentary appointed head of state.
Despite a referendum failing in 1999 on establishing of a republic, the republican debate has gained a considerable amount of traction in the past decade which has generated concerns for many constitutional monarchists in both Australia and the UK.
Regardless of the concerns many conservatives have, the republican debate fails to bring forth a discussion which refutes the rational and persuasive arguments put forward by pro-status quo movements.
The expensive endeavour in pursuing to change the Australia’s system of government from a constitutional monarchy to a republic would cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars, if not reaching a near billion. As both sides of the fence seem to rather offer unreliable estimates on the cost of changing to a republican system of government, the 1999 referendum’s expenditure estimates can give some perspective on the cost of having just a referendum. The estimated cost was over $66 million, which through inflation and our current population size would blow out to possibly more than $120 million if a referendum were to be called today. The cost of actually changing the constitution, legal system, military or service emblems, insignias, unit badges and having a presidential election is rather unknown, but estimates vary from $500 million to $1 billion.
Taking into consideration of all the costs, one can also point to the morality of having a republic in the first place by questioning the loss of attention and focus towards societal issues and specifically, who it really benefits. Spending such money would seem to some wasteful and more productive and useful through funding initiatives that would alleviate homelessness, mitigate domestic violence, assist sections of society who suffer from mental or physical illness or disability, especially discharged servicemen and women, or increase pensions/concessions to pensioners and or to the most excluded and disadvantaged members of society. To put it another way, you either fund a change in constitution or you fund programs that have a beneficial effect on society. Funding a change of system would be for many, neglecting the ‘real issues’ so to speak.
A Right to Revolution:
Many republican aspirers forget to realise that modern republicanism was founded upon the natural rights of individuals taking not only a political foundation, but also theoretically revolutionary foundation. These natural rights of individuals where theorised by political thought from Locke, Montesquieu and Hume, and not informed by traditional and ancestral authority (i.e. a monarch). These inalienable natural rights constituted one’s individual liberty to pursue happiness which were determined through human reasoning. Accordingly, they dictated the character of which government took, and nevertheless, the extent and end of government. Therefore, government was formed on the consent of equal, rights-bearing individuals, in order for individuals to secure and ensure that their natural rights were protected. Where governments of any form exceed the authority or undermined the natural rights of citizens, the masses were guaranteed a right of revolution. Hence, the revolutionary nature of the American War of Independence. The Second Amendment to the US Constitution may however be utilised as a means of self-defence, however, its true instrument lies in the defence of the state, as well as overthrowing an oppressive and tyrannical government(s). In other words, having a republic not only ensures a right to depose a government that exceeds authority, but also right to bear arms to ensure a right of revolution.
Change of Flag:
Some argue that a change of system should result in a change of flag as the Union Jack reflects our English, Scottish and Irish heritage as well as our direct constitutional connection with our sovereign (HM Queen Elizabeth II). Such a change will inevitably put our national heritage into question, but will predominately incur unnecessary disrespect to those who have fallen and bled for the defence of this country. Proponents for changing the flag would claim that many Australians have fought under various British ensigns during the conflicts prior to WW1 that Australia has been involved in, however, it is important to note the ultimate sacrifice that many Australians have given in theatres such as Vietnam and Afghanistan. Changing the flag will denigrate their service and will leave our past and current servicemen and women with no flag to draw to in times of solidarity and remembrance.
Accountability and Democracy:
Moreover, the Westminster-style parliamentary system of government that is exercised in the Australian context, dictates that ministers are directly responsible and accountable of the actions of their department rather than upward forms of accountability applying up until the agency or department head. However, secretaries are not responsible or accountable to an authority in the US political context, as they utilise the model of New Public Management which stresses the entrepreneurial autonomy of agency heads.
Lastly, the US system of government emphasis on leadership and strategic planning shares values of Michael Moore’s theory of ‘public value’. As public value entails the encouragement and empowerment of public servants in generating public value, rather than following their own self-interests or instructions by a hierarchy, this empowering is seen by a number of scholars as giving public servants the right to dictate the directions of the state. Which under Westminster-style parliamentary systems of government, usurps minsters’ democratic legitimacy who through elections are brought to power, unlike apolitical public servants who are not elected.