Republicanism, Optimism and Demography

I opened the new national office of the Australian Republican Movement last night.
Opening the National Office of the Australian Republican Movement
10 September 2012

[Acknowledgements omitted.]

There is no more appropriate place for the ACT National Office than in Canberra, the one jurisdiction in Australia that voted for a Republic in 1999.

Of course, Canberra also voted for Waltzing Matilda as our national song.

So if the rest of Australia was like Canberra, we’d be a Republic with a national song about a sheep rustler.

This is also a great suburb in which to have the ARM office.

Not only are we a stone’s throw from my home in Hackett, but the suburb of Watson carries a great lineage.

Chris Watson was Labor’s first Prime Minister.

He only lasted 3 months in the job but I am sure your term of office here will far exceed this.

There are also similarities between the ARM and Watson.

Courtesy and tact.

The ability to turn defeat into victory.

Having lost office to George Reid’s conservatives, Watson later helped to end Reid’s Government.

In similar fashion I know the next referendum for an Australian Head of State will favour Republicans.

Watson is also home to the Australian Catholic University. And ACU Vice Chancellor (and Republican) Greg Craven has a neat line in his book Conversations with the Constitution that sums up the challenge of the Republican cause.

‘Saying the Australian Constitution does not have a strong hold on our popular imagination is like saying fish survive better in water than on land: a statement so obvious as to be remarkable only because someone could be bothered making it.’

But that does not make it an insurmountable challenge.

The more time I spend observing and studying politics, the more I realise the importance of opportunity and timing.

I do believe that when the opportunity presents itself for change our Constitution will have a stronger hold on the imagination of Australians.

The challenge is create a sense of urgency and need for Constitutional reform.

However, I fear the task just got more difficult.

Prince Harry might be doing too good a job of promoting the attractions of the Monarchy.

But more seriously, we are now in a new media space that will require a new and innovative strategy if we are to create the desire for change.

Inane repetition of slogan and appeals to the lowest common denominator are an easy path for Monarchists, and frustratingly do gain traction though the media.

Phrases like ‘Don’t know? Vote no.’, and ‘Vote no to the politicians’ Republic’ were used effectively against the Republican cause.

Their architect, Tony Abbott, is still putting to use the strategies he first deployed in 1999.

The good news is that they eventually lose their potency.

It proved true – over a century on – for the anti-Billites who opposed federation.

It is proving true now with the Coalition.

It will prove true for our progression to being a Republic.


People often suggest that the timing of Australia’s Republican revival depends on the demographics of the Royal Family.

But I think Australia’s demographics matter more.

Australia’s future lies in our region. We have been enriched by Asian migrants, and so many of us now work, study and holiday in Asia.

In a submission to the Asian Century White Paper process, Senator Lisa Singh and I argued that a corollary of our engagement with Asia is Australia becoming a Republic.

The other demographic change is generational.

I want the children here today  to be able to aspire to be Australia’s head of state.

They deserve no less.

It is with the greatest pleasure that I open the new national office of the Australian Republican Movement.

And while I am pleased to do this, I will be even more delighted when we return to close it.

When the work of the ARM is done, and Australia has finally become a Republic.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.