Comment

Craig Foster
Charles III and the future republic

Today, May 6, 2023, King Charles III will be crowned king of Australia and 14 other realms. It will be the first such ceremony in seven decades and the first in living memory for most Australians. It is clear the passing of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, in September last year has opened space for important conversations long avoided in Australia.

Fundamentally, it is a turning point for a former colony only now engaging with its ancient beginnings and just on the cusp of embracing its diverse demography with deep pride. Both of these things preclude continuing to support a head of state who represents an institution built on privilege, discrimination and hereditary entitlement.

Rarely has this been more evident than in the call by the new monarch for all Australians to call-out their allegiance and loyalty in a pledge that is better placed in the 16th century, certainly not in the 21st.

During the ceremony, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby will “call upon all persons of goodwill in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of the other realms and the territories, to make their homage, in heart and voice, to their undoubted king, defender of all”.

The tone-deafness of this request is staggering, although hardly surprising for an institution that can be protected only by propagating the notion of “specialness” and hereditary privilege that Australians culturally renounce with quite some venom.

Last year, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Rwanda, Charles said he could not “express the depths of personal sorrow at the suffering of so many” who endured slavery that was not only supported and protected by the Crown, but through which his own family directly profited.

How does one feel deep personal sorrow, then brazenly call on First Nations Australians and descendants of slaves across the Commonwealth to call-out their allegiance to the great “defender of all”?

If anything was to crystallise, in the minds of Australians, the sheer outdated nature of the monarchy, and the irreconcilability of it having future formal ties with our nation, this must be it.

It is worth repeating the pledge, which stands apart for its absurdity, audacity and exclusionary nature: “I swear that I will pay true allegiance to Your Majesty, and to your heirs and successors according to law. So help me God.”

Nothing can quite capture the erroneous nature of Australia’s constitutional arrangements than our head of state calling on us to pledge loyalty to him and his heirs when a true democracy demands the opposite.

It’s embarrassing. The next step for Australia can only be to ensure that our representatives pledge loyalty to Australia, our constitution and its people.

Since the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, the distance between Australia and the Crown has grown, on an emotional level at least. This has occurred at the same time our country is moving forward in a number of deeply important ways.

The most immediate is the movement towards truthful history and joining together with First Nations people in a process of healing and understanding historical wrongs.

Several hundred years in the making, this movement has the overwhelming support of Australians. Many of us have long waited for the country to deal with its complex history, to be prepared to have truthful conversations about racism and reconciliation, and to unite as one people at last.

Justice must underpin the process of symbolic and practical reconciliation. We are entering what will be a long and inspiring journey as a country – one that will ultimately enable us to confront the legacy of colonisation and dispossession, and to begin to properly appreciate Australia as home to the oldest living culture on earth.

This requires a healing process, a process in which the Crown cannot possibly participate, other than to acknowledge its wrongdoings and to let Australia walk its own path as an independent nation.

Sometimes events collide in a way that births new understandings. The coronation, the Uluru Statement from the Heart, the Voice to Parliament and the movement for representation of multicultural communities across society, all converge to open the path towards the next stage of life in Australia, a nation fully governed by Australians.

It is now abundantly evident that the Crown is an impediment to this journey.

We are ready as a nation to walk our talk and bring our contemporary demography to life in every way. The “agreement-making” anticipated in the Uluru statement can only be made between Australians.

Exactly 50 years after the White Australia Policy ended, Australia is entering a profoundly inspiring period where we can heal our past, own our present and look forward to a new unity where all the strands of our history are embedded in our national identity.

It is our responsibility to heal the wounds of history, our duty to come together as a people, our opportunity to chart a path forward together.

Just as we are learning to listen to First Nations people, so too is multicultural Australia seeking to be truly heard and seen in every institution, in media, corporate management and on boards, in councils and in parliaments.

True representation means having no barriers to positions of power and authority. The highest position in our nation – one that demonstrates to our children and the world what we value and believe in – is our head of state.

The moment when a First Nations Elder, or an eminent Australian from one of our more than 300 different cultural backgrounds, steps into the role to represent us will be a moment of immense significance in the story of Australia.

It will be a declaration that we are fully independent, diverse and living as equals.

As much as the next stage of Australian history is driven by new historical understandings, however, the republic is very much a celebration of all our history, including the inheritances of our British traditions.

Many Australians have great affection for the monarchy and we respect these views.

A republic should be a profoundly positive step and, as such, we will invite King Charles III to join with us to ensure a celebratory transition that acknowledges all aspects of our history.

We want to join with every citizen, whatever their view on 1788 and beyond, in a new compact where each Australian has equal access, representation and opportunity. The monarchy is just one aspect of our journey towards nationhood.

A republic is about all of us, standing proudly on the world stage in complete control of our own destiny, an active global citizen and a contributing member of the Asian region.

At the Australian Republic Movement, we are deeply sensitive to the need for First Nations people to maintain dialogue with the nation and we are building our capacity ready to begin conversations with all Australians from next year and beyond.

We are fully committed to a process of deliberation and consultation, to enable the Australian people to build a consensus on an appropriate model of constitutional change.

The word “republic” comes from “res publica”, the people’s affairs, and this next stage is so important that it is vital we take the time to consider who we are and how we wish to represent ourselves to the world.

We will have the opportunity to reconsider and shape our contemporary national values, to hear from every community, to carry our true history forward and to make a pledge – not to a foreign, unelected monarch, but to each other.

An Australian republic is about vesting sovereignty in us, the people, and striding into the future with confidence and ambition – reconciled, independent and proudly multicultural.

I hope you will join us. 

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 6, 2023 as "Long leave the king".

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