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Monday, 24 March 2014
Page: 2954

Dr LEIGH (Fraser) (13:13): I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) prior to the 1999 referendum to alter the Constitution to establish the Commonwealth of Australia as a republic, many opponents (including monarchists and direct electionists) fomented the expectation that if the vote were defeated, another referendum would be put within a few years;

(b) 14 years on, public support for Australia becoming a republic remains solid; and

(c) Australian engagement with Asia has strengthened, with the former government's White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century reminding us that our future lies in our region; and

(2) calls upon the Parliament to make it a priority to hold a referendum to alter the Constitution to establish the Commonwealth of Australia as a republic, so that every Australian child can aspire to be our Head of State.

'Breathes there the man with soul so dead,

'Who never to himself hath said;

'This is my own, my native land!'

Those fine words from Walter Scott have never been uttered by any Australian head of state about Australia. Under our Constitution, they never could be uttered. That is because, while no British citizen can ever be Australia's head of government, only a British citizen can ever be Australia's head of state.

In 1999, Australia held a referendum. It was a three-cornered contest between bipartisan-parliamentary-appointment republicans, direct-election republicans and monarchists. As the member for Wentworth has pointed out, the monarchists:

… delightedly, if cynically, exploited the division by promising the direct electionists that if the parliamentary model was defeated at a referendum they could have another referendum on a direct election model within a few years.

That was half a generation ago.

Some counsel patience. They argue that the push for an Australian as head of state should wait until King Charles III ascends the throne. But that argument fundamentally misunderstands the argument for an Australian republic. Our quibble is not with Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles or any of their heirs and successors. Each of these individuals has done their job diligently. Indeed, a belief in the republic does not lessen our respect for them as individuals. In 2012, when Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall visited Canberra, I was pleased to welcome them on the tarmac of Canberra airport, wearing my Australian Republican Movement cufflinks. Respect and politeness for the royal family sits alongside my passionate belief that Australia should have one of our own as head of state.

Last year, Prince William and Kate Middleton welcomed their baby, George, into the world, and today 800 Australian babies will be born. I congratulate William, Kate and all of those parents. To be a parent is one of the greatest blessings we can receive, but I cannot for the life of me see why baby George is better suited to grow up to be an Australian head of state than any Australian baby. The 800 or so Australian children born today will grow up around gum trees and sandy beaches. They will call their friends 'mate' and barrack for the baggy green, the Wallabies and the Socceroos. Their success in life will not be decided by their surname. If they say they live in a castle, it will only be because they are quoting Darryl Kerrigan.

In short, those 800 babies born today will be Australians, and every one of them should be able to aspire to be our head of state. Some of those who disagree with this view sometimes claim that the Governor-General is our head of state. At best, this is a contentious, strained protestation. As members of the Parliament of Australia, we all swore or affirmed our allegiance to the Queen, not to the Governor-General. At state dinners visiting heads of state toast the Queen of Australia. It is her image that is on our currency. Australian government websites say, 'Australia's head of state is Queen Elizabeth II.'

The slogan 'Don't know? Vote no' has never been more powerful in Australian public life. Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister, used it when he was campaigning for the monarchy in 1999, and has deployed it relentlessly in recent years, including against a market-based solution to climate change, fibre-to-the-home broadband and fiscal stimulus to save jobs. It is a seductively simple line, but one that is more dangerous than ever as Australia grapples with complex challenges. In the Asian century, how do we think it looks to our Indonesian, Chinese, Japanese and Korean friends that we cannot shrug off the anachronism of having a member of the house of Windsor as our head of state? How does it sit with our claimed belief in the fair go when the qualification to be our head of state is to be British, white and preferably male? Is this really the image we want to project to the world?

Through this motion, I call upon the parliament to make it a priority to hold a referendum to make Australia a republic. In so doing, we will make it clear to ourselves and the world that instead of a foreign child in a foreign land, Australians trust an Australian child to grow up and be an Australian head of state—a child who knows their own, native land in their living, Australian soul.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Is the motion seconded?

Mr Perrett: I second the motion and I reserve my right to speak.