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Thursday, 9 December 2004
Page: 110

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (4:01 PM) —This report is titled The road to a republic and came from an inquiry into, as the title would suggest, the best way forward towards Australia becoming a republic if and when the nation chooses to do so. It is a report that was criticised by some in the community as being a waste of time. People said, `Well, we had a referendum on that. Any more discussion is a waste of time.' I think that is a very misguided approach. There is no doubt that the majority of the Australian people would like to see Australia become a republic, and the debate is about how that should best happen. I think it is appropriate to have a process for engaging with the community about how best it should happen in a way that takes it out of the heated political environment that you get around the time of referendums and leading up to them. So I think it is a valuable report.

This inquiry was another initiative of the Democrats. I gave a commitment as Leader of the Democrats some time back that we would seek to initiate a report on this issue. We were able to do so, and I thank members of the committee, including my Democrat colleague Senator Stott Despoja, for their contribution to the inquiry. The key aspect that I think needs to be emphasised is the importance of respecting and acknowledging all the different views in the community about how best we could move towards a republic—and indeed those views of the people in the community who do not believe it is a good idea, do not believe it is necessary or do not believe it is a sufficiently worthwhile priority to put resources and energy towards. It is certainly my view and that of my Democrats colleagues, indeed it is our party's policy, that we should seek to become a republic. As to the nature and structure of that republic, that has to be a matter for the Australian people. In some ways, the process of determining that can add to the richness and value of the republic itself when it is eventually adopted by vote of the Australian people.

I should say that, whilst my language may suggest that I think it is inevitable, I actually do not think it is inevitable that we become a republic. All sorts of things can happen and can change. It certainly will not happen in and of itself by osmosis; it does need people in the community to continue to promote the idea. Certainly that is something I am committed to. I do not know whether it is appropriate or necessary to disclose this, but I am a member of the Australian Republican Movement and a former office-bearer. I would like to put in a belated apology for missing their AGM in Queensland last week. I thought I would be able to get to that, but I did not. I believe that organisation, particularly in the last year or so, has done a lot of valuable work at grassroots level trying to engage people in the ongoing debate. This is not something that is going to happen in a hurry; it could well be some time. That is why I am personally disappointed that we did not take the opportunity while it was there.

The key thing is to ensure that there is another opportunity for those of us who believe it is the way to go, and I think it is a majority of the community who believe that. The debate should continue, but there is no reason why the debate should be an aggressive or abusive one—it can be not only civilised but also constructive. As I said before, sometimes the process of having a debate, even with people who disagree with going down that path, can value-add to the eventual outcome. I spoke before on another document about the history of Australia in relation to migration—and, flowing on from that, our history as a multicultural nation—and the benefits of engaging more with the world. I am, speaking individually, somebody who believes there are more benefits than costs in globalisation. I think we need to be wary of the dangers, but we nonetheless need to engage with it. Multiculturalism and our immigration system is a key aspect of doing that.

I have absolutely no doubt that, whilst the benefits cannot be quantified in a dollar and cents sort of way, there would be significant economic, cultural, social and, dare I say, almost spiritual benefit to Australia if we were to become a republic, particularly in the way we present ourselves to the rest of the world and the way we engage with the rest of the world. I am talking about not just our own region in South-East Asia and the Pacific but also our more traditional areas of engagement like North America and Europe. I believe they will perceive us differently as a republic. Even the UK would in my view perceive us differently, and in some ways more positively, if we were to become a republic. It would value add to how we engage with the world in the globalised 21st century. I think it would be of extra benefit to us in all sorts of immeasurable ways. That does not mean we have to rush it inappropriately or try to force it down the throat of people who are still less than willing to receive it. It is something that, nonetheless, we should continue to promote and engage with. I believe the Senate, as is often the case, through its committee processes here has done a valuable job in helping move things down that path. I not only commend the report to the Senate and to the community but also commend the broader aim of continuing down the road to a republic to all Australians.