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Tuesday, 24 September 2002
Page: 4793

Senator CROSSIN (8:16 PM) —I am a strong supporter of Australia becoming a republic and believe that the future of this country lies in us forging our independence and carving out a direction for this country that all Australians can relate to and will treasure and respect into the next century. Following the 1999 referendum, I decided to become involved in the Australian Republican Movement to ensure that the voices of rural and regional Australia, particularly the voices of Indigenous Australians, were considered in any future debate.

I have often struggled with the notion of whether the republican debate can be best advanced by people such as me using this parliament and our public position to advance the issues or whether it is better to let other people in the country—the grassroots, those in the suburbs or the regions—pick up and run with the cause. Given the events of last week, it may well be that it is time to strike a balance between the two, although there have been some interesting contributions and responses about the role of politicians and the issue of the republic in the media during the last few days.

Valid criticisms of the republican movement and suggestions for changes or positive marketing are always welcome. But I do not believe that the cause is well served by using the issue as a means of political attack on a member of another political party, especially when the person has not had an elected role within the organisation related to the republican movement for the last two years. Shaun Carney in the Age last Saturday proffered that the critique of the Australian Republican Movement put forward last week was `pithy' when it called the ARM `out of touch' and even `ineffectual'. He does, though, raise the genuine question of how the republic will ever become a first-order issue.

Last Thursday, the Australian Republican Movement announced its new leadership team. Since being established in 1991, the ARM has been led by Tom Keneally, Malcolm Turnbull and Greg Barnes, and it is now led by Professor John Warhurst. Since the referendum defeat of 1999, the Australian Republican Movement has sought to broaden its membership, its appeal and its policy development. It survives on membership subscriptions and fundraising activities alone, as do most of the other organisations that I am associated with—and I am sure this is the case for most other Australians.

The Australian Republican Movement is managed and controlled through a national committee and state and territory committees, the memberships of which are democratically elected. Once you join the Australian Republican Movement—for a very modest and affordable fee, these days, of only $36 for a single; note, it is not in the hundreds—you can then nominate and vote in the elections. To suggest that the ARM should be disbanded without proffering a replacement or a different model of operation or representation is nothing but mischievous.

The new national committee is made up of state nominees and those who are directly elected. Amongst its membership there is broad representation, including people who are Indigenous or from ethnic backgrounds, women and youth. I do not believe there is a better way to organise a national body. The new committee is quite aware of looking at tackling some of the difficult issues and challenges ahead of it and this movement.

During the last 12 months, the Australian Republican Movement have participated in the Corowa conference, out of which came six models for an Australia republic. They have taken the campaign to country towns, to schools and even to pubs. There has been a women's network within the republican movement established, and the membership base has been broadened. Last weekend there were over 120 people at the New South Wales conference.

While most Australians support a republic, there is still much debate to occur on the appropriate model. But such discussion needs the active support of politicians in our country, particularly from those in the leadership. The vote for statehood in the Northern Territory, held in conjunction with the 1998 federal election, was not successful. History books will show that the person most responsible for this was the Chief Minister at that time, Mr Shane Stone. He hijacked the agenda and the question and insisted on a question that was confusing and sought to intertwine two separate issues on the matter.

Similarly, the person most deserving of the responsibility for ensuring that the referendum went down in 1999, as the national director of the Australian Republican Movement suggested in an article last Tuesday, was the Prime Minister. It is true that no Commonwealth referendum has ever succeed without the support of the Prime Minister of the day. So perhaps the criticism of the 1999 result is best targeted elsewhere, rather than at the ARM.

Samantha Maiden from the Adelaide Advertiser raised the issue of perception on the Insiders program last Sunday. She thought that the Adelaide Crows would, to quote her words, `go down in flames' that day. But there you go—anything is possible. Perception is important, but it is just as important that people understand what the Australian Republican Movement is trying to achieve and to sign up to it, including the media, and to ensure they are committed to making it happen. Ray Cassin suggested in the Sunday Age that the republic `has failed to reclaim a place in the public imagination and it has failed to excite'. I believe that most people are supportive of Australia becoming a republic, but that does not mean to say that it has to be on the front page of every paper and on everyone's lips every single minute of the day for it to reclaim a place or to excite ordinary citizens.

As I look around this chamber, I can see that this country is riddled with tradition and that this will take some time to change. World events over the last 12 months have not assisted in pushing the republic agenda; everyone's security has been severely threatened. Of course, moving to a republic would mean enormous change for this country. Further debate is needed about various aspects of the republic, not only about which of the six models should be adopted but also about whether the president should be directly elected or elected by the parliament, whether there should be a declaration of rights within our Constitution or even whether the Constitution should be rewritten and modernised. The new chairman of the Australian Republic Movement, Professor John Warhurst, said in the Sunday Telegraph some days ago:

Politics is about organisations like the ARM taking opportunities provided by political leaders as well as making their own. The two must go together.

But the two must also be balanced. Ideas, enthusiasm and assistance rather than criticism and disdain are needed in order to push this agenda forward. We need to ensure that the cause is advanced and reinvigorated rather than stifling the debate and hijacking the issues by ill-informed statements.

Senate adjourned at 8.25 p.m.