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I am starting to believe that there are very few true republicans in Australia. What we have instead is a bunch of wandering, aimless anti-monarchists who will latch onto any label to cover up the fact that they only have half an idea. When you ask these anti-monarchists what a republic is, they respond in unison 'not a monarchy'. A true republican would be aghast at their lack of interest, lack of knowledge and lack of support for a living, breathing republic.
The republicans had their chance in 1999. They blew that chance because they still hadn't come up with an acceptable model. Only the most naive among them would expect a second chance when they still haven't learned from their mistake. Only the most naive would expect a commitment to a republic from the Australian people without a commitment from the republicans on what the model will be. Nearly a decade out and they are still bleating about becoming a republic while ignoring the reason for their rejection.
Many republicans blame John Howard for their loss, but it is far from Howard's fault. It is true that the proposal put forward by Howard was a bad idea and was doomed to fail, but the same thing would have happened regardless of which model was put forward. Many suggest that we should have first had a referendum on whether to become a republic. However, such a referendum would be pointless. It would not commit the government to any action. If the republicans could not come up with an acceptable model before such a pointless referendum, getting a bunch of people to sit around a table for a summit is hardly going to produce an acceptable model after the referendum. You do not need a referendum to hold a summit. You do not need to commit to a republic before finding out what you are committing to.
What the republicans are desperate to prevent people from realising is that a republic sounds good in theory, but bad in practice. They want to make Australians commit to a republic and create enough political momentum behind the movement so that by the time people realise that the devil is in the detail, it will be too late and no politician will be prepared to reneg on a promise and put a stop to it.
What republicans fail to realise about the Australian people is that they don't care about the labels monarchy or republic. One thing we do care about is democracy, but we already have democracy - one of the most functional and stable democracies in the world. Unfortunately you cannot change from a monarchy to a republic without changing how our democracy works. So far, all the proposals for how to actually go about this change make the democracy less functional.
To get an idea of what a republic is in practice, ask an American. They get it drummed into them at school that America is not a democracy, but a republic. Australians, being practical people, can't make much sense of such an absurd statement. It sounds just as absurd as if our local anti-monarchist mobs tried to insist we were not a democracy because we are technically a monarchy.
We need to keep our focus on what matters, which is ultimately democracy. The anti-monarchists are prepared to sacrifice our democracy in order to become a republic. They inevitably try to sweep the practical issues about becoming a republic under the carpet, instead insisting that so long as we get rid of the Queen everything will work out fine in the end. Well, it won't.
We are a democracy. The democratically elected Prime Minister runs the country, not the Queen. The position of Governor General is a largely ceremonial position, but still an important one. If giving the Queen technical authority over approving a candidate for a ceremonial position is what it takes to have a functioning democracy then I am more then happy to swallow my pride and call myself a democrat.
Until such time as the republicans stop bleating about a republic and start communicating about democracy, they stand no chance of convincing everyday Australians to make an unnecessary change that may well leave them far worse off.