I’ve wanted Australia to become a republic for as long as I can remember.
In high school in 1999, I was desperately jealous of my older brother who got to vote in the referendum. Then I was bitterly disappointed when the plan was defeated, and mad that our head of state remained a distant Queen.
I still believe that we should embrace this change. But I’ve noticed that for many of my friends and contemporaries, the republic isn’t a priority.
Today every Australian state and territory leader, as well as both the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader came out in support of a republic.
It should have been a watershed moment, but instead it felt like the nation collectively shrugged its shoulders and said “And?”.
Younger Australians in particular seem to have largely dropped the baton on the republic, and I am not surprised.
A 2015 survey of Australian attitudes found that 54 per cent of Australians favour a republic. Of them, 29 per cent strongly favour one.
The same poll asked people what they thought the big issues facing the nation were. The top five answers were economy and jobs, better government, immigration, the environment and global warming, and terrorism.
The republic didn’t even get a category.
Republicans might be the majority. But young Australians are not as enthusiastic as older ones.
In 2013, the ABC’s Vote Compass asked people whether they believed Australia should become a republic and the group who was least enthusiastic were Australians aged 18-34.
Almost 40 per cent were against it, and a further 27.8 per cent were “neutral”. The cohort also had the lowest number (32.8 per cent) in favour of a republic.
Instead, young Australians seem to look at the debate and think: “There are so many other things I want fixed in our society.”
For many, deleting Queen Elizabeth II from the chain of command is not even a top ten priority.
They want to address climate change, marriage rights, recognition of Indigenous, health and incarceration rates, the cost of buying or even just renting a place to live in our capital cities, the increasing cost of university education, the lack of diversity at the top of politics, media and the private sector, domestic violence, the undermining of universal health care, children in detention, offshore detention, youth unemployment, homelessness and income inequality.
It’s not a short list.
When every single state and territory leader, the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader, all support the republic, it’s a true sign of how overdue the switch is. But today, when three major newspapers put that news on the front page it hardly ignited a groundswell of support.
Less than 7000 people have so far signed the petition that is the centrepiece of the campaign.
I think it’s because the Australian Republican Movement has taken up its former leader’s words and run with them.
On becoming Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull said any future Australian republic would have to be a movement driven by the people, not politicians.
Which is basically the PR approved way of saying, “I know there’s no real impetus out there, so I’m not going to waste political capital in my own party room trying to get this done”.
It’s a cop out. On every issue politicians should lead.
At some point, issues of governance and law become exactly that, issues for the government and our elected representatives.
The leaders all say they want a republic and the majority of the public supports it. So why are we still having this preliminary discussion?
Get on with it, draft a proposal and give people something to decide on. Until that happens, don’t be surprised if young Australians remain disengaged and focused on other issues where they feel change can happen.
It’s time for our political class to get moving. A petition will not solve this problem.