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Debate

[This was originally published in 1997 as THE ACM HANDBOOK, Key Facts and Opinions for the Republic Debate in Australia. Some minor editorial changes have been made. The Handbook  opened with the following preface and acknowledgements:

Our Charter is to defend the Australian system of government and the Australian Constitution. This handbook has been produced from materials forwarded to our ACM office by generous supporters, from our own comprehensive library which includes media monitoring since 1992, and from our field and media appearances when debating republicans and their arguments. The tireless efforts of our leader since formation, Mr Lloyd Waddy, QC are continually reflected in the philosophy and arguments presented in this handbook. We give our special thanks to Barbara and Lindsay Thomson, Gold Coast 'No Republic' branch for their invaluable contributions and research. In particular we thank our ACM supporters who have stood up for our cause through thick and thin. The spirit of thousands of voices pervades this handbook throughout in defence of our Australian Constitution and the role of the non-political Crown in it!

Kerry Jones
Executive Director, ACM

Editorial assistance, design and layout were donated by Clive Longstaff, and the volume was printed by Standard Publishing House, Rozelle NSW]

The history of republicanism in Australia is the history of an imagined destiny. The Australian republic is a two-century-old dream not realised.' (Mark McKenna "The Captive Republic. A history of republicanism in Australia 1788-1996". p1). The 1850s and especially the lead up to Federation in 1901 saw debate and discussion on the best system of government for Australia.

In the 1890s the peoples of the Australian colonies were more involved in the making of their constitution than the people of any of the world's other great democracies. The Australian Constitution came into effect on 1 January 1901 with the federation of the separate colonies into one, united, Australian nation. Since pre-Federation it is only in the 1990s that a serious attempt has been made to force republicanism on Australia.

This handbook, which is unequivocally and unashamedly written from the perspective of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy (ACM), is intended to provide our Supporters and spokespersons with arguments useful for debating those advocating a republic.

Whilst republicans have many different preferences for aspects of an Australian republic, they tend to argue on two levels; emotional and constitutional. The emotional lines usually centre on their perceived need for Australia having 'one of us' as Head of State, getting rid of the 'foreign' Queen, Australia needing to be independent, and the problems associated with the private lives of younger members of the Royal Family (and their ex's). Often, changes to symbols of our system of government and our national identity such as changes sought to our Australian flag, our national anthem, and our Government Houses are also linked into the emotional debate.

The constitutional debate, which is central to our ACM platform, focuses on the defects in the various models of republics as alternatives to our current working system of government; the problems with each of the methods advanced for appointing and dismissing a president, exposing the powers a president would have, and the dangers inherent in replacing the Governor-General as our non-political Head of State, which only the Crown can ensure, with a powerful political president.

There are many additional technically-complex constitutional questions which we must insist are addressed before any vote is taken on any republican model. These include subjects not generally recognised by the Australian people as fundamentally related constitutional issues such as each of the States being a separate constitutional monarchy. The possible content of a new preamble to a new constitution opens up a minefield of considerations. Should a new republican constitution include a bill of rights, abolish the federal Senate, abolish the States or local government, include provisions on controversial issues such as euthanasia, gun laws and abortion, deal with aboriginal reconciliation, include a commitment to the environment, incorporate the principal of citizen-initiated referendums, or abolish the current requirement for ongoing constitutional change to be preceded by a referendum? Added to these are all the other interests being proposed by various supporters of the republic. Or should these issues remain, as under our current constitution, the role of the parliament through its ongoing legislative programme with legal challenges decided by the High Court?

For citizens who like their country the way it is presently governed, our strongest case is still the adage 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it'. We have never claimed that our system of government is perfect, just that the republicans so far haven't offered anything better or justified good enough reasons for change. After all, we are surely right to be proud of living in the world's sixth oldest continuous democracy.

Only the people of Australia, voting through a referendum, can and will decide whether Australia will abolish the role of the Crown in a new republic. Of course this would mean a new constitution, a new identity and an unknown constitutional future.

We hope that armed with this handbook, in conjunction with other materials that support our ACM cause, all defenders of the Australian Constitution, and the role of the Crown in it, will be able to challenge and convincingly argue any case a republican might try to justify.

It is anticipated that as republican agitation increases towards the referendum, further handbooks with questions and answers, as well as guides on debating, will be published by ACM.

The words of Justice Michael Kirby, ACM Charter Signatory, summarise it all: 'I support reform of society and laws. But reform means more than change. It means change for the better. My proposition is that the establishment of a 'Federal Republic of Australia' would not be a change for the better ... Under the Constitution that has served Australia for nearly a century, we will all peacefully cast our ballots. No blood in the streets. No gunfire will accompany the result. We can rejoice in our mature Constitution. In the words of the poet laureate of practical people: 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it." 

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