Saturday, June 13, 2009

Book Review: G Barns & A Krawec-Wheaton (2006), An Australian Republic

Almost ten years ago, 55 per cent of Australians rejected the opportunity to rid Australia of the British monarchy and allow our national Parliament to select an Australian head of state. In Greg Barns and Anna Krawec-Wheatons book An Australian Republic they state they believe republican fortunes could change rapidly. They examine how the opportunity can be grasped, how the conditions necessary for achieving consensus can be constructed and how the political will to tackle the complex issues of constitutional change can be generated.

Both have excellent credentials in this field: Greg Barns was national chairman of the Australian Republican Movement (ARM) from 2000 to 2002 and national campaign director for the 1999 referendum campaign YES case, while Krawec-Wheaton is a recent PhD graduate with a thesis focusing on Australia's republican movement.

In March 2006, John Howard acknowledged there was no guarantees about the English monarchy's future in Australia after Queen Elizabeth II dies or abdicates. In An Australian Republic Barns and Krawec-Wheaton argue that in 2006 the Australian public was broadly republican in sentiment and that forces within both major political parties were sympathetic. For Australia to move to a republic they argue there needs to be widespread receptiveness and enthusiasm for the issue: in other words a preparedness and readiness for change by the public. Polls conducted continue to show that Australians are ready for a republic.

But for an Australian republic to be delivered, more is required. Those underlying sentiments need to be given voice. They need to be captured by a social-movement organisation, as was the case in the 1990s with the establishment of the ARM. However, the central factor needed for the republican cause is agreement between the decision makers. There needs to be agreement upon what form a republic will take. As Barns and Krawec-Wheaton point out, the real problem is disunity inside the republican camp. This book is a blueprint towards building a consensus among the major players and advancing the republican cause in twenty-first century Australia. Rather than focus on the variety of possible models that a future republic might take, this book examines how the opportunity might be grasped.

The challenge ahead is how do we get to an Australian republic? Barns and Krawec-Wheaton have made some ground in showing us the way. The first step is unity between republican protagonists and compromise on an agreed model.