Peter FitzSimons to head Australian republic campaign
A prominent journalist and author has been elected to the post of chairman of the Australian Republic Movement and is keen to mount an early challenge to the right of British Royalty to rule the once British convict colony.
Republicans see the high profile FitzSimons as the man who can make the difference. FitzSimons has been the author of nine books of Australian history. He is a prominent newspaper and radio journalist, and has served on many boards and committees including the Australian War Memorial, the ANZAC Centenary Advisory Board, the Sydney Writers Festival, the Senate of Sydney University, and numerous sporting committees.
FitzSimons was named a Member of the Order of Australia in 2011 for service to literature, journalism, conservation, disability care, and sporting organisations. As a rugby player, Peter FitzSimons represented Australia against France and New Zealand as a lock from 1989 to 1990. He has a degree in government and political science from the University of Sydney. He also had a year in Ohio on a field scholarship. Peter FitzSimons is a Fairfax Media columnist and is married to Nine Network’s Lisa Wilkinson. They have three children.
“I do believe that Tony Abbot will be Australia’s last monarchist Prime Minister,” FitzSimons has been reported as saying. “Whatever happens from this point, should it be Labor or should it be another Liberal, in all likelihood there will soon be bipartisan support in the federal leadership for a republic,” he said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has already declared his support for a republic with this statement: “Like all Australians, I have tremendous respect for Queen Elizabeth. She has fulfilled her constitutional responsibilities with grace for many years, but I don’t believe we have to wait for a change of monarch to renew the republic debate.”
Republicanism in Australia as a movement dates from 1832 when Horatio Wills, the son of a convict published The Currency Lad in which he promoted Australia as a republic. In 1854 some participants in the revolt at the Eureka Stockade in Victoria were openly republican and some later republican movements adopted the Eureka flag.
As the Australian colonies moved toward federation in 1901, republicanism was widely debated, but the country was fully engaged in the process of federation, and declaring a republic was seen as one step too far at a critical stage in the constitutional evolution.
Republicanism in Australia was re-awakened by the dismissal of the Gough Government by the Governor-General in 1975, but again the majority were in favour of the status quo.
In recent years the Australian Labor Party has actively pursued the republican aim with Prime Ministers Bob Hawke and Paul Keating in favour. But a referendum scheduled to be held in 1998 was replaced by a Constitutional Convention after royalist Prime Minister John Howard ousted labour in 1996. At that time a majority of Australians favoured a republic, but there was disagreement on the structure of it. Finally, a referendum was held in 1999, at a time when many Australians were becoming wearied by the debate, and the republican proposition was defeated.
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Frequent objections to having a republic have been that it would be seen as an insult to the Royal Family. Others believe that Australia would no longer be eligible to be a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, but little do they seem to realise that most Commonwealth members are in fact republics, and the Queen still visits those countries as head of the Commonwealth without being offended in the least.
Another frequently expressed objection is that Australia would be too much like America, as though America was the world’s only republic. In fact republics outnumber all other systems of government combined. In the 21st century a republic is the normal and accepted constitutional system, while kingdoms and constitutional monarchies are very much in the minority. Another objection often stated is that the time is not right and the right time would be after a monarch has been crowned. But that is a bit like saying, no time will ever be the right time.