|Issue No 37||29 October 1999|
Yes, It's Time
Opposition leader Kim Beazley invoked the spirit of '72 when he launched the ALP's Republic campaign.
Men and women of Australia!
Almost 27 years ago to the day, we gathered in this very place to herald the birth of a new Australia - to usher in a new and more self-confident era in the history of our young nation.
I welcome the presence here today of the man who launched that campaign - Gough Whitlam.
Gough's campaign launch in 1972 sounded the death knell for a conservative colonial timidity which was unworthy of a nation with such great potential.
Gough opened our eyes to the world beyond our shores. Even more importantly, he opened our eyes to the great things we could achieve if only we believed in ourselves and in our country.
It really was time.
Now it's time again.
It's time for confidence and optimism.
It's time for pride in our nation and what we have achieved.
It's time to say to the kids playing in backyards throughout Australia - "You are good enough to become our Head of State".
We in the Australian Labor Party have a special responsibility in this.
Our Party was there when the colonies federated to create this nation nearly a century ago.
It has always been the workers of Australia who have forged our nation's wealth.
At the close of last century it was the workers of Australia who forged a new nation.
I think of the gold miners in Kalgoorlie - men with life expectancies of no more than 40 years - being slowly killed by their dirty, dangerous work.
These were the men who voted for something bigger than themselves - who honoured our past, but were not afraid to embrace a different kind of future.
Labor was there then, and we are there again today.
But remember - the republican cause is not just a Labor cause.
Men and women of all political persuasions have struggled long and hard to bring about an Australian Head of State.
The debate has raged down through this century, exciting the deepest passions and convictions along the way.
But, my friends, the republican debate is over.
In the hearts and minds of the Australian people, the battle for the republic has been won.
We know a substantial majority of Australians now want an Australian as their Head of State.
And yet ... And yet... We also know that the vote on November 6th still hangs in the balance.
It hangs in the balance because those who oppose a Republic have engaged in the oldest tactic of all.
They seek to divide and conquer.
They seek to turn one republican against another.
They seek to persuade those republicans who favour direct election to vote against the proposal before us in the referendum.
They say that that which divides us as republicans is more important than the great cause which unites us.
Make no mistake. We who believe in an Australian Head of State have been set a trap.
How else can you describe it, when the monarchists suddenly discover within themselves a long dormant passion for direct election?
Make no mistake. What this is, is a trap. If we republicans fall into it, if we divide, and if the referendum fails, we will have done it to ourselves.
Let's ask ourselves - if the referendum fails on November the 6th, do you think the Prime Minister and all those who have worked so hard to prevent a Republic will proclaim this as a victory for direct election?
The Prime Minister and those who support him will have that for which they have schemed and plotted all along - a defeat for our great cause.
They will say that we republicans were conned, and that they did us over.
And they will be right.
For those of you who think that it's only a passing phase - and that there will be another referendum soon down the track - let me say this:
Since Federation, the story of our nation has been one of gradual, steady, incremental development of our system, of our Constitution, and of our relationship with the British Crown.
That story will not end on November 6.
We who are here today cannot simply write "The End".
The story will go on, and none of us can know how it will continue, how it will read to future generations.
Will there be another referendum?
What we do know is that this Prime Minister certainly won't be putting up a model for direct election, and it is going to be very tough for anyone else - myself included - to justify the time and expense of another referendum so soon after one failure.
If there is another referendum, when will it be?
What we do know is that a 'no' vote will set the republican cause back years, but more probably, decades.
Will we have a vote on a directly-elected President?
What we do know is the real danger that the two-thirds of Australians who support a republic will split into two camps and end up effectively vetoing each other's positions for a generation or more, pleasing no-one but the monarchists.
My friends, you do not initiate change by rejecting it.
We cannot build on failure.
But we can build on success.
Once we have made the decision for an Australian Head of State, then we can move on to a new Constitutional Convention, and the debate so many Australians clearly want on the method of election, and all the associated issues.
We will have a chance to continue to write the republican story, having begun with a safe, workable and important new chapter.
Whatever your views of the model on offer - it is in every respect an improvement on our current arrangements; while in no way being worse.
But we cannot write a new republican story if we slam the book shut on November 6.
On November 6, we will be remembered as having written either:
that we so believed in ourselves and in our future that we chose to have an Australian as our Head of State; or
that we were so lacking in self-confidence that we chose to have as our Head of State a foreign monarch who, whatever her admirable qualities, rightly gives her first loyalty to another country.
So this generation faces its test: away to elitism, away to self-doubt.
Let us walk into the next century confident that our institutions are ours.
That our Head of State is not decided within one family, in which men are preferred over women, and where only one religion will do.
That we have a Head of State who can be any man or woman, of any ethnic or religious background; just as long as he or she is one of us.
There is nothing hereditary about this, but it is our inheritance.
We don't look for our most important national symbol to a distant monarchy - however ancient and admirable - but at those around our kitchen table, and the warmth, compassion, creativity, and can-do spirit that have defined our nation for nearly a century.
I can promise Australians that if they vote yes on November 6, they will never forget the day they did it.
They will be part of history. They will be able to tell their children and grandchildren that they played their part.
I ask you this: who in the 1920s would have stood up and said that they were proud to have voted against Federation?
There are times when a sense of history in the making is in the air. This is one such time.
It is nowhere better described than in a letter written at he time of last year's Constitutional Convention.
It's a typical Australian's letter, written by an old digger.
It has that special blend of toughness and tenderness that is all our own.
The tenderness is incredibly moving. With the permission of the author, I'd like you to hear some extracts from it today.
"Probably due to my age, I am a monarchist. Unquestionably my military service encouraged this state of mind. A consequence of this service was that I
was at the local celebration of the ceremony celebrating the 75th anniversary of Anzac. I was passed a flame symbolically passing on the spirit of Anzac. It may sound naive, but it was serious and seriously emotional. I shed tears and, ashamed, hid them from contemporaries.
I have been viewing the people's convention on ABC television. I am impressed enormously, not by the 'big end of town', but by the sincerity, intellect and lucidity of the young speakers. I remember less of what they espoused than of their images. I recall a beautiful young woman who appeared to be Eurasian in background. I recall an earnest, bespectacled young man, a lady with outrageous hair and so many others.
I don't really agree with any of them, but they are young, they are beautiful, and they are Australian. They are exactly the reason, indeed, the core of the rationale, that impelled me to forsake hearth and home and bear arms to distant lands in the name of 'democracy'.
I wish to pass the flame to them. I have absolute confidence that they will get it right. Anyway, the flame is burning my fingers."
"Go for it, young Australia. I'll explain it to the boys who died for king and country when I have my annual chat at first light on April 25."
Men and women of Australia, there are times when the flame must be passed.
This is one of them.
After all, it's time.
Presented at Blacktown Civic Centre, Sunday October 24.
Republic: Yes, It's Time
Opposition leader Kim Beazley invoked the spirit of '72 when he launched the ALP's Republic campaign.
Interview: What Price a Just Republic?
Magistrate Pat O’Shane is far from happy with the republican model. But she still believes a Yes vote is her best chance for genuine constitutional reform.
Economics: Who the EFIC are you?
If you have not heard of Export Credit Agencies, don't be surprised because it seems they're not too interested in letting the public know what they do.
Unions: Old Habits Die Hard
With the release of its blue print [email protected] the ACTU seems to know where it wants to go. But again it has failed to face up to the underlying structural issues preventing it from getting there.
Legal: Second Wave: Reith's Non-Right to Strike
Peter Reith has called his new laws the Workplace relations Amendment (More Jobs Better Pay) Bill 1999. If legislation is to carry these new, colloquial titles then the ‘More Control, Less Freedom’ Bill would be a better title.
International: Wahid’s New Team
Indonesias new government is blemished by Suharto-era appointees but an advance for reform, says Indonesia’s trade unions.
History: They Fought Them on the Airwaves
Radio broadcasts were an important weapon in the long-running struggle for equal pay.
Satire: Revealed: SOCOG Reserving Gold Medals for Tattersalls
The scandal over the secret allotment of premium tickets for the 2000 Olympics escalated today with the news that members of Sydney’s elite Tattersall’s Club will receive Gold Medals without actually competing.
Review: What The Age Wouldn’t Print
Some time before Monday 18 October, Age editor Michael Gawenda saw red and then got out his blue pencil. An article, heavily critical of Robert Manne, written by Overland editor Ian Syson, was pulled by Gawenda.
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005