THE election of a conservative government provides a wonderful opportunity for the progressive side of politics to reboot the drive for an Australian Republic.
As a government, Labor was compromised by being part of the establishment and appointing a well-liked Governor-General.
Now they are free to take up the cudgels, particularly if Prime Minister Abbott appoints the awful Peter Cosgrove as Quentin Bryce’s successor. But neither they, nor the broader republican movement, should allow themselves to be trapped into an argument about the British royal family.
The real issue is a declaration of our repudiation of the British colonial policies that still help to define our self-perception and our place in the world. The monarchy is just the sweet icing on a poisonous cake.
I must admit that, until recently, I was a fairly tepid republican, despite the fact that I joined the Republican Party as a 15-year-old after cutting out an advertisement in “The Bulletin”. It was not until I became engrossed in the research for “Dark Paradise”, my book on the horrific history of Norfolk Island, that I realised just how appalling British colonial policies were.
It was no surprise, of course, that they declared Australia terra nullius despite the obvious presence of human inhabitants (who just happened to possess the oldest continuous living culture the world had known). But the reasons behind it are less well appreciated.
In the British perception, because they were black they were not quite human; after all, the British had been trading in black humans for 250 years with no fewer than 10,000 voyages, most to support their slave colonies in the West Indies. Indeed, by 1760, only a decade before Cook’s arrival on the east coast, British ships carried no fewer than 42,000 of the 85,000 Africans traded each year; and in such terrible conditions that often a quarter of them failed to survive the journey.
Nor is it well understood that Australia itself was a slave colony, the only difference being that the 168,000 slaves shipped here were white. The spin doctors of the day labelled them “convicts” because they had been convicted, overwhelmingly of petty infractions, by a system in which the industrial revolution produced an underclass that was superfluous to requirements. They were joined by the Irish whose principal crime was to resist the British invasion and theft of their country. And the conditions of their voyages across the world were often no better than that afforded their black equivalents.
Having slaved for their British masters, often in irons and at the business end of a lash, they were released to become an Australian underclass to the Bunyip aristocracy. Only the discovery of gold in 1851 challenged the British class system and provided the foundation for an independent economy and the eventual creation of a self-governing nation.
But the British stain remains; and it will never be expunged until we declare ourselves independent of the historical horrors they perpetrated. And the comic opera that is the hereditary monarchy at the apex of our governance will take its place among the relics of a violent and sorry heritage.