The Indonesian spying controversy threw into stark relief Australia’s problem of finding a comfortable and productive place among its regional neighbours in this so-called Asian Century. Indeed, you have to wonder whether it is possible while an Anglophile like Tony Abbott is running the Government,
When he took his Prime Ministerial oath of office, Abbott broke recent precedent and swore allegiance to the Queen rather than the Australian people. This was a remarkable reversion to the colonial mindset.
No doubt it won the approval of his political mentor John Howard and monarchists like Professor David Flint. But for others – myself included – it revived the whole issue of the republican movement. I suspect that we will never really secure the respect and ready acceptance of our neighbours while we see ourselves as an island of Anglos in the SouthPacificSea.
The colonial past should not be so hard to discard. That era to which the Abbotts and Howards are so attached was not pretty. It was British colonial policy that decimated the Aboriginal people and destroyed their culture with barely a backward glance. We all live with that shame today, despite the apologies from the Australian Government (and not a word of regret from the British).
It was British colonial policy to send 168,000 white slaves – under the clever soubriquet of ‘convict’ – across the world in appalling conditions to work under the lash for the Bunyip Aristocracy.
It was British colonial policies that a century ago next year gave us a war that sacrificed the flower of a generation at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. Most important, it was the colonial White Australia policy that labelled us racists for almost 100 years and alienated us from our regional neighbours. The Indonesian spying incident revealed how sensitive the issue remains.
But Australia is not the same nation as the one that enshrined the British monarch in a constitution negotiated in the 19th century. Today we are proudly multi-cultural. Today China is the third biggest migrant source after Britain and New Zealand. Most Australians – whose heritage is drawn from the four corners of the world – have no connection to the colonial policies visited upon us by the British. They should not be required to suffer for them.
During a recent lecture tour of three universities in Shanghai and Xi’an I was struck by the awareness among the students of that crime against humanity when the British flooded China with opium to repair the finances of their Indian colony. They have neither forgotten nor forgiven; and for Australia to still tug the forelock to Britain is not just silly, it’s unnecessarily provocative.
The issue is not the current royal family. Even the Governor-General Quentin Bryce realises it is incongruous for us to remain beholden to a foreign European power for our Head of State. But more importantly, we will never be secure in our neighbourhood until we make that decisive break with our colonial past. And we start that process by declaring ourselves a republic…a perfect project for 2014.