Middle Secondary – Making a Nation – Focus question 4: Should Australia become a republic?

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Middle Secondary – Making a Nation – Focus question 4: Should Australia become a republic?


The United States has been a republic (a country with an elected head) since 1776. This was one outcome of the War of Independence. The Australian head of state remains the Queen or King of England.
While there were people who thought Australia should become a republic at the time of Federation (and before) they were in a minority. Few, if any, of the colonial delegates to the Convention believed that ties with Britain should be cut in this way. There remained a strong idea among these leaders that, while Australia might be a new country, it was a new British country.
In 1901, 80 per cent of Australia's population was born in Australia but for most of these their parents were born in the British Isles. Of Australia's population who had been born overseas more than 40 per cent were born in England and more than 10 per cent in Scotland. 'Home' for much of the Australian population remained elsewhere, and for most it was the United Kingdom. (You should note also that about 20 per cent were born in Ireland and were definite that they had not been subjects of the United Kingdom.)
Issues about the capacity of Australia to defend itself against foreign invasion were in the front of people's minds. In the early years of the twentieth century, the British navy was the strongest in the world and it was felt that Britain would come to Australia's aid if and when it became necessary.
When he presented the first defence bill to the Commonwealth Government in 1903, Sir John Forrest said that the purpose of the new armed forces was to protect Australia. But he also said:
We ... will ... assist in maintaining the integrity and the power of our [British] Empire. It is our Empire and not the Empire of other people, and we are under an obligation to assist in maintaining it, not in the interests of others, but in our own interests, which I hold, are identical with the interests of the British race.
Although Australians had little idea of the causes of World War I (1914-18) there was a great deal of enthusiastic public support for Britain and its role in the war. Andrew Fisher, the Labor Prime Minister, said at the beginning of the War that Australians would 'stand beside our own' and 'defend Britain to our last man and our last shilling'.
Little had changed prior to the outbreak of World War II (1939-45). In his first statement on defence policy (in April 1939) Prime Minister Menzies said:
Britain's peace is precious to us because her peace is ours. If she is at war, we are at war ... The British countries of the world must stand together or fall together.
Australia relied on Britain for many other things as well. In 1938 it was estimated that about 85 per cent of the foreign news published in Australia's newspapers came directly from London. Until 1966 Britain was the most frequent destination for the goods Australia produced and even into the early 1980s Britain provided more foreign investment in Australian industry than any other country.
However, in World War II, the fall of Singapore and its British garrison (including 15,000 Australian soldiers) to the advancing Japanese forces in 1942 was a sharp reminder that British forces could no longer guarantee the safety of Australia from invasion.
In recent times Britain's importance as a trading partner has declined in favour of Japan, other Asian countries and the United States. In addition the migration boom which began in the 1950s brought many hundreds of thousands of people to Australia who were born in countries other than Britain.
In 1993 Prime Minister Keating suggested publicly that Australia should consider becoming a republic to recognise these changed circumstances.
This suggestion has led to considerable public debate. Some Australians think that until Australia is a republic with its own elected head of state, it cannot be considered a truly independent nation. Others believe that there is no reason to sever the last remaining formal ties with Britain. The Constitutional Convention held in Canberra in 1998 debated these and other issues.

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rtf -> Middle Secondary – a democracy Destroyed – Focus question 4: What are the key features of a democracy and how did the Nazis take them away? How is democracy in Australia protected?
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rtf -> Upper Primary – Parliament versus Monarch Focus question 1: What does it mean to have absolute power?
rtf -> Middle Primary Stories of the People and Rulers Focus question 5: How should a nation be ruled?
rtf -> Lower Secondary – Should the People Rule? Focus question 3: What was it like to live in a democracy in ancient Athens?
rtf -> Middle Primary Stories of the People and Rulers Focus question 2: Should one person rule?
rtf -> Lower Secondary – Should the People Rule? Focus question 2: What are the main types of government?
rtf -> Middle Secondary – What Sort of Nation? – Focus question 2: How has immigration shaped the kind of nation we are?
rtf -> Middle Secondary – Making a Nation – Focus question 3: Why do federations break apart?
rtf -> Lower Secondary – Men and Women in Political Life – Focus question 2: What can we learn from people who have worked in parliament?

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