Like so many Australians, I applauded the Governor General, Quentin Bryce, who recently took a stand for an Australian Republic and the need for us to have our own Head of State.
Her statements made me think back to my own experiences in terms of an Australian Republic, experiences I would like to share.
I love Australia deeply and have been here for 54 years. My interest in this wonderful country has always been strong but once I married and understood my long-term future was here, I started feeling part of this country and to take interest in everything Australian.
Despite having enthusiastically embraced my new home, certain things continued to puzzle me. I could not understand why we Australians had to get up to salute the Queen at the end of a theatre performance or a film. When it came time for the national anthem to be played (and in those days it was still God save the Queen), I felt we should be saluting our beloved country and sing ‘God saves Australia!’
In those days, it took five years of residence in this country to be allowed to make an application for Australian citizenship. In 1964 I received a letter from the Minister for Immigration asking me to become a British subject and an AUSTRALIAN CITIZEN.
I wrote back saying that I would be very proud to become an Australian citizen but I did not want to become a British subject, and that my loyalty and commitment were to Australia and the Australian people, not to the Queen of England and the Royal family. I asked whether I could be allowed to become just an Australian citizen and swear loyalty to Australia and the Australian people.
I never got a reply and did not pursue the issue at that time, but felt committed to help change the oath of allegiance and the national anthem.
I am proud to say that since that day I have made a small contribution to the changes that occurred on both issues in later years.
Imagine if there had not been a people’s campaign to change both the national anthem and the oath of allegiance? We would still be standing up for God Saves the Queen. As it has been possible to make these changes, it is also possible to win a referendum and become a Republic.
I want to state unequivocally that our Republican campaign has never been a negative one. We respect the Queen of England, but like many Australians I find it hard to accept her as our Head of State.
I think she has been a tremendous Head of State for England, but we are Australians and only an Australian will be able to represent us, share our ideals and commitments. The Australian Republican Movement, of which I am proud to have been the Honorary Secretary for many years, finally convinced the government to run a referendum on the Republican issue.
It was 1999, and John Howard, a strong Monarchist Prime Minister, framed the word of the Referendum in a way we would not have chosen. At that time there were also strong divisions in the Republican Movement regarding the election of the Head of State or President.
We must not let these divisions succeed in the future.
How can people on the Monarchist side even contemplate us having King Charles of Australia, and Queen Camilla of Australia?
We are a wonderful multicultural country with about 200 different ethnic groups. What binds us together is that we are Australians, one and all, committed to the ideals of this great nation, ideals for social justice, for a ‘fair go’ for all, for acceptance and tolerance. Our Head of State should be an Australian who lives among us. Every girl and every boy born in this country should be able to aspire to become our Head or State, our President.
Republicanism is not a party political issue. Even though our Prime Minister Tony Abbott is an ardent Monarchist, I know that many of his Ministers are ardent Republicans.
We must unite across political parties and political classes to make this country of ours a Republic. It is a movement that crosses political boundaries and takes in people from all walks of life and political allegiances. The original founders of the Australian Republican Movement were a truly diverse group – Neville Wran, Malcolm Turnbull, Thomas Keneally, Faith Bandler, Franco Belgiorno Nettis, Donald Horne, Mark Day, Geraldine Doogue, Colin Lanceley, Harry Seidler, Jenny Kee, David Williamson and myself.
There are now a lot of new people in the Australian Republican Movement Committee, all dedicated and eager to make the dream become a reality. There is a lot of hard work to be done, but I am sure that, in the not too distant future, we shall see the dawn of the Australian Republic.
History and time are on our side.
For our beloved Australia!
Franca Arena A.M.