06 November 2015
by Dr. Glenn Davies

Turnbull axes Abbott's Knights and Dames

The first significant policy change for the Turnbull Government is to call it a knight on titles. In abolishing the titles of Knight and Dame from the Order of Australia awards, Turnbull has helped the recent growth of the movement for an Australian republic, writes history editor Dr Glenn Davies.

THE FORMAL removal by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of one of Tony Abbott’s most unpopular “captain’s picks” resolves a national embarrassment. Turnbull has confirmed there will be no more anachronistic Australian knights and dames.

Australian Republican Movement chairman, Peter FitzSimons said:

“Tony Abbott's reintroduction of imperial honours reflected the Australia of the past, not the diverse and multicultural nation that exists today.” Abbott did a great thing when he reminded Australians what elitism really looks like and succeeded in highlighting that the concepts of both a royal family and royal honours are elitist nonsense, which jars with life in Australia.

The backlash against this “captain’s pick” indicated the strong feeling that exists within the community regarding Australia’s national identity and the way in which we express it.

FitzSimons continued:
"The ARM renews its call to our former chair, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, to commit to advancing an Australian republic during his time as PM.”

The path is now clear to attend to the fact that Australia’s head of state is not one of us.

It’s a great time to be a republican in Australia. Recent events have changed the political landscape for the better — and taken the journey towards an Australian Head of State a lot closer. On 26 August 2015, the Australian Republican Movement’s chairman, Peter FitzSimons, entertained a full house at the National Press Club in Canberra.

In the most significant speech on the Republic since the 1999 referendum, FitzSimons outlined the ARM’s plans to launch a new campaign for a national plebiscite on the question of an Australian head of state by 2020.

FitzSimons told the audience:
In the 21st Century it is ludicrous that we still have a system where no Australian child will ever be good enough to become the Australian head of state, because they are not born into the British royal family. We must call that for what it is — not right, and simply not fair.

In every other part of our national life, we honour those who have a go, who rise on their hunger, their talent, their application of three parts elbow grease to two parts gumption. We exalt the whole idea of the fair go, and in just one part, one sole part of our national life do we say ‘no Australians need apply’.

This strength of feeling is also indicated by increased support for an Australian republic. The ARM saw its membership surge when knighthoods were reintroduced in 2014 and again after the knighting of Prince Philip on Australia Day. Membership has doubled again in the weeks since Malcolm Turnbull became PM.

The latest polling has nearly 50 per cent of respondents in favour of an Australian head of state.

Ahead of her 100th birthday in September, long-time ARM member and volunteer Beryl Nicol made it quite clear that she did not want to receive a letter from Her Majesty the Queen. Rather, Beryl requested a certificate from the ARM celebrating her milestone. Prominent Australian author – and inaugural ARM chairman – Thomas Keneally obliged, delivering his personal congratulations along with a certificate from the ARM congratulating Beryl on her 100th birthday.

So where to from here?

The political landscape in Australia is definitely changing. The Prime Minister, Federal Opposition Leader, six premiers and Chief Justice are all declared republicans. It appears the points of the Southern Cross are coming into alignment.

However, the PM set the ARM a challenge when he recently remarked that:

"The republic issue cannot belong to a politician, it's got to be a genuine popular movement."

This is fair enough. It is not enough for the political conditions to be right — there needs to be a desire for change.

With the removal of knights and dames from Australia the calendar has been reset to 2015.

The work now is for the Australian Republican Movement to grow from being a lobby group to a genuine popular movement.