New beginnings

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 February, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 February, 1998, 12:00am

After more than two centuries of largely symbolic rule from a country on the other side of the world, Australians are, for the first time, discussing the practicalities of becoming a republic.

The ties with Britain have inevitably been reduced as time has passed. The world has been transformed in the latter half of this century. The British empire is no more and, as emotional and family ties have weakened between countries once called the Motherland and the Dominions, Australia's nationhood and sense of distinct personal identity is not in doubt.

Even pro-monarchist Prime Minister John Howard admits the symbolism of sharing a head of state is no longer appropriate. A new constitution and separate nationhood are inevitable at some stage. Australian immigration policy has resulted in a rich cultural mix in the land, which now includes a generation of young people who feel no allegiance to the British Crown and have no links of either blood or emotion.

If there is a majority wish to severe ties with Britain, then the time to do it would certainly be at the start of the new millennium. However, it would be ironic if the move was sabotaged because of the inability of different factions in the republican camp to agree on the way forward. In-fighting about arrangements, such as the way a head of state is chosen, could derail the whole process and turn what should be a natural evolution into a bitter and fruitless row.

The forging of a new Australia must be achieved in a spirit of optimism and consensus. That is important for the stability of the country, and as another opportunity to heal wounds inflicted on the original inhabitants. Although great efforts have been made in the last decade to redress some of the many wrongs done to the Aboriginal people, grievances remain.

Radical elders are saying that the Canberra government should make peace with the indigenous community before it plans the future. But a future that guarantees equality under a flag which symbolises a new beginning deserves the support of all.



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