23 January 2024

With so much on the PM's plate, there's no choice but for the republic to go on the backburner

| Ian Bushnell
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Australia’s Head of State, King Charles II, and Queen Camilla. An anachronism, but there are bigger fish to fry. Photo: BBC.

Has Anthony Albanese broken the hearts of republicans by backing off on holding a referendum dumping the monarchy?

Maybe some will feel betrayed but many, like myself, will see it as an understandable shuffling of priorities.

The PM and his government lost a fair bit of political skin during the Voice campaign and referendum, which was an election promise duly delivered.

Another tilt at constitutional reform so soon, leaving Labor open to the same kind of war of attrition waged by the Opposition against the Voice, would do more harm than good.

The sheer difficulty of winning a referendum, combined with the deceit and malice of the social media insurgency it would provoke, would have the government on a hiding to nothing.

The Voice result showed just how frustrating it would be to take the republic to the people in the current environment without bipartisan support.

Albanese was right to make good on his promise to hold the Voice referendum and strategically correct to put the republic on the back burner for now.

Acting on the plight of Indigenous people in this country does have urgency. With the republic, time is on our side.

Polling shows majority support for Australia becoming a republic, and that will only solidify as the years pass.

The tricky bit is what kind of republic, something that John Howard expertly exploited in 1999 at the last referendum.

But unless the unresolved issues of our constitutional arrangements are raised again by a rogue Governor-General, the public and the government have more on their minds than who our Head of State is.

Cost of living, for one.

Supermarket prices, energy and fuel bills, and in particular the cost of housing, buying or renting, trump a costly debate about an issue, no matter how worthy, that does not dominate the kitchen table.

That’s especially true when much of the government’s economic agenda feeds into helping Australians cope with increasing costs and, over time, reducing costs, such as boosting the supply of housing and managing the nation’s energy transition.

The government needs to deliver on its promise of 1.2 million new homes over five years but it should also revisit as part of a broader tax reform the settings that have contributed to Australia having some of the highest property prices on the planet.

Ensuring Australia can move away from fossil fuels to renewables, as part of its commitment to fight global warming and climate change, is a massive project that does not need any distractions.

Time is not on our side with this one, thanks to a lost decade of coalition governments that remained in thrall to coal, gas and oil despite the existential threat burning more of these presents and the potential for Australia to be a new energy superpower.

And then there are the thorny foreign policy, security and defence issues confronting Australia.

The government faces short-term imperatives but also the task of embedding more important long-term strategies to set Australia up for a better future.

Doing this is hard enough in the current short-termist environment of the 24/7 news cycle and drivel that passes for political discourse these days, let alone if you are trying to prosecute a single-issue case like the republic and staging a national vote.

The monarchy is an anachronism, our head of state should be Australian and our constitutional arrangements need to be modernised. No argument.

But there is too much at stake for this government to be blown off course now.

Original Article published by Ian Bushnell on Riotact.

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