Communist Party of Australia

We acknowledge the Sovereignty of the First Nations’ Peoples.


Journal of the Communist Party of Australia

ISSUE 30September 1993

An Australian republic

by Laurie Kiek

Naturally, progressive people react favourably to the idea of abolishing the monarchy, symbol of outmoded feudal autocracy and of British imperialism. The monarchy is beloved by conservatives as a means of creating servility and toadying to those who have the trappings of wealth and power. However, we need to look further into the question than that.

The essence of the state

A Marxist analysis of any phenomenon begins with the study of its origins and subsequent history. The state (meaning the whole apparatus of public power, not a State as in NSW or Queensland) has been analysed for us by Lenin in his State and Revolution and his lecture on the state.

He demonstrated that the essence of the state is its role as mediator in class collisions, in which it naturally represents the strongest, the ruling class. That is its primary content, but not its only content. In the modern era it also maintains the infrastructure, provides for health, education and many other things, in ways acceptable to the ruling class.

Not least, the state has always set up a moral and ideological base for society — what is important, who is important, what is acceptable and what is not. This has been openly so in the case of state religion, but also quite effective in secular states — for example on the questions of racism, the meaning of “freedom” and so on in Australia.

The form of the state

The form of the state, be it republic, dictatorship, fascist junta or other, has varied greatly and has not always corresponded with the social system or the content of the state power. When the form and content are out of step, due to social and economic development, contradictions tends to arise.

While British imperialism dominated Australia, the monarchy was acceptable to ruling circles here. Republicanism came onto their agenda because of the decay of British economic and military power, the growth of other imperialist interests and, perhaps, some development of the Australian ruling class.

In these circumstances, some people have said that the change is of no concern to the working class — what if the masters want to rearrange the means of their rule? That would be a mistake. Whatever is going on that is important, the workers will have their say and try to draw some advantage from it.

The question for us should be: can the new structure remove some of the current constraints on the pressure that the working class can put on the state, can a new structure be less of a restraint on the evolutionary processes which are a necessary prelude to revolutionary change?

This leads to a number of questions that need to be answered.

Among them are the following:

1. The States

The States of Australia (NSW, Victoria, etc) have the Queen as head. Their constitutions predate that of the Commonwealth and are separately established. The abolition of State governments or giving the Commonwealth full authority, some of which it could delegate to the States, must arise. We can list many bitter experiences of buck-passing between States and Commonwealth on many issues affecting workers, for example, schools andhospitals. The inter-State diversity in laws is a minefield that has been used against workers’ interests.

On the other hand, some workers see the States as a bastion against a remote bureaucracy in Canberra. The Chifley Government put forward the notion of substituting regional authorities for both State and local government, and a lot of work was done on this by the Department of Post-War Reconstruction. We probably need to study that work to see how technically possible the proposal is, how State authorities such as electricity and water could be fitted in. Certainly the level of apathy and corruption in local government might be reduced by having regional authorities.

The technical side is important, a lawyers’ picnic is not what workers want. On balance, it would seem that the notion of regional government ought to be supported on the grounds of less cost and more democracy.

2. The Head of state

The position of Governors and Governor General would change.There has to be a Head of State to provide continuity and ensure elections are held, at least.

How should such a Head be chosen? The Head may be appointed by the government or elected. The Head may have great power, as in the USA, or very little, as in Japan. What would be the relation of the Head to the regions? Even minimal powers are important, as Kerr showed in 1975.

At this stage, we should seek minimal powers and popular election as providing the minimum opportunities for intervention in the democratic process.

3. The Senate

The Senate was originally the “States House”, representing the regional bourgeoisie centred in the State capitals. The Senate is elected by electorates of whole States, but only half of the Senate’s membership is elected at a time. The House of Representatives is elected by electorates of equal population.The results are different, so that the Senate can and does obstruct the Lower House.

We have to consider whether the workers have regional interests and what would become of the Senate if the States were abolished.We have to favour a simple system which is more transparent to workers and does not have in-built delays and obstructions to democracy.

4. The unelected apparatus

The army, the judges and the public service, State and Commonwealth, swear loyalty to the Queen. They are tried by a thousand threads to the bourgeoisie.

We need to draw attention to this and to suggest ways of democratising them. For example, perhaps we should seek the addition of elected assessors to the courts. This would be contrary to the present trend to turn them over, by privatisation, directly to the capitalists.

5. Can the Republican debate be used to further mass understanding of the question of the State, the anti-imperialist struggle and the class struggle?

Of course it can. It is noted that the bourgeois participants in the debate pointedly ignore the existence of the Eureka flag when considering a new flag. The democratic orientation of those who work is symbolised by the historic republican flag of Australia.Attention can be drawn to the role of US and Japanese imperialisms, and the point needs to be made that to reject British imperialism does not necessarily mean the rejection of all imperialism.

Workers’ rights should be written into any new constitution. The possibilities of the campaign for the Republic are endless. Our task is to beaver away at the main points, especially those which seem to catch the imagination of the masses, affect their interests and are clearest to them.

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