Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Flags and Republics - oh no, not again!

Two age-old Australian debates seem to be stuttering into life yet again, returning like the whiff of ancient and annoying farts.

I am passionately in favor of Australia becoming a republic and getting a new flag, but even if I live to be 250 years old I'll never see either come to pass.

Regarding the republic, of course most Australians would prefer it if the country sloughed off its colonial remnants, stopped borrowing the convenient constitutional machinery of another, older and more mature country, and got on with its own governance affairs like a proper, independent grown-up.

It's not the monarchists who will forever hold us back, with their insipid but dying sentimental attachments and the insidious insulting of our intelligence by implying Australians haven't got the wit to devise their own safe, secure constitution with all our current checks and balances embedded. No it's the republicans themselves who will forever hold us back with their tiresome and vitriolic debates about how the President should be chosen and what powers such a head of state should have. In 1999 the republican referendum was lost not just because John Howard corrupted the process from the word go by his framing of the question, but because a large clutch of dopey, populist, direct election republicans effectively derailed it. I see no sign of this passion abating - ever.

Walking the city streets today on Austalia Day I saw countless numbers of Aussie flags draped over the shoulders of young people, and, frankly, it made me sick in the pit of my stomach. Unlike the great majority of other countries, Australia has a flag that privileges its Anglo-Saxon, British heritage. And whenever I see young people, especially hoons and yobs, parading it about, almost thrusting it down your throat, I'm sensing the subtle but visceral message of white supremacy and Anglo superiority. It's in stark contrast to the Canadian flag for instance, which every non-Anglo immigrant could celebrate and flourish with the pride of belonging.

Once again we'll never get rid of the Union Jack in the corner, as when the rubber hits the road on these sorts of things in this country, our basest instincts unthinkingly prevail. Racism is very very subtle, which is why it is so powerful and entrenched. 

I remember about 20 years ago when I was responsible for editorial and production operations in Wiley a cover and blurb for a book about some feature of Australia came across my desk for approval, and the author was described as a 'seventh generation Australian'. I demanded that tag be deleted, much to the surprise and chagrin of the editor. She had no idea what I was talking about.

Enough said.

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