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National Observer Home > No. 40 - Autumn 1999 > Book Review

Coming of Age

Charter for a New Australia

by David Solomon

Brisbane, UQP, 1998, pp.182

This book was written in order to promote change, and especially to advance the adoption of a republican form of government.

In political terms the movement for an Australian republic is essentially a Labor Party movement. (Support from within the Coalition parties has been more restrained.) Hence many of the leaders of the republican movement subscribe to other Labor Party causes, such as a reduction of the power of the Senate. (In general it is found that radical parties disapprove of upper houses, because they present an impediment to the passage of legislation.) Hence opposition to the Senate's powers is one of the matters that colours the author's analysis and causes him to conclude that "the system [is] under strain".

As is regrettably the case with many other writers in this area, the author's pro-republican views have rendered his analysis somewhat polemical. For example, he states that those favouring a republic "are intellectually convinced of the rightness of their cause". But those against a republic "bring much more emotion into the debate", and they regard it as "manifest disloyalty not only to the Crown but to all Australians who have fought under the flag". However the case against the monarchy "is that it is a pre-democratic relic".

In view of his evidently strong views the author concludes, "The strongest argument for change is that the system we inherited from Britain is now not working as well as it should ... The system ... is in desperate need of repair ...". Unfortunately he does not support this conclusion with proper argument or evidence.

The author's lack of objectivity and some of his more controversial views appear to be a product of partisanship, although in fairness it should be noted that the topic of the proposed republic has given rise to many illogical contentions by many disputants.

In particular, the author apparently fails to perceive that those who favour the retention of our current position do so largely from a mistrust both of what innovations the adoption of a republic might bring and also of many of the persons who are at the forefront of the republic movement. Persons such as Paul Keating, Neville Wran, Gough Whitlam, Rupert Murdoch, Malcolm Turnbull and Cheryl Kernot do not necessarily inspire confidence amongst those called upon to appraise their contentions. It is doubtless understandable that many Australians who are suspicious of such people and of what they wish to accomplish are content to retain a system which they perceive to have a greater integrity and which is less likely to be abused than alternatives the implications of which cannot easily be foretold.

A related matter that the author does not explore is the largely Irish drive in favour of republicanism. For historical reasons many of Irish descent bear signal hostility towards Britain. Many of the strong proponents of an Australian republic are Irish, and it is also true that other proponents include members of other ethnic groups, such as the Jewish community.

To some extent these matters are related to what is referred to as multi-culturalism, that is, the encouragement of ethnic groups not to assimilate in Australia. It is unfortunate that considerations of this kind have contributed to so much of the less rational elements of a debate of great importance.

In conclusion: Coming of Age is a polemical work which argues that Australia should become a republic and which supports a number of other more or less contentious theses relating to the Constitution, the High Court, and other such matters. It is tendentious and lacks sufficient objectivity to be useful.

R.M. Pearce

National Observer No. 40 - Autumn 1999