The Age Editorial
* September 3, 2009
‘FELLOW Australians, it is my melancholy duty to inform you officially that, in consequence of the persistence of Germany in her invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war upon her, and that, as a result, Australia is also at war.” Thus, 70 years ago today, the people of this country heard prime minister Robert Menzies announce the beginning of the Second World War.
The phrasing and the tone may seem to evoke an era that has passed irrevocably: modern political leaders do not speak of ”melancholy duties”, however much they may be weighed down by them. But all of Menzies’ successors would recognise the sentiment in the words that immediately followed his opening statement: ”No harder task can fall to the lot of a democratic leader than to make such an announcement.” Nor, despite the fact that the Second World War was hardly the last military conflict in which Australia has been involved, would they be likely to disagree that, more than any other, this war changed utterly the lives of those who were touched by it. Not only does it remain the most lethal conflict in human history – more than 60 million people, most of them civilians, are estimated to have died because of it – but the war’s upheavals ushered in the world in which we still live.
The Australia Menzies addressed lay at the world’s periphery, strategically as well as geographically. And its initial involvement in the war was a consequence of a constitutional theory now discarded: that if Britain is at war, the monarch’s other realms must be at war, too. Indeed, for Australia, perhaps the biggest transformation wrought by the Second World War is that it dispelled the notion of allegiance to imperial Britain. The question of what has replaced it still awaits a definitive answer, for Australians do not yet choose their own head of state. But it would not even have been possible to argue seriously for an Australian republic on September 3, 1939; after February 15, 1942, however, when the British garrison at Singapore surrendered to the Japanese, Australians began the long process of adjusting to the knowledge that the era of European colonial empires was passing…
via The war that transformed the world forever | theage.com.au. [My emphasis]
This Editorial in The Age demonstrates a growing awareness of the importance of the start of the Second World War for Australia’s independence. The issue of the Australian republic speaks of our identity and the liberal democratic values that we have. The editorial continues by describing some of the ways the Second World War shaped the post-war era, especially with the formation of institutions such as the United Nations and with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We have the benefits of the Westminster traditions from our British heritage and as an independent republic we will have so much more as well.
10 Sept 09
Often we hear a criticism of the republic issue being that there are not many benefits in a change to a republic. I think that one important improvement would be a Bill of Rights and comprehensive human rights protections. England is now a part of the European Union and has the benefit of laws to protect human rights apart from the protections that evolved in the laws of that nation and the Westminster system. Australia is unique among developed countries in not having a Bill of Rights. Some states and territories have introduced their own human rights legislation and it is conceivable that we could have at least some partial human rights protections tacked onto our current system as we amble along as a constitutional monarchy. The change to a republic with an Australian being regularly elected to serve as our head of state, however, provides the perfect opportunity to define the human rights of every person living in this country, be they citizens of Australia or not. Given that human rights form the basis of civil society you could argue that comprehensive human rights protections would be a necessary condition for having an Australian elected to serve as head of state in free and open elections.
Without comprehensive human rights protections, including a right to privacy, elections could not be fair and free – you would find that wealthy and organised groups would form that would illegally vilify or harass and bully people they consider opponents or otherwise manipulate rules and the law to maintain their interests. With modern technology and especially multimedia images, mass media has become very powerful and persistent propaganda can be used to sway a population against a person or group.
Surveillance technology and data matching can be very invasive. Some people use the platitude that they have nothing to hide so they don’t care about about the use of surveillance technology in society. It is a basic premise of modern physics that observing something actually changes the thing being observed. That also applies to people in a social context. Cameras are not neutral. We are conditioned to expect something to happen if we are presented a video clip. Try watching a video of the same leaves swaying in a breeze that would go on for more than fifteen minutes. Simply seeing someone on a surveillance video prejudices viewers to expect the people on camera to do something noteworthy (for good or bad, but rarely neutral). Even with nothing to hide, being an object in front of a camera for an extended amount of time would establish a suspicion in viewers that the person does have something to hide, and that suspicion will usually persist (unless assumptions are tested).
In some senses you could argue that a monarchy is based on an inherently unjust system, although over time the British monarchy has been tempered to fit well with a democratic system and universal suffrage. It wasn’t always so in a monarchy though, and Hobbes’ justification for monarchy was that it was the least of evils in an inherently wicked world. Liberal democratic institutions to protect human rights and the rule of law are a better alternative to Hobbes’ solution.