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Does The British Monarchy Represent Multicultural Australia?

15/10/2015 5:47 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST
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FILE - In this Oct. 26, 2011 file photo, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, right, and her husband Prince Philip board a plane flying to Perth from Melbourne airport, Australia, on their way to attend the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Perth. Australia's prime minister on Monday, Jan. 26, 2015 dismissed criticism of his decision to the Duke of Edinburgh an Australian knight, saying Philip has a long history of service Down Under. Prime Minister Tony Abbott's announcement that the duke would be awarded Australia's highest honor came on Australia's national holiday, prompting some to question the wisdom of knighting a British royal on a day meant to commemorate Australians. (AP Photo/Andrew Brownbill, File)

As a long time supporter and advocate of an Australian republic, I was excited to see new life breathed back into the cause by new Australian Republican Movement (ARM) Chair Peter FitzSimons.

Mr FitzSimons' call to arms reignited a burning desire for advocates to continue pushing for an Australian head of state and to complete Australia's nationhood journey.

Since the 1999 referendum, polling companies have conducted numerous questionnaires and polls asking segments of the Australian community whether we should become a republic. We have heard strong views one way or another from young people, baby boomers and seniors.

But the one group we have yet to hear from are Australia's multicultural communities.

The British Monarchy is a reflection of the old Australia, not the multicultural Australia that exists today. Currently, over 40 percent of Australians were born overseas or have a parent who was. Approximately 4 million Australians speak a language other than English. Given the current migration trends, a majority of them have little to no connection with the British monarchy.

The Australian community today is vastly different compared to 1999. For example, more than 10 percent of all Australians were born in Asia, Chinese Mandarin is the second most spoken language after English and Hinduism is Australia's fastest growing religion. We have come a long way as a nation and it is fair to claim that the British Monarch is no longer a reflection of the modern multicultural Australia.

In my day-to-day work, I come across a lot of migrants, refugees and new citizens. During my interaction, Australia's head of state is a regular topic. A majority of the families and individuals from multicultural backgrounds I tend to engage and interact with assume our Prime Minister is our head of state. But when they see the Governor General, the representative of the British Monarch, greet foreign leaders and heads of state on the news, they begin to ask why.

For those multicultural communities that are from the current Commonwealth of Nations such as India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Singapore, they see the benefit of having one of their own as the head of state while remaining in the Commonwealth. All these nations are one step ahead of Australia where they ceased to be a dominion of the United Kingdom but a republic with one of their own as their head of state.

Given the lack of consultation and engagement, the Australian multicultural community's stance on the republican debate remains unclear and untested.

During my time serving on the ARM National Committee in 2012, I submitted a proposal for the ARM to consider adopting a multicultural engagement strategy. The sole purpose of the strategy was to divert attention and resources within the ARM to engage our multicultural communities through a range of measures and activities such as community information and discussion forums, consultation sessions, interaction with multicultural media outlets and a specific membership campaign to encourage multicultural communities to join the cause. Unfortunately, at the time, the proposal did not come to fruition.

The ARM needs to ask the multicultural community what it means to be an Australian. What is our place in the Asia-Pacific region and the world and what is our national identity? I have no doubt Australian multicultural communities have strong views on these questions. However, they have never been asked or being given the platform and opportunity to express their views.

Australia's identity has deeply changed since the Second World War. From 1945 onwards, our nation has experienced consecutive waves of migration from Europe, South East Asia, North East Asia, South America, South Asia and now Africa and the Middle East. Each one of these migration groups has shaped Australia in their very own way. These communities and citizens represent Australia on the global stage in the areas of sport, business, politics and science. Today, Australians from multicultural backgrounds have a genuine place in projecting our national identity to the world.

Republican advocates and the ARM can no longer ignore this cohort in our society. If they are serious about restarting the republic conversation, they need to speak to all Australians to ensure Australians from multicultural backgrounds play a role in reshaping the debate.

With a new Chair and National Director leading the charge, I am confident they too understand that multicultural Australia is the key to achieving republican success.

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Jieh-Yung Lo is the Co-Founder of Poliversity, a writer and a former member of the Australian Republican Movement's National Committee

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