Former Premier of Western Australian, Dr Geoff Gallop, used the occasion of the 2014 John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library (JCMPL) Anniversary lecture at Curtin University to discuss whether or not the legal freedom gained with the passage of the Australia Act in 1986 was sufficient to establish our identity as a free nation.
The annual lecture marked the 69th anniversary of Australia’s war time Prime Minister John Curtin’s death on July 5, 1945.
Dr Geoff Gallop was Premier of Western Australia from 2001 to 2006 and is currently the Director, Graduate School of Government at the University of Sydney.
In his speech titled, Is constitutional freedom enough? The Battle for the heart and soul of a nation, Dr Gallop argued that our constitutional needs should not be just an operational manual but also an embodiment of our most cherished beliefs.
Dr Gallop referred to our system of government and questioned our ongoing links to the British Crown and whether or not they should be cut and a new republic institution created.
“Does true freedom require a republic as the next step in the journey –political and cultural – that has seen Australia move from six colonies to a self-government and sovereign nation or is it the case that we can’t image let alone create, anything better than that which the Queen delivers us today,” Dr Gallop said.
He outlined the development of his views on this issue, from patriotism to radicalism, and attempted to distil the essence of the debate by looking into what it is that divides the true beliefs on both sides of the fence.
Dr Gallop stated that the heart of the republican vision is a powerful idea – Australia in control of all its institutions and with one of its own as head-of-state – but it needed a strategy to back it up and one that will involve the people at every step of the way.
“Putting the republic on the agenda and initiating a process like this is currently seen as a bridge too far. Some are opposed on principle, some worry about opening up the debate and many just don’t care. It’s become a symbol for much that is Australian politics today – limited and limiting, distrustful and destructive, adversarial and alienating,” Dr Gallop said.
Dr Gallop also spoke of Indigenous recognition, heading towards legislation and referendum. The outcome here he said would tell us a lot about Australia today, how we understand our history and what we can expect from our society and its institutions when it comes to the question of race.
In closing, Dr Gallop said it was a privilege to have the opportunity to reflect on our nation and its future and honoured the contribution that John Curtin made to the country in earlier times – as an activist, journalist, Member of Parliament, Labor Party leader and then Prime Minister.