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Australia's national identity

By Jieh-Yung Lo - posted Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Another Queen’s Birthday has gone by and like many Australians who support an Australian Republic, I am given pause to wonder again how Australia’s identity as a sovereign nation is perceived by the global community.

There is no doubt Australia is becoming more engaged with our regional and global neighbours. Our new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is taking on global and regional initiatives such as the recent pledge to restart the nuclear non-proliferation push and the proposal to establish an Asian Union modelling on the European equivalent. Yet as Australia continues to place itself in the global world, I believe a further commitment by our elected parliamentary representatives is needed to change the identity and face of our nation to ensure that our national identity is clear and addressed.

Throughout history, an indisputable national identity has been integral to a nation’s involvement and value within the international political environment.


Since separating from Great Britain, the United States of America has developed a constitutional system that reflects the values and beliefs of the American people. As a result, nations around the world see the United States as a nation and government that represents the views and voices of its own people on the international stage.

In order for Australia to establish itself as a key global player and citizen that leads by example, I believe a similar sense of absolute independence must apply. In short, the Australian Government and its people must be clear on the position of our Head of State and Constitution.

The failure of the 1999 referendum for Australia to become a republic foundered upon the inability to associate with a successful model for electing a new head of state. This is despite a submission to the Australian Senate’s Legal and Constitutional References Committee’s (ASLCC) Inquiry into an Australian Republic by the Australian Republican Movement (ARM), which recommended six models to elect an Australian Head of State.

Even today, it appears Australians possess a curious reluctance to take that step. With 15.8 per cent of Australians coming from more than 200 countries and ancestries and speaking a language other than English at home, it is becoming harder to justify the relevance of the British monarchy to an ever-changing multicultural Australia. So why is there the need to maintain a British Head of State?

Once again the US is a prime example. Although the establishment of America relied on the migration of people from different countries to build its population, the US has a tendency of perceiving itself as an exceptionalist state; that is to say they believe themselves to be an extraordinary nation with a special role to play in human history.

Americans celebrate the 4th of July, a day which symbolises their independence and the discovery of their national identity and also, the foundation of their ideologies. Basic American values and beliefs are situated in the Declaration of Independence and the ideas are as fresh and full of meaning today as they were over 200 years ago. Therefore, it is plausible to conclude that American nationalism exists.


It is a national identity that has dictated many of its foreign policy agendas with the most notable one being the containment of communism during the Cold War.

American values exist and from a research conducted by polling organisations, it reported that Americans usually show the highest level of national pride among western democracies. For example, the World Values Survey conducted in the year 2000 recorded that 72 per cent of Americans categorised themselves as being “very proud” of their country.

Since Federation in 1901, Australia has developed its own culture and traditions, its own sport and even its own slang. Having an Australian as our head of state would complete the picture. It would set a strong and positive example to the global community that Australia is represented by no one but Australians. Consider the following extract by the Australian Republican Movement on their 15th anniversary:

What an Australian Head of State means is that we vest the sovereignty of our nation, not in a foreign monarch, but in the Australia people. For individual Australians, it means knowing we are represented at the apex of our system by a fellow Australian, and that we ourselves can strive for the highest office in the land. For the nation as a whole, it means entrenching our national identity and our values as a people in our own political system. And, in this way, the core of our Republican vision is not about the Monarchy, it’s about us. It’s not about being anti-British or anti-Queen, it’s about being staunchly pro-Australian and wanting power to ultimately reside with the Australian people.

Having an Australian as our own head of sate would not just bolster our own sense of independence as a nation answerable to no other, it will also offer much pride and confidence for our citizens. What is a better way then to portray Australia’s identity and nationalism around the world then to have an Australian, one of our own as our head of state!

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About the Author

Jieh-Yung Lo is a Melbourne based writer and Associate Producer of the upcoming documentary film New Gold Mountain - Your Chinese Australia.

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