Now is not the right time . . .

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was buried last week with all the pomp and ceremony the occasion deserved. Regardless of your views on the monarchy, for a person to perform the one role for 70 years without a break is an awe-inspiring effort. Certainly there was help, resources and good fortune, but there would also have been times where a considerable amount of inner strength was required to deal with yet another staged meeting with a rentseeker or head of state with an inflated sense of their own importance or disagreeable ethics.

King Charles III will be crowned in good time (and watch the prices for flights to and accommodation in the UK coincidentally go through the roof around that time). Given his age, it is likely that his son, William, will be King in the next 20 to 30 years, then William’s son and so on into the future, unless the UK decides to become a republic for some reason or other.

Which brings us to the future Head of State for Australia. Since 1788, no Australian born person has been or can be the Head of State and it seems that there is a good hundred years or so of kings lined up in the UK that will be the Australian Head of State if nothing changes. The conventional wisdom since the 1999 Republic Referendum is that once Queen Elizabeth dies, we should have the discussion. Well, now is the time. On the face of it, Australians can compete and lead the world in all sorts of fields of endeavour — but apparently we don’t have the capacity or ability to rule ourselves.

As this isn’t being written by a constitutional lawyer, we’re not going into what should occur, when and how, but it seems that those that don’t want change are already lining up in lock step behind the new King. Should the discussion not happen now, when is it likely to? Will it be kicked down the road until King Charles dies or abdicates, or his son, or his grandson, or some future descendent that hasn’t been born yet assumes the role of Head of State for Australia?

It’s a similar mindset to that of the Coalition politicians that spent the last few summers decrying the need for a discussion on climate change and emissions reduction. Climate scientists have been telling us for decades that pumping increasing volumes of carbon from fossil fuels into the atmosphere will cause changes to the climate. These changes will result in greater extremes in the weather.

Well — it’s happening for all to see. Brisbane has had catastrophic flooding in 1974, 2011 and 2022. A number of smaller floods were swallowed by two dams that have a dedicated flood storage capacity. All of these floods statistically have a one in 100 probability of occurring in any particular year. The chances of two ‘one in a 100-year events’ occurring in 11 years should be reasonably small, but it happened. Six months after the 2022 flooding, parts of Brisbane are in a rebuilding phase with private and public infrastructure still out of commission and a significant number of houses not safe to live in. The Northern Rivers region of New South Wales is in worse shape.

In contrast, Lake Mead in Utah hasn’t been full since 1999 due to drought, a real concern as it supplies water and hydro power to a number of states in the USA. There is no real ‘Plan B’.

You might remember former Prime Minister Morrison’s holiday in Hawaii while parts of Australia were being burnt to a cinder in early 2020. When he did return to Australia, any discussion was met with responses about how the government’s efforts were all involved in the rescue and recovery effort and the time to discuss the cause of the extreme bushfires was in the future. Then the pandemic happened. Similar claims were made early in 2022 with the east coast flooding. New South Wales Liberal Premier Perrottet observed after Lismore flooded again in the middle of 2022 that the new Albanese Government seemed to understand the need to provide assistance and mitigation strategies far better than their predecessors.

Apart from the logic (or lack thereof) displayed in rebuilding exactly what was there before when it would be a reasonable assumption that a similar fate would befall the replacement infrastructure, surely mitigation of the potential for a future disaster is worth discussion at the time when the current disaster is fresh in everyone’s mind. The Albanese Government is partially funding a program to ensure that housing in South East Queensland and northern New South Wales flood zones is more resistant to flooding and is a practical result to an ongoing issue. It is something the Morrison Government never did, because according to the Coalition, the time of the disaster is not the time to talk about changes for the better.

Change always has some fear and uncertainty attached to it. There is no way to determine ahead of time if the change will be successful and beneficial. However leaving the discussion to the ‘ideal’ time isn’t an option as there never will be an ‘ideal’ time. Soon after the 2020 bushfires, the pandemic arrived on our shores. While you could argue that a government should be able to address more than one issue at a time (another reason why Morrison’s concentration of power was concerning), as collective memory begins to fade it is harder to enact change. Former Prime Minister Howard understood this when enacting strict gun control measures soon after the Port Arthur murders in the early 1990s.

So maybe we should be having the discussion about becoming a republic now, in addition to the welcome discussion about climate change and emissions reduction. Rather than accept whatever happens, whether that be King Charles III and his heirs as our Head of State or constantly rebuilding parts of the country when they are destroyed by devastating flood, fire or cyclone, there is no better time than disruption to assess if the status quo is what we collectively want as a nation.

What do you think?

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