Time to ditch Australia Day and celebrate independence?

IF YOU were to scrape together the essence of our great southern land and fashion it into human form, a larrikin with a footy in hand spinning yarns of the legends from Gallipoli to Burke and Wills would emerge, a red bandana wrapped unceremoniously around his head.

Peter FitzSimons doesn't have time for political correctness. As a recovered "chubby" he will call out a "fatty boomba" when he needs to.

A conversation with Peter is sure to contain at least a "bloody" or two, with a "dickhead" thrown in for good measure.

The former Wallaby turned journalist and author, turned chair of the Australian Republic Movement, is the kind of man who, with his glamorous television personality wife Lisa Wilkinson by his side, can wine and dine world leaders.

The next morning you'll probably find our everyman engaged in banter with a random out the front of Woolies about last weekend's game. But when it comes to talking about the issue of a republic, there is no time for mucking around.

"I can't believe in the 21st century we have a palace of aristocrats, a palace on the other side of the world in London, where the head of our state lives," Peter says.

"To those who say 'no', to those who say 'not yet' to becoming a republic, do you think we as a nation are not mature enough, not sophisticated enough?

"I find that lack of belief in Australia breathtaking."


BYLINE: LUKE BOWDEN: Peter Fitzsimons is the new convenor of the Australian Republican Movement and is speaking at a lunch for the Tassie ARM branch today.
Australian Republican Movement chair Peter Fitzsimons. Luke Bowden

To say Peter FitzSimons embodies Australia almost feels like an understatement.

He's worn the green and gold playing for the Wallabies where he was known to start a brawl back before the biff was banned.

He's written almost 30 books, most of them chronicling moments that defined Australia like the Eureka Stockade and the Battle of Tobruk.

And so when Peter FitzSimons takes on Australia Day, an occasion that is increasingly on the nose given that it celebrates what was for Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders a time of slaughter and destruction of culture, people are inclined to sit up and listen.

"I'm a man of very loud opinions. And on the Australia Day issue I absolutely understand where those who protest are coming from," Peter says.

"It is not for us to tell indigenous leadership how to feel on this issue. Not when we are celebrating 250-odd years since Captain Cook set foot in the place, but they've been here tens of thousands of years since the Dreamtime.

"But what I do say is, the very obvious solution is we move to celebrating Australia's independence day - the day we became a republic.

"It's the right thing to do in terms of progressiveness and inclusiveness."

On the other side of this debate sits the Australian Monarchist League.

They're the largest member-based organisation of their kind in the country and they're devoted to defending our monarch and Constitution.

But if you were waiting for a stuffed shirt to appear, resplendent with a pencil-thin moustache and monocle, and were bracing yourself to read the following lines with a plum in your mouth, then I suggest you think again.

Instead we have 30-year-old Brant Rippon, who hails from a line of farmers in Ballina.


Monarchist Brant Rippon, 26, from Morningside and the statue of Queen Elizabeth ll which is to be moved because of development. Pic Tim Marsden
Monarchist Brant Rippon. Tim Marsden

He's currently working in Brisbane but any chance he gets he hits the highway south.

"I'm a full-time public servant, my father called it being on the Queen's shilling when he was a police officer, but still help my dad out where I can on the farm, and hope to see myself on the land someday in the not too distant future," Brant says.

"My passion for our flag, Constitution and Crown was fed by my grandmother after my mum asked me on referendum eve in 1999 how I wanted her to vote.

"I didn't really hesitate to be honest. I told her to vote no. I was 12 at the time. It wasn't because I was enamoured with the concept of monarchy, or the Queen, princes or princesses.

"I honestly couldn't see the point in changing for no greater benefit. I also liked the flag and I didn't want to see it changed."

Brant joined the League in 2007 and is its current national deputy chairman and youth and social media policy adviser to the national council.

His Bachelor of Arts with a double major in Politics, Economy and Society/Criminal Justice, with a Master of International Relations, comes in handy for the league as he helps lobby politicians and educate the public on the intricacies of what changing our constitution would mean.

Brant says that with a constitution 100 years younger than America, ours is far less cumbersome and politically invasive.

"One of the greatest assets of constitutional monarchy is that it denies power to others," he said.

"While the Queen, or indeed a future king, occupies the highest office in the land, no one person can truly or lawfully take over the parliament.

"While she is the font of our laws, no one person can lawfully usurp the courts. While she is ultimately in command of our armed forces, no would-be dictator can lawfully take over the military.

"Also, and equally as important I feel, Australia has a close affinity with Britain, and indeed the Commonwealth of Nations - historically, culturally, politically, economically, linguistically and militarily.

"We share a head of state with 15 other nations. In a globalised world where many are trying to strengthen multilateral ties, doesn't it make sense to keep the familial bonds between the realms?"


Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (C) and Britain's Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (R) lead out other members of the family as they leave after attending the Royal Family's traditional Christmas Day church service at St Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham, Norfolk, eastern England, on December 25, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS
Queen Elizabeth II Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh outside St Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham. ADRIAN DENNIS

Brant is no fan of Peter and the "ARM spin machine".

He says Peter's usage of the term "Queen of England" and insistence that we need an "Australian head of state" are skewed and leading arguments.

"A more truthful and straight to the point question would simply be, 'Do you want Australia to become a republic?'," Brant says.

"The Australia Act in 1986 severed the last ties to the 'old country', and fully established the identity that is the Australian Crown.

"A process to establish a separate Australian Crown was commenced by the Whitlam government in 1973 through the Royal Styles and Titles Act which established Queen Elizabeth II as Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God Queen of Australia and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth.

"In Australia, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is no longer the Queen of Great Britain any more. She has a distinctly Australian character under our law. She is now, essentially, Australian."

Back to Peter, whose eyes I can practically see rolling back in his head at any mention of comparisons with America or affection for the royal family as reasons to hold back on becoming a republic.

The republicans have a timeline in place to ramp up the national conversation in anticipation of a postal vote or plebiscite in 2019, and a referendum in 2022.

In the past couple of years since Peter took over as chair, his profile has helped the group gain momentum. It can afford to employ five paid staff and has increased its membership sixfold.

"I've actually had people come up and say to me they don't want us to become a republic because we don't want a President Trump," Peter says.

"But he's not a function of a republic, he's a product of America."

But with a royal wedding in the works and another undoubtedly adorable sibling for Prince George and Princess Charlotte on the way we couldn't possibly turn our backs on the House of Windsor, could we?

"My wife is one of those people who loves all that stuff. Can't get enough of it," Peter says.

"The answer is all that still goes on. Americans fought a war to be independent from England and yet they consume news about the royal family more than anyone."