New Tack Taken on Push for Republic

From: "The Australian" October 20, 2012 12:00AM

THE Australian Republican Movement is launching a new national campaign led from the bush and the regions, without pushing a preferred model.

ARM national director David Morris said the campaign would avoid politicians and seek to re-engage ordinary citizens via a "conversation" about what it means to be Australian.

It will be launched today at Hobart's Museum of Old and New Art, owned by millionaire professional gambler David Walsh.

Mr Morris said the campaign would seek to avoid many of mistakes of the campaign that led to the failed 1999 referendum.

"This is a completely new approach -- it's a ground-up attempt to engage with the community and to talk with the Australian people about our identity and our values," he said. "We hope to find what we believe is there: a consensus about Australia today and Australia tomorrow. We have unique values, particularly a sense of a fair go, taking people as they are, our great lifestyle. We think most Australians want to find a way to articulate that."

Unlike the late 90s, the campaign will be gentle, attempting to stimulate debate about the symbolism of having an Australian as head of state.

Starting in Tasmania over the coming month, teams of volunteers will attend public events to engage members of the public and seek their views about Australian identity. It would move to other "regional" areas and seek to generate a debate led by the bush and non-major capitals, to avoid perceptions that the republic is a Sydney concern.

Mr Walsh, who will attend the launch, has advised the ARM on a slogan. "He suggested simply 'what do we want to be when we grow up?'," Mr Morris said.

As well as rural and regional Australians, the campaign would target teenagers; in the expectation a plebiscite was probably still two or three years away.

"A lot of young people have not thought about this issue; this is an opportunity to reach out to them," Mr Morris said.

The ARM had seen a significant rise in donors in recent months and believed the public was ready to re-examine the issue. However, the movement would not be trying to rush Australians, demanding a vote anytime soon or seeking to discredit the monarchy.

He said the launch so close to the arrival of Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, for a visit to Australia, was "coincidental".

The ARM would push for a plebiscite on the threshold issue of whether Australia should have its own head of state, rather than repeat the mistake of the referendum, when republicans split on the issue of whether parliament or the people should elect a president.