Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 27, 2018

Moment of Truth, History and Australia’s Future (2018), by Mark McKenna (Quarterly Essay #69)



I was part way through this Quarterly Essay when I realised that the author was arguing against one of my most entrenched values… and so far, though I’ve reflected on his point-of-view, I still think I disagree strongly with his position.  I’ve been a staunch republican since 1975 when the queen’s representative sacked the democratically elected prime minister of Australia, and now that there’s a real prospect that Charles may become Australia’s king, I think there’s an urgency about Australia becoming a republic because the man is a fool whose public statements show that he doesn’t understand the separation of powers.

But Mark McKenna argues in Moment of Truth, History and Australia’s Future, that we should defer becoming a republic until we’ve reformed the Constitution to take account of Indigenous aspirations as outlined in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.  He thinks that the Makarrata Commission should deal with questions of sovereignty, treaty and Indigenous representation and achieve a meaningful constitutional settlement with Indigenous Australians and that should be our priority.

Well, I want all that too, and as quickly as possible but I don’t think we should delay the republic while we sort it all out.  If present attitudes and the dearth of effective parliamentary leadership on Indigenous issues are any indication, then I think it will be decades before we can forge a really good constitution that’s honest and fair about our First Peoples and fit for the 21st century.  I think we can ditch Liz and her unedifying spawn in the meantime and continue to work on constitutional reform afterwards, and keep at it till we get it right.

(The very first thing we should reform is the ridiculously difficult provisions for voting on reforms,  so that we can get things done.)

Since I don’t agree with McKenna, I’m not going to argue his case here.  You’ll have to read the essay for yourself!

Update 11/6/18 But for a different perspective you might want to read Jonathan Shaw’s review…

Author: MarkMcKenna
Title: Moment of Truth, History and Australia’s Future
Quarterly Essay #69, published by Black Inc 2018
Source: personal subscription

Available from Fishpond: Moment of Truth: History and Australia’s Future: Quarterly Essay 69 or subscribe through the QE website.


  1. I’m an ambivalent republican because I am wary of a directly elected president. I know the Irish and the Germans have a non-intrusive presidency but I worry that our subservience to popular leaders would push us in the French/US direction. A president elected for 5 years by 60% of the Senate is I guess my preferred position.


    • I used to be a favour of a minimalist position, but now I think, whyever can’t Australians be like everywhere else and vote for their own president?
      We will never ever get our own president if the monarchists can still divide and conquer over the model, and people in general are never ever going to vote for a model that implicitly says, you can’t be trusted to choose wisely, trust your politicians instead. .
      As Trump will prove, they will only ever choose unwisely once.


  2. I couldn’t agree with you more. A republic, recognising indigenous people in the constitution and a new flag that incorporates the Aboriginal colours. That’s my stand.


  3. Charles isn’t particularly popular in the UK either. Even republicans have tended to treat the Queen with a grudging respect, but I suspect they will become more vocal when she has gone. We may well see some changes in the future.


    • Only if we make them happen. Inertia and discord have got us where we are, far too late to avoid him unless old Liz lasts long enough for us to get our act together.


      • Charles will definitely become King if his mother doesn’t outlive him. British republicans have kept their heads down because they know the Queen is widely respected for being hard-working, devoted to duty etc. But I really think the gloves will come off after her death. Many Brits haven’t forgiven him for Diana. William is more popular but, like his mother, will probably be more of a moderniser. It won’t happen overnight in the UK but you can see big changes on the horizon. In the long run the monarchy will, in my opinion, slowly diminish. I can completely see your point of view. If I were an Australian or New Zealander, it would annoy the heck out of me, too. Is there still much support there for a monarchy?


        • It’s hard to tell how much support there is. The airhead reporters at the ABC go weak at the knees over every Royal wedding or birth and the concept of balance with the republicans goes out the window if there’s a royal visit. It’s probably worse on the commercial stations.
          But there’s a huge chunk of the overseas-born-or-descended Australian population that doesn’t consume ‘white’ media and while they are probably politely keeping their opinions to themselves, if their origins are in totalitarian countries they are probably very much in favour of democratically elected heads of state.


  4. Hi Lisa

    With what you wrote about Indigenous aspirations, I thought you might be interested in a piece my granddaughter just wrote.

    Regards Anna

    Anna Rosner Blay Managing Editor HYBRID PUBLISHERS PO Box 52 Ormond VIC 3204 Australia

    Tel: (03) 9504 3462 See our website at:



    • Thanks for this, Anna… it’s good to see Victoria leading the way with this. It might be like the Apology, with the states apologising in their parliaments before the federal government did. The only problem is, is that treaties are between nations and it’s the federal government under the constitution which has responsibility for it.


  5. […] Moment of Truth, History and Australia’s Future, by Mark McKenna (Quarterly Essay #69) […]


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