ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Australia : Hundred Years of Federation

On the three important issues - the republic, Asia and the Aborigines, all considered important for Australia's contemporary national identity - there has been only halting movement. This is hardly the stuff of festive celebrations of a century of federation.

It is festive time in Australia. Starting January 1, federal Australia is 100 years old. On that day (January 1, 1901), the sparsely populated British colonies of this vast continent became one country. In terms of Australia’s relations with the mother country, it was largely a notional change. The British Crown was still the paramount power. In some ways, Australians were even more British than the people back home. It was their only identity in a far away land. During the first world war, for instance, they fought for the home country at tremendous cost. At the time, Australia was under no direct threat. And in the second world war, it was the same old story until Japan entered the war. After that Australia sought closer security ties with the US.

Australia’s identity problem, therefore, remains unresolved. Paul Keating, a former prime minister, sought to give Australia its own distinct identity. An important step was to nudge the country in the republican direction. This would mean severing Australia’s links with the British Crown. Australia would have its own president in place of the Crown-appointed governor general (at the recommendation of the Australian prime minister). In this way, any residual notion of Australia as a British colony or domain would disappear. It will give Australia a new confidence and new acceptability in its region.

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