‘You Stole and Gained’: Inside Jamaica’s Divisive Republican Push and the Lessons It Can Teach Australia

Barbados became the world’s youngest republic in 2021 and officially ousted Queen Elizabeth II as head of state in a ceremony marking the country’s 55th independence anniversary.
It was attended by the future King Charles, who in a speech acknowledged the “terrifying atrocities of slavery” that the Caribbean island suffered.
The Caribbean had long mulled over the idea of ​​severing ties with the monarchy, but after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the uproar of republican movements grew even stronger and reverberated throughout the region.
Guyana, Trinidad, Dominica and Barbados are all republics and have paved the way for other countries to consider transitioning.

These states remain members of the Commonwealth, but elect their own heads of state without outside influence and control their own internal and external affairs.

Man and woman.

The new President of Barbados, Sandra Mason, awards then-Prince Charles the Order of Freedom of Barbados during the 2021 Presidential Inauguration Ceremony in Barbados. Source: AP / David McDee Critchlow

Such political independence has been the key to republican movements around the world, but for some Jamaicans, becoming a republic is especially symbolic.

History of slavery in Jamaica

A British colony for over 300 years, Jamaica became a key outpost of the transatlantic slave trade that operated from the 16th to the 19th centuries. During this period, the British Empire enslaved, exploited and mistreated hundreds of thousands of people.
Jamaicans have been calling for recognition of this brutality for decades. But poet and academic Opal Palmer Adisa says that’s not enough.
“We don’t just want an apology, because to a certain extent it’s easy,” she says.

“We want to be compensated for the work of our ancestors, which actually enriched Britain and the British Empire.”

Two women at the table

Poet and academic Opal Palmer Adisa with Professor Rosalia Hamilton. Credit: SBS date line

Last year, Britain’s Prince William and his wife Kate toured the Caribbean nations of Jamaica, Belize and the Bahamas as part of Queen Elizabeth’s 70th birthday celebrations.

But the couple were met with protests, with Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness saying his country intended to become a republic.
“We’re moving on,” he said. “We intend to … realize our true ambitions and purpose of an independent, developed, prosperous country,” he said.
Opal says the reparations she and others in the Jamaican Republican movement are demanding will help overcome historic oppression and bring about tangible results.
“Why in Jamaica, predominantly black, do poor blacks have no land when their ancestors built the British Empire?” Opal asks.

“You stole and benefited, and now we want to return what we have earned to benefit our people.”

Prince William and Kate.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in Jamaica in 2022 as part of their Caribbean tour on behalf of the Queen to commemorate her platinum jubilee. Credit: Jane Barlow/PA/Alamy

Despite historical wrongdoings, there is still division in the country over whether leaving the monarchy will bring the solution that Republicans like Opal are seeking.

The Jamaican government plans to hold a referendum before 2025, but current polls show just over 50 percent support the republic.
Monarchists such as Jason Green say that a monarchy provides a level of stability that cannot be guaranteed as a republic.

“The Republican argument is that we will get rid of the king, we will have a president, and we will move forward and become a developed country – that’s what they sold us,” he says.

A man in a cap.

Jason Green is a Jamaican monarchist. Credit: SBS date line

As a low-income country, Jason believes maintaining the status quo is the safest bet.

“There is often a perception that patriotism means you should support a Republican in government.

“For me, patriotism means supporting everything that is in the interests of your country. And as a monarchist, I believe it is in Jamaica’s interests to maintain the current constitution.”

Republican Movement of Australia

While Opal is one of Jamaica’s leading pro-Republican voices, she says the movement is gaining momentum around the world.
“I also think there is a kind of international energy going on… not only [in] Caribbean, you also have Africa, you also have Asia.
“We all now speak the same language and point the same finger at the British Empire and what they have done to all of us.”
In 1999, Australia held a referendum in which voters were asked whether they approved of a constitutional amendment that would see Australia become a republic, with the Queen and Governor-General replaced by a president appointed by a two-thirds majority of the Commonwealth. Parliament.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese refused to hold a referendum on a republic in this parliamentary term following the Queen’s death in September 2022, but offered to hold a referendum if his government were re-elected.

Mr. Albanese’s government has appointed First Assistant Secretary of State Matt Thistlethwaite.

We all now speak the same language and point the same finger at the British Empire and what they have done to all of us.

Opal Palmer Addis

Craig Foster is Chairman of the Australian Republican Movement.
He says the Australian Republic is a unifying and inclusive national identity.
“Conversations that Australia has long avoided now reveal the long-term effects of dispossession, the racism that underpinned colonization and the understanding that any further formal association [with the Crown] not only slows down and stifles cultural growth, but also seriously damages unity,” he told SBS Dateline.
“Prohibition because it perpetuates discrimination, inequality, irresponsibility and lack of representation at the very top of the nation.

“The Crown, by its very nature, discriminates on the basis of gender, nationality, genealogy and religion, as the British King is the ‘protector of the (Anglican) faith’ and is therefore contrary to Australia’s religious diversity. This is a serious insult to Australia as we see ourselves today.”


Craig Foster is Chairman of the Australian Republican Movement. Credit: SBS date line.

Of the 56 nations that make up the Commonwealth, the king is the head of state in only 15. Five have their own monarchs, and 36 have become republics.

“We need complete independence to fit into our modern skin,” Foster said.
“Genuine multiculturalism, in my opinion, means absolute equality and access for any cultural background, ethnicity and race in Australia.

“While we will ever have a monarchy at the head of state in this country, it is not realistic.”

“It’s not about the individuals involved, it’s about the system.”

Philip Benwell was chairman of the Australian Monarchist League for 30 years.
He says the constitutional monarchy is “the best system in the world.”
“This is the reason why Australia has become one of the great countries of the world, because it has provided political stability, which in turn has provided economic stability.
“Having a monarch, who in this country is represented by a governor-general… [they] become the executive head of state [and their] the job is to be the guardian of the Constitution and the Australian people.

“The existence of this system of independent judges means that politicians cannot get full and absolute power.”

A man in a suit.

Philip Benwell was chairman of the Australian Monarchist League for 30 years. Credit: Supplied

In 1975, then-Governor-General Sir John Kerr used his “reserve powers” to sack then-Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in an unprecedented manner.

“There was a political crisis where the Senate blocked supplies due to government action, which meant the government couldn’t pay the salaries of civil servants, the army, or anyone else, and hit a dead end,” says Benwell.
“The task of the governor was to see that the government continued, and … he asked the prime minister to carry out a double dissolution.” [election]the prime minister refused.
“The option the governor general saw was to fire the prime minister, he appointed the leader of the opposition as acting prime minister on the basis that the acting prime minister would call an immediate election, which he did.

“These elections were held within a month. And the people had their say. This is democracy in action.”

Having this independent judge system means that politicians cannot assume full and absolute power.

Philip Benwell

Some recent polls show that the number of Australians supporting the Republic is on the rise. In January, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age’s Resolve Political Monitor published a poll showing support for the Republic increased from 36 percent to 39 percent among eligible voters since the death of Queen Elizabeth.
“I think you’ll find that most people don’t want to change, it’s not the same as asking a simple question,” Mr. Benwell said.
“It is about changing the whole structure of our way of life, our management system.
“It’s not about the individuals involved, it’s about the system.

“Individuals come and go… The point is that the system goes on because it is the system that protects our democracy and our freedom, not individuals.”

Watch the Dateline Documentary Breaking Up with the Brit at 9:30 pm on Tuesday, March 14th on SBS or stream on SBS On Demand.