So said the Prime Minister of Australia; the official State visit of Her Majesty the Queen, Elizabeth II of Australia, excited patriotic and nationalistic fervour and pride; and the country basked in the glory of the presence of its monarch.
I speak, of course, of Sir Robert Menzies; Prime Minister of Australia, 1939-1941, and 1949-1966.
And I speak of course of Her Majesty’s first visit to Australia in early 1954, nearly 60 years ago.
How have things changed?
It’s an odd issue; the concept of republicanism barely registered on the political spectrum prior to Paul Keating listing it as an agenda item in 1992.
Even following on from the Dismissal in 1975, based on reputable polling in the years afterwards, an overwhelming majority of Australians remained committed to the monarchy as a constitutional institution.
After Keating placed republicanism on the mainstream agenda, public support rocketed; it reached its zenith at the 1999 referendum on the subject, at which roughly 44% of the country supported change, and roughly 56% preferred the status quo.
And support for a switch to a republic has been slipping ever since.
A Morgan poll today shows support for a switch to a republic at 34%, with 54% supportive of the retention of the constitutional monarchy.
I too saw the Queen “passing by;” in 2006, when working in the advertising division at Fairfax, I’d gone for a cigarette outside our building at the corner of La Trobe and Russell Streets, Melbourne…
…and noticing the streets were clear, and seeing a lot of motorcycle Police and then a Police escort, I saw the Queen’s Rolls-Royce come up La Trobe Street.
I was the only person there; so when the Queen waved to me, I waved back.
I did but see her passing by…some 50-ish years after Menzies did.
And I liked what I saw.
I’m a staunch, committed, and died-in-the-wool constitutional monarchist; it might surprise people that someone from fairly pure Scottish stock would think that way, and I will come back to the point.
But the issue has become topical again, with the 85-year-old Queen Elizabeth on her 16th (and probably last) visit to Australia.
I believe in the monarchy through no particular loyalty to the royal family; to me, the question is constitutional, and not a judgement based on whether you like the family involved or not.
I actually do like (some members of) the royal family though; I’ve always especially had a soft spot for Zara Phillips — Princess Anne’s daughter — and I think Charles will make an excellent King, but I digress.
The problem with a switch to a republican system of government in Australia is that it would be — by necessity — very heavily politicised.
The so-called “minimalist” republican model — where someone is chosen and ratified by two-thirds of the combined numbers of both Houses of federal Parliament — is ridiculous, for the following (simplified) reasons:
- A constitutional crisis will ensue whenever the 66.7% threshold cannot be met (which, politically, will be almost always based on election results over 110 years);
- Constitutionally, some states in Australia are entitled to remain (and would choose to remain) sovereign with the monarch as their Head of State, irrespective of what transpires nationally; and
- The “minimalist” republicans see the Head of State as a purely ceremonial figure, ignoring totally the requirement for an arbiter should something similar to 1975 ever occur again.
The case for direct election of a President is even worse — anyone who thinks such an elected office wouldn’t end up being a tug of war between (read: abused by) the Liberal and Labor parties is utterly delusional.
I’ve said it before, and will say again: I wouldn’t want a Liberal Party politician in such an office, and I’m a 20-year member of the Liberal Party. I certainly wouldn’t want someone from the ALP in the role either.
Sorry Malcolm; sorry Paul.
Plenty of people think like this. There’s no resolving this argument.
And for those who (naively) advocate that Australians would be on their best behaviour in any electoral dealings with a republican head of state, I have one word.
Politics is politics: there is no such thing as an office voted on by lemmings sitting on their hands, hoping against hope that all things good and nice will flow from their decision, and that everyone will simply play nice because the whole exercise is an effort in touchy-feely niceness.
That’s horse shit, people, and it doesn’t matter how any republican wants to interpret it.
By accident of history, we have a system of government that incorporates some hefty checks and balances; some of these derive directly from the Constitution, and some derive from the system of constitutional monarchy we enjoy.
There is an impartial apex at the summit of the structure: the Crown. Whether people like it or not, it can’t be replaced by an elected republican politician without destroying the integrity of the entire system.
I’d like to welcome Her Majesty back to Australia; it is known that the royal family generally harbours deep and genuine affection for this country, and indeed, many of them have spent protracted periods of time here.
I will see Queen Elizabeth II at a function next week, and I am very much looking forward to it.
And on account of my Scottish heritage — the Union (the real Union between England, Scotland and Wales, not some Trade Union consideration) has been better for Scotland than the alternative; separatist moves by the so-called Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, stand to rob that wonderful country of very, very much if they’re ever successful.
It’s a horrible example, but Salmond backed off during the so-called GFC when it became clear that whilst Westminster might be able to rescue Scottish banks that were in trouble, Holyrood couldn’t.
And of course, once the crisis passed, up came Salmond’s rhetoric yet again.
As someone who identifies as much as being Scottish as I do as a third-generation Australian, I have to say that people like Salmond are, in the big scheme of things, a gigantic red herring.
I did but see her passing by…I have done so already, as others have done before me; and metaphorically speaking, I look forward to she, her heirs and successors, doing so again.
No “royal bashing” folks, but the floor is yours — what do you think?
And if you want to argue for a republican system in government I’m happy to hear your views, but anything that boils down to “we need an Australian head of state” is old news.
We already have one: the Governor-General. There’s a separation already between the Crown and the functional head of state.
I’m interested to hear what people think.