Clapped-out baby-boomers have killed the republic
Here’s the worst political ad ever made in Australia:
It’s not a very good version, I know. It’s grainy, and the words don’t line up properly.
But you get the general idea: the two worst prime ministers of our modern history, delivering a boring and patronising monologue about something which should have been exciting and inclusive.
There’s a consensus that this rotten ad did a lot of damage to the yes vote in 1999. I’d go one further and argue that, 10 years on, its effects are still being felt.
By using a couple of old political stagers, who are probably more the subject of ambivalence or derision than admiration in suburban Australia, the yes vote played into the monarchists’ claim that the republic was a we-know-what’s-good-for-you indulgence by our political class.
Ten years on I’m not sure if this perception has changed.
The last time the republic reared its head was at Kevin Rudd’s summit, probably not long after Hugh Jackman’s stirring rendition of From Little Things Big Things Grow, where the intelligentsia again engaged in its now ritualised call for a fresh vote, or at the very least the creation of a non-partisan steering committee to examine the possible scheduling of one.
The problem the Republicans have is this - at some point, it might actually occur to them to invite the Australian people along for the ride.
Aside from the odd burst from an arts student intern working at Triple J, you never hear young Australians talking about a republic. For good or for ill - and some of it is definitely for ill - all the passion we’ve seen from younger folk over the past few years has been reserved for hanging Aussie flags from their cars and getting southern cross tatts on their ankles.
And as long as the republican argument continues to be put largely by people who look and act like characters from a David Williamson play, generations x, y and z will remain professionally underwhelmed.
One of the biggest drivers of republican sentiment for older Australians is the dimissal of the Whitlam Government. But younger Australians haven’t maintained their rage over Sir John Kerr’s actions - they never had any rage in the first place. Many if not most of them wouldn’t even know what the dismissal was.
The challenge then - and this is why the above ad was such a shocker - is to make the argument not by appealling to bourgeois dinner party sentiment, or blathering on about our reputation in Asia, but instead tapping into Australia’s excellent hostility towards toffs.
I speak here of the royal family.
If I’d been asked to do the yes ads, I would have got a band like the Hoodoo Gurus to do a cover of I Am, You Are, We Are Australian and run it over a montage of shots of Charles with Camilla, of the Duke of Edinburgh shooting an elk, of Princess Anne falling off her horse and into a pond, some snaps of some lesser royals and a few members of the House of Lords dressed like halfwits at Ascot, and then at the end just had the words “Yeah Right” on the screen.
Maybe it was Malcolm Turnbull’s influence, in that he didn’t want to pick on the filthy rich.
But the strongest argument against the current system is that, as the ultimate meritocracy, it makes no sense for our young, modern nation to have such an elitist, born-to-rule absurdity as the Royal Family parked at the top of our system of government.
As long as the republic remains the stuff of inner-city dinner party chat, the monarchists will sleep soundly in their Union Jack pyjamas.
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