Don’t be distracted by the balding royal
The arrival of young Willie Windsor in the Antipodes has brought renewed attention to the white elephant sitting in Australia’s lounge-room.
The republic has stirred, goaded by the media frenzy surrounding the Prince and the cheap point-scoring by monarchists heralding Willie as the man to save them from well-deserved irreverence.
It is nice to see him out there in Redfern, a slight change of pace from the official welcoming at Admiralty House. It is nice to see him mixing with the kids at Kirribili for lunch (Michael Clarke’s timely ton just snuck him onto the list).
It’s also nice for the oldies, who could coo about how “he has his mum’s smile”. Bless! Everything about the Prince is just so nice.
Willie, though, is simply a distraction. The issue is not about his capacity to be everyone’s drinking buddy. I’m sure he’s a super guy, flushed with all the down-to-earth charm a lifetime of privilege can breed. The point is: he’s not really ours, is he?
Republicans are standing up for our nation’s right to be represented by, well, a member of our own nation. Australia’s Head of State, the living embodiment of the Australian nation, is Queen Elizabeth II.
Not only is our representative not even Australian, we share her with 15 other countries! Kind of makes one feel used.
Those defending Her Maj’s right to lord it over the colonials are fuddy-duddies who’d be content in the museum with the Morphy Richards toaster and the Qualcast mower. Most are WASPish and excruciatingly dour. Heavily-protected slippers, women in the kitchen, chops and boiled veg kind of guys - you get the drift.
How do otherwise sensible people defend having an unelected citizen of a foreign state represent Australians? Buggered if I know. It’s an absurd position. Not convinced? Here’s a brief checklist for you to match the monarchy against modern Australia:
1. Does the monarchy embody democratic values? Nope - you’re in because the stork happened to drop you on the front porch at the Palace. You can’t get elected and you can’t make it in on merit (unless that means seducing a Windsor - shudder).
2. Does it stand for religious tolerance? Nope - exclusively Anglican if you don’t mind sir. If you do manage to slip a hook into a royal you have to convert or desert the family.
3. Does it represent egalitarianism? Hah! The monarchy is the prop holding up the truly distasteful English class system. To Australia’s enduring credit we managed to avoid incorporating our own - with a healthy dose of ye olde tall poppy - yet somehow can’t see the irony in having the ultimate snob as Head of State.
But, the monarchists argue, the monarchy is an essential part of our history! Well, who’s history exactly?
Australia isn’t the lovely little British settler colony it once was. It is a vibrant melting-pot of people from all over the world, a fair proportion of whom have absolutely no reason to swear allegiance to the British sovereign.
All of this means the republican’s job must be relatively easy.
Yeh, I wish.
The biggest opponent we face is apathy. As the well-worn argument goes: if things are fine how they are, why change it? Don’t fix what ain’t broke, don’t rock the boat! Thank goodness, though, for those who were prepared to give something different a go or we might still be arguing over the bearskins in a cave somewhere.
People are afraid of any changes, big or small, because they present an unquantifiable amount of risk. That’s understandable. It’s also why presenting information in a clear and easily-digestible manner is essential to the republican movement. No one can reasonably be expected to support something they don’t understand. They can, however, be expected to believe wild, woolly ideas with no basis in reality.
Exhibit A in this case is the mini hysteria regarding a republican Australia and the Commonwealth Games. The demagogues would have you believe if we ditched the monarchy we’d have to ditch the medals, which simply isn’t true.
The 1949 London Declaration, where India set a precedent for republican membership in the Commonwealth, guarantees we can continue to clean up the gold ever four years. Oh, yeh, and attend all the meetings and stuff.
This argument of change, however, is a convenient distraction. The minimalist model is almost risk-free (it is essentially an editing seminar) and represents the best opportunity to move Australia out of the 17th Century.
Becoming a republic is a relatively simple exercise in our case. It’s almost criminally simple in comparison to how independence plays out in the rest of the world. You only need to crane your head north to East Timor to see our own good fortune.
Despite the efforts of those who’d have you think touching the Constitution will open up a direct portal to Hell (or Italian politics), it really isn’t a difficult exercise to craft our new Head of State. Malcolm Turnbull showed us the way years ago.
His excellent book The Reluctant Republic provides a practical methodology for amending the Constitution. A deletion of “Your Maj” here, insertion of “El Prez” there, some other minor amendments in polished prose - no Les Murray please - and voila, Republic! (Note: I may have slightly oversimplified).
An Australian republic, however, is not just change for the sake of change.
The risks involved are minimal - sure, some people might get lost on the way to Perth Hospital once it’s lost its ‘Royal’ prefix and professional societies will be stuck with all their old stationery - but, oh, the benefits!
No more confusion at overseas ceremonies (remember Bush Jnr toasting the Queen of Australia?), no more sniggers behind our back at the UN, no more costly royal family jaunts down to see the old colonials. And we still get to clean up the medals at the Commonwealth Games. Win-win really.
A republic represents the final step in a maturing process Australia has been involved in since the end of World War II. We’ve grown up as a country but are still a little scared to step out on our own, to leave the family home. In fits and bursts over 109 years we’ve established de-facto independence (remember the Australia Act was only passed 13 years ago) but still haven’t finished the job.
As the old man’s proverb goes: “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well”. No one likes a slacker, someone who cuts corners or can’t be figged finishing what they start. Why should the nation be any different? For Australia that means doing away with the monarchy, cutting the last links to Britain, and finally, completely, becoming an independent nation. Job well done.
In years past people spilt blood to win the right to determine who represents them and why. Surely, surely, Australians can afford to spill ink to do the same.
Oh, and don’t worry: William can still visit.
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