The Queen has just spent four days celebrating her Diamond Jubilee. She did so in what they call grand style. Good for her. She is a good stick. She cheers up the people of England, the family she heads generates tourism, and she does kindly deeds for benevolent causes.
She is also our head of state. Don’t worry, as a republican I am not about to use the occasion of her 60-year reign to reheat the dusty old arguments for constitutional change. We had our chance in 1999 and we blew it. In the absence of any mainstream political will to revisit the issue, we are stuck with the Queen and her heirs for a very long time. Our lives as Australians are not materially different for that fact, even if that fact is anachronistic and jars with our national belief in meritocracy.
What interested me more about the Diamond Jubilee was the image it presented of England itself, and what a sad and sorry joint it has become.
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Australia has its own identity, there is no question of that. What it doesn’t have, while we have this umbilical cord link to a foreign power, is its own unambiguous Australian identity.
Try to explain Australia’s current arrangements to an Indian or a Greek person and you can see them struggling to keep a straight face.
One of Australia’s most distinguished diplomats, the former Indonesian Ambassador Richard Woolcott, once wrote that when Australian diplomats are received at official functions overseas, the anthem that is played is ‘God Save the Queen’ and the Queen is toasted at the end as head of state.
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Bob Hawke has nit the nail on the head – he’s called for a referendum on the issue of a republic and suggests the voters should be asked one simple question: do they want a change to the constitution after the Queen dies?
Hawkie is right – dead right, but why wait until the 84 year old Queen of England goes to that other throne on the sky. Her mother’s family is known for its longevity – she could last another ten to fifteen years; which would put Charles (that’s if he outlives his mum) well into his 70’s and more removed in relevance to Australia than ever, and young William would be coming up to forty and we can only hope by then he’s come to realize that he didn’t want the job anyway.
It was interesting that the subject raised by Hawke came up in the week of the foreign monarch’s 84th birthday which went totally unnoticed except for – wait for it - David Flint, the blue rinse set from Sydney’s North Shore and members of the Flat Earth Society.
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On Tuesday 19th of January, Prince William – the 2nd in line to various thrones – will visit Australia for just the second time. It has been reported that he is doing this to “get to know Australia”.
Since this tour was announced in December, as Media Director for the Australian Republican Movement (ARM), I have been busy with requests from English broadcasters and newspapers.
The interest should have been surprising, since William is only stopping in on Australia for three days for a “semi-official” tour on his way to New Zealand. Moreover, he is visiting only two cities: Sydney and Melbourne. However, given that there has been a massive PR campaign by the Palace to present William as the youthful – cuter – face of the monarchy, it was inevitable that the English press would be awash with expectation about whether Australia would warm to the Prince like good little subjects.
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The Australian monarchists are divided – David Flint and his tightly controlled Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy (ACM) claim the Governor General is the Australian head of state while Philip Benwell and his Australian Monarch League (AML) are with the Republicans – it’s the foreign non resident unelected British Queen who holds this nation’s top job.
Ten years up the track, the debate is simmering away under the surface and right now Flint is holding the trump cards – he is said to pull in half a million dollars a year towards his cause which is remarkable considering ACM has only two members – Flint and his sidekick former Roman Catholic seminarian Thomas Flynn. The movement’s constitution is clever; its run by the pair with the help of would be members, who are non voting “supporters”
Professor Flint’s latest take on the vexed subject of a republic revolves around the quaint notion that if we change the constitution we’ll have a “politician’s republic”. He fails to mention we are now laboring under a “politician’s monarchy” – a point Tony Blair underscored when he pulled the Queen into line over her unbelievable indifference to the death of Princess Diana in 1997.
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