08 June 2009

Happy Queen's Birthday - now let's move on

Listening to the radio this morning (774 ABC Melbourne), the presenter (Kathy Bedford) raised as a topic for discussion whether it was still appropriate to have a public holiday celebrating the Queen's birthday. Especially since her birthday is actually on 21 April.

And so the rabid monarchists pounced! Note that Ms Bedford was not proposing that the monarchy be dropped, nor, indeed, that the public holiday be dropped. I think she just hoped there would be a few laughs or interesting ideas raised in the alternative reasons for the holiday - e.g. National Sickie Day - how Australian can you get?

But still the monarchists can not let go of this issue, nor allow a whiff of republicanism to get an airing, so they rang in with all the reasons we must retain the Queen as our head of state, each one a furphy:

We already had a referendum, and Australia voted to retain the monarchy.

Well, referenda are very hard to pass at the best of times (since 1906 Australia has held 44 and only 8 were carried - or 18%). But let's be clear on what Australia did or did not vote on in the 1999 referendum.

The terms of the referendum were, "To alter the Constitution to establish the Commonwealth of Australia as a republic with the Queen and Governor-General being replaced by a President appointed by a two-thirds majority of the members of the Commonwealth Parliament." (Source: Australian Electoral Commission)

Now I think this is a pretty good model - in many ways superior (at least, more democratic) to the present one where the Governor General is effectively appointed by the Prime Minister. (The Prime Minister advises the Monarch who to appoint, and the only time in Australia's history when that advice has not been taken immediately was in 1930 when King George V - or rather the British parliament - did not want Sir Isaac Isaac's appointed because he was Australian! In the end our PM, James Scullin, held his ground and Sir Isaac was appointed.)

But Australians For A Constitutional Monarchy saw an opportunity in the mistrust Australians have for figures of authority, especially our politicians. Realising that over 54% of Australians wanted a republic, the monarchists actually campaigned in favour of one! Just, well, not this one where the pollies will just pick one of their mates as President.

Now the PM would never recommend one of his mates to the Queen for the GG role. Oh, wait, there was Peter Hollngworth, didn't that turn out well!

So, given the way that the campaign was run I do not think it fair to say that Australia voted for a monarchy, they simply voted against this model of a republic.

If we throw out the Queen, we also have to abolish the States, since they were set up by the monarch of the day.

Well, that's a bit tenuous, isn't it? If we take it to its logical conclusion, the Commonwealth was set up by the States, and local government is the responsibility of the Commonwealth, so if we get rid of the monarchy we should have no government at all!

Why make that link? Well, it's more electoral trickery. If there is something that you don't like that you think the electorate may vote for (say a republic), then tie it in their minds to something they will never vote for (say, abolishing the States), and it will never get past a referendum.

It is disingenuous to try to link these issues, as that link is something that will never be put to the people.

In the current economic climate, let's avoid the cost of shifting to a republic.

How much more would a republic cost than a monarchy? I can't believe we'd go for a model where the President gets paid a whole lot more than the Governor General, and Yarralumla is some choice real estate, a home fit for a President, why live anywhere else? Sure we'd have to reprint some stationary - but hey, let's make that part of the stimulus package; an ink and paper lead recovery! It's not a big cost, guys.

But if we want to save some serious wonga, then let's give up on being a democracy. That pesky Australian Electoral Commission cost the taxpayer a cool $184 million last financial year
(Source: AEC Annual Report Financial Statements) - money we could save if we did away with elections.

Although the government is not currently considering a move towards a republic, I doubt that the reason for that policy decision was the cost. Whatever system of government we have costs money - the cheapest form of government is a dictatorship, and I hope the monarchists aren't suggesting we adopt that.

The monarchy has worked well in Australia for over 200 years.

The monarchy gave us the rule of Governor William Bligh. Enough said.

Queen Elizabeth II is very nice, let's just wait until she is gone.

Yep, Elizabeth is a good queen. However, this is just a delaying tactic - I can't win this election now, so I will delay it in the hope that circumstances change and I can win it in the future. If an Australian PM tried to do this he'd be denounced by the press.

So when Elizabeth II eventually dies (her mother lived to be 101), what will the argument be? "That Charles, he's such a nice fellow, and a fan of the Goons, don't ya know, let's give him a go and think about a republic after he's gone."

Switching to a republic could have unforeseen consequences.

This is the best one. I nearly fell off my chair!

Seriously - someone called up ABC radio and went to air arguing that we needed to retain the monarchy because a republic could have, "unforeseen consequences."

Gosh, I wish I'd known that one when I was a teenager. The ultimate excuse for not doing anything...

"David, why haven't you tidied your room?"

"Because tidying my room could have unforeseen consequences."

"David, why haven't you done your homework?"

"Because doing my homework could have unforeseen consequences."

"David, why haven't you retained the monarchy?"

"Because retaining the monarchy could have unforeseen consequences."


Now, to be clear on my position I do favour a republic (like about 45% of the Australian population, according to a May 2008 Roy Morgan poll). And to be fair the arguments in favour of becoming a republic are not overwhelming - to quote the Australian Republican Movement:
An Australian republic is about Australia’s future. It’s about our shared identity and place in the world. It will have a Constitution that reflects the sovereignty of the Australian people, so that any Australian citizen can aspire to the highest office in the land.
But that's exactly the point I am trying to make - the arguments in favour of a republic are not based on fear or unrealistic expectation or a simple wish to hold on to what we have. They just state that as Australia has been a nation for over 100 years now, isn't it time we grew up, stood on our own two feet and had our own head of state, instead of borrowing the head of state from our former colonial masters?


  1. "roughly 70% of Australians wanted a republic"
    You must be dreaming.

  2. As I stated in my piece, as of a May 2008 poll roughly 45% of Australians want a republic. This is, however, opposed to only 42% who want to retain the monarchy.

    However, in 1997 John Howard was facing an electorate that was 54% in favour of a republic, and only 30% against (my 70% was an overstatement due to poor memory, which I have corrected).

    Howard was facing an election in 1998, and with numbers like that he could not ignore the issue. Although as an avowed monarchist, I bet he wished he could have.

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