We reported in this column on 13 July 2006 (“A remarkable bargain”) that the British government, and presumably the British taxpayer, had once again made a particularly handsome profit from the monarchy – over 147 million pounds, that is about A$ 350 million. The profit increased this year by about 7 million pounds. That is over A$16 million.
One of the hidden benefits of a constitutional monarchy is in its impact on trade. As we reported on 9 March 2007, the marriage of Princess Mary to Crown Prince Frederik has led to a surge in trade between Australia and Denmark. Now the UK travel authority, VisitBritain, has revealed that 57% of visitors to the UK cite the monarchy as the principal reason for coming. According to Richard Palmer in the International Express, 27 March 2007, the resulting income for the UK is around 9.5 billion pounds – about twice the value of exports by the British arms industry. And its not just the buildings, the most frequently asked questions at the Britain and London visitor centre concern the Changing of the Guard, The Tower, Buckingham Palace, Windsor and the State Opening of Parliament. Experts expect a boom this year flowing from the film The Queen.
No similar impact results from being a republic. Admittedly, Vice President Cheney’s recent visit to Sydney stopped the traffic on both sides of the Harbour Bridge, but not because of any public interest. On the contrary, a republic can be a financial drain, even if it works well.
Reports from the US suggest that the total expenditure by candidates in the extraordinarily long presidential election should exceed US$ I billion. If a presidential elections were to be held in Australia, as republicans now propose, a large part of the cost of the political parties trying to persuade us to make the unavoidable but ghastly choice of electing a Labor, Coalition of Green president would eventually be provided by you, the taxpayers. (I wonder whether the developers and the publicans would top this up as they do in NSW. As the spokesman for one famously said,” Democracy is expensive”). To this should be added the large sum to hold the election. Our present estimate for the election of, let us say President Cheryl Kernot, would be at least $70 million plus campaign subsidies to all parties in parliament. At the present time, the cost of selecting and appointing the Governor-General would be far less than electing, say, the dog catcher in Little Rock, Arkansas.
The idea of having an elected president with the authority of the Governor-General co-existing with a prime minister, as the republicans think will ensure them victory in a referendum, is irresponsible. Professor Craven and Malcolm Turnbull will be voting against that one, and the media will be divided. But Kevin Rudd maintains (this column 29 January 2007) that he is "relatively relaxed" about the idea of a directly elected president of an Australian republic if that is what the majority of voters want. They won’t, as both Greg Craven and Malcolm Turnbull predict. The news from the Ukraine should persuade Mr. Rudd to reconsider. On 2 April 2007, President Viktor Yushchenko signed a decree to dissolve parliament and appointed a date for the early elections, 27 May 2007. The parliament then prohibited the government from financing the elections and demanded the president withdraw the decree. There have been protests in the capital and the Russian and Polish presidents are trying to mediate. Some fear the country may break up. The markets have reacted adversely, with Standard & Poor lowering its rating on the Ukraine from "stable" to "negative".
In the meantime, Chechnya's leading warlord, Ramzan Kadyrov, has been sworn in as the republic's president. According to the London Daily Telegraph of 7 April 2007, he is a 30 year old amateur boxer who keeps a lion as a pet, and who has been accused of presiding over a culture of torture and secret prisons. It is alleged that he once used a blow torch on a rival. His 8,000-strong private army, known as Kadyrovtsi, is perhaps the worst offender against human rights among the loyalist militias.
Stability and freedom are the hallmarks of constitutional monarchies. Why would anyone want to change that?