“We’d have been a republic years ago but for the Queen”, declared the veteran journalist Frank Devine in his column in The Australian on 24 March , 2006, annoying not only monarchists, but because of his apparent attachment to direct election, making the sombre turnbullian republicans even gloomier .
Warming to his theme, Frank Devine wrote, with a familiarity which puts monarchists distinctly on edge, that Elizabeth II “ sure knows how to be queen”. He believes women are far better than men at handling the modern symbolic monarchy – men lack the strength of character to anchor civilisation and order just by being there. The monarchy’s longevity, he says, is due to having had 117 years of Queens since Victoria ascended to the throne in 1837, and only 52 of kings. “We’ve grown accustomed,” he says,” to queenly faces.”
This statement reminded me of a lecture I gave to an historical group at Bondi Junction’s Church in the Market Place. Rather than being in some charming ancient market place, it is in a nondescript building in the dreadful Bondi Junction Mall.
This church replaced a gem, a Methodist Church which was one of the visual delights from the Bondi tram ride. Anyway, I was to lecture in their Great Women in History series, and my designated subject was on “Victoria and Elizabeth II”. From my reading, I have to agree that women certainly dominate the list of great sovereigns. You only have to think of the reigns of not only Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Victoria, but also Queen Elizabeth I.
This lecture gave me the opportunity of demonstrating the great and fundamental difference between democratic republics and constitutional monarchies. This is that republics are created and then tend to be frozen in aspic, but constitutional monarchies evolve. That quality allows monarchies to accommodate to changing circumstances in a way which is inconceivable in a republic.
Unlike Elizabeth 1, Queen Victoria was, and Queen Elizabeth II is a constitutional monarch. But they are very different constitutional monarchs. Victoria was Queen –Empress, wearing one indivisible Imperial Crown. Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia, wears 15 other separate and independent Crowns, and is also the Head of The Commonwealth.
Frank Devine says that if you look for a single great monument to the reigns of the two queens, Victoria and Elizabeth 11, it is India, which, drawing on British imperialism’s “priceless legacy” of first-rate legal and administrative systems, has surged to superpower status while remaining a member of the Commonwealth. He makes a good point. With the advantages he describes of its British inheritance, and I would add, the English language, I have long wondered when India would surpass China.
India’s burden has long been the stifling socialist bureaucracy which was installed by the British educated leadership after independence, and which shackled the economy. The London School of Economics has much to answer for! But now liberated from these academician imposed shackles, India is forging ahead. And without China’s one child policy, India will not age prematurely.
Pointing out the often underrated Commonwealth represents 30 per cent of the world’s population who live in 53 mostly democratic countries, and who use English as a common official language, Frank Devine believes that its “clubbishness” – and willingness to bar members who flout club rules, most recently Zimbabwe – keeps the Commonwealth largely free of the “dissonance and sleaze” that hobbles the UN.
And he is absolutely right to think that The Queen is crucial to the organisation’s cohesiveness. He argues that “it’s lucky for us direct-election republicans that a chap will follow the Queen on the throne.” I have to let you into a secret. Frank is pulling your leg. He’s such a wag. Not so long ago I was at a function chatting to a small group which included his daughter Miranda, who is one of the few conservatives tolerated at Fairfax, presumably so that they can stop their hemorrhaging circulation in a market whose potential readers have quadrupled in one lifetime . Frank wandered over, and hailed his progeny: “Hullo darling! “ . Thn he looked at me and said again, “Hullo darling! ” which seemed to surprise or even shock some of the people in the group.
I said, “I don’t mind how Mr. Devine addresses me, provided he doesn’t follow Paddy Mc Guinness, who to my great embarrassment sometimes greets me with these words” Hullo, comrade!”…I am trying, desperately, to keep his induction of me into his schoolboy Marxist cell out of the press, and quite frankly, Paddy is blowing my cover.”
So as I say, Frank is of course not serious. He is being what he loves to be – mischievous. He knows as well as Greg Craven and Malcolm Turnbull that direct election grafted on to the Australian version of the Westminster system would not work, in fact it would be a disaster. He knows too that Australians don’t want the American system, which, although too rigid, too frozen by its Georgian constitution, does work-although it has never been successfully exported.
Frank is, I suspect, a covert monarchist, one of a growing band across the nation. Some are planted everywhere, ready to act when needed. Others are secret monarchists, embarrassed to admit this in public. This is not so in Frank’s case. I don’t for a moment think that he worries that if this came out he may be barred from the journalists’ club, or be hissed in the press gallery, or that corgis would openly lick his hand in the streets , or even that he may never again be invited to the fashionable republican salons of inner Sydney. Heavens, his ABC and SBS reception could well be jammed in retaliation, too!
Frank couldn’t care less about all that. In fact he’d probably enjoy the reaction. No Frank poses as a direct election republican to “take the mickey” out of not so much out of the monarchists, but what is infinitely more fun, our gloomy turnbullian republicans.
Frank is the oldest enfant terrible that I know. I only wish there were more.