[This article was written at the request of The Conversation, an independent source of information, analysis and commentary from the Australian university and research sector.It was first published on 20 December, 2011 as "Time to move on: Roxon’s republic moment has already passed".]
Nicola Roxon, sworn in last week as the first law officer of the Australian Crown, reportedly plans to reignite the debate on Australia becoming a republic.
Former prime minister, Paul Keating has also recently joined her calls, claiming “Australia can only be a great country when it claims its head of state as one of its own.”
But the new Attorney-General, who has solemnly affirmed her allegiance to the Crown on the floor of the House of Representatives on five occasions, seems to be speaking against the policy of the Gillard government, and fails to understand the lack of public interest or support for a republic.
….Nicola Roxon out of step….
Nicola Roxon has said she is a strong advocate of a republic, who was now looking for the “right opportunity to re-invigorate debate”. But Labor has affirmed again and again that a republic is off the agenda during the present reign of Queen Elizabeth II.
The government is being realistic here – polling and focus groups are telling them that another referendum would suffer a greater defeat than with the referendum in 1999. No doubt they also realise that any government pushing such a widely perceived low order issue as republicanism – with its associated cost – could attract considerable hostility.
As to the opportunity to “re-invigorate the debate”, there have been 12 such (mainly taxpayer-funded) opportunities, seven since the referendum in 1999. The latter have been futile attempts to work out how to persuade the people to change their minds.
In the meantime the republicans, including the new Attorney-General, have studiously avoided explaining to the Australian people what sort of republic they are proposing. As Channel 7’s David Koch told them when they launched their embarrassing Mate for a Head of State campaign in 2005, if they can’t explain what they want, nobody is going to listen.
In fact what the republicans are doing is tantamount to marching down the street chanting “we want a republic … but we haven’t the foggiest idea what sort of republic we want.”
…little public support…
And whatever the passion in the republican salons in Sydney and Melbourne, the fact is that none of the moves to remove the Australian Crown have enjoyed much public interest, except perhaps for a movement in the 19th century.
Even at the height of the referendum, and certainly at the conclusion of the Mate for a Head of State campaign, attempts to call out the republican troops were abject failures.
Contrast that with Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy’s (ACM) demonstration in Sydney against Bob Carr’s expulsion of the governor which brought over 20,000 people into the streets of Sydney in 1996.
Or just recall the recent massive demonstrations of loyalty in Brisbane, Melbourne, and especially in Perth for their Queen on her recent visit to Australia. The fact is the Australian people are not even slightly interested in the republican obsession about removing our oldest institution – one which provides leadership beyond politics.
And this is the problem with the republican movement.
It was never about improving governance and making the politicians more accountable to the people. It was always about increasing the power of the political elites.
Even with a mainly republican media, this was something about which the people were distinctly wary of in 1999. It was also clear – because the republicans made it so – that their republic would also involve the shredding of the Australian national flag which is enormously popular across the country.
…new generation of monarchists…
Nicola Roxon has been closely involved in this campaign, and shares the arrogant assumption of the republican leadership that they are advanced and modern and that their views will prevail.
In brief, she is an inévitabliste. But it seems she is not so well-informed.
Declaring famously in 2006 that “there are no new monarchists being born”, Nicola Roxon demonstrated her ignorance of opinion polling. There is a wealth of evidence that the young are not interested in a republic, and indeed there is considerable support for the constitutional monarchy among them.
ACM’s Facebook page now has marginally more fans (“likes”) than the very well endowed GetUp!. A quarter are under 17 and almost half under 34. And they are active, with 70% of those “talking about” the site under 17 according to official Facebook statistics.
Nicola Roxon should not waste her time in scratching around for some opportunity to re-invigorate a debate whose time has already been and gone.