The republican movement never hesitates to push its cause on every possible occasion and too often for the silliest of reasons. Remember, for example ,the demand that The Queen return the wonderful painting by Tom Roberts of the opening of the first Federal Parliament in Melbourne by the Duke of York.
This actually hangs, on permanent loan, in Parliament House, and it is owned by the Crown of Australia! It would be equally sensible to demand that The Queen give back Crown Land! But our republicans are anything if not opportunistic. Claiming a surge in membership because of the marriage of the Prince of Wales, but when questioned being unable to reveal any figures, the ARM said this was yet another the occasion to push their republic because the Prince will succeed to the Throne. The Prime Minister said it was silly to draw any link between the marriage and the republican debate. He is absolutely correct. The marriage does not in any way change the succession.
If it did, supporting legislation by the Australian, New Zealand, Canadian and all the other parliaments of those countries which have The Queen as Sovereign, the Realms, would be necessary. Of course, the spouse of the Sovereign, the Monarch, has no formal position under our constitution.
The title, Queen Consort, or Prince Consort, or now Princess Consort, is a courtesy. Mrs Parker Bowles, will after the marriage on 8 April, use one of the courtesy titles to which she will be entitled, that is, Duchess of Cornwall. On the accession of Prince Charles to the Throne, she will be known as the Princess Consort, which recalls the title of Prince Consort conferred on Prince Albert.
No title, incidentally, was conferred on Prince Philip when The Queen ascended the Throne. These are of course essentially British titles, and can be conferred under the Royal Prerogative and probably do not even require British legislation. The Queen’s approval to the marriage was however necessary under the Royal Marriages Act. This was given on the advice of Her British Ministers. Notwithstanding some comments, including some in letters to the press, the approval of the governments of the Realms is not at all necessary. An erroneous parallel was drawn by some with the marriage of Edward VIII.
The difference is that he was the Sovereign when he indicated he wished to marry. Most of the advice from the Dominions, as the Realms were then known, was collected by the then British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. Apparently, he overlooked New Zealand ! Today, the Prime Ministers would write or speak directly to the Palace, and not through the British Prime Minister. Incidentally, the Prime Minister most opposed to the marriage to Mrs Simpson was the Australian Prime Minister, Mr Lyons. It was revealed recently that he also wrote directly to The King arguing against the marriage.
COMMENTS ON THE MARRIAGE
Other comments published in the Australian press seemed to come mainly from republicans, and were too often ill informed. But a colleague has referred me to an excellent comment on the reaction to the marriage by Lord Deeds, the eminent British editor, in the Daily Telegraph, London. This is well worth reading – it can be seen at http://opinion.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2005/02/11/do1101.xml
In the meantime I sent this letter to The Australian in response to a number of letters published on 12 and 13 February, 2005, including one from an Anglican priest.I always find it surprising when Anglican clergy announce their republicanism, as one reportedly did at an accession service recently!
My letter read:
The most serious issue in the governance of our nation must be the inability of some state governments to perform, in any satisfactory way, their core functions, including the provision of the most basic infrastructure- especially water, electricity, public transport- as well as the standards of literacy and numeracy in our state schools, public hospitals, law and order etc.
This is surely related to the fact that, because of political convenience and judicial interpretation, they have become mendicants on the federal government and is thus not accountable to the people for a vast part of the money they mismanage. Add to that the increasing proportion of the GDP spent for us by all governments, and the over regulation of the minutiae of our lives.
How ridiculous it is to suggest then (letters 12-13 Feb.,), that because of the welcome marriage of Prince Charles, we should change that part of our constitutional system which works, and works well. The republican movement managed to distract the politicians from their core functions and make the taxpayers fund the search, over the better part of a decade, for the very best republican model the republicans themselves could devise. Notwithstanding massive media and political support their preferred model was rejected in a landslide.
Now we are told that even more money should be diverted from hospitals, education and transport etc to fund the convoluted process Mark Latham offered us- a plebiscite or referendum each year until we surrender- republicanism by exhaustion.
Designed to produce an additional layer of expensive elections and one more politician, a president who will be in a never-ending conflict with the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull and Greg Craven warned this republic will eventually suffer an even greater defeat than in 1999.
Could not the members of this private organization this time they pay for their search for a satisfactory republican model? That could let the rest of us, and particularly the media, concentrate on the real national issues.
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH DEBATE
The Sydney Daily Telegraph invited me to join their daily debate, on this occasion on whether the Royal Marriage would revive the republic debate. This appeared in the edition on Saturday, 12 February, 2005:
The principal reaction of most Australians to the coming marriage of Prince Charles and Camilla is typical of this nation – to wish them well.
As they do on every Australia Day and Queen’s Birthday, the republican movement is trying to use the marriage to push their cause. But for some time; polls across Australia have demonstrated a growing disinterest, particularly among the young, in changing either the constitution or the flag. This is without there being much awareness of the fact that millions and millions of dollars have already been diverted from education, transport and hospitals to give the republicans the chance to test their very best model in the electorate.
Notwithstanding considerable political and media support, this was rejected in every state and in 72% of federal electorates. Now the republicans propose not one but three votes, Mark Latham actually promising one each year over what was to have been his first term! The republic they now want would give us yet another politician as president, who in his squabbles with the prime minister would make the country ungovernable. This would be an extremely costly solution, a solution to a problem which just does not exist.
DESPATCH MONARCHY, DEMANDS EMOTIONAL EDITOR
Although the Newspoll on republicanism published in The Australian on Australia Day this year merely reflects an established trend that support for a republic is indecline, the poll is still being received with shock and disbelief in republican circles. The Herald Sun editorial of 30 January was typical, but surprising, when you remember that the Herald Sun survey of its own readers, which had an enormous response, about 26,000, told them that their readers were strongly opposed to a republic. To repeat –Herald Sun readers do not want a republic. These are, incidentally, readers of the newspaper with the largest daily circulation in Australia. Moreover, they are mainly from that state, Victoria, in which the vote was closest in the referendum, although the No vote prevailed.
We reported that Herald Sun reader survey in this column last year.
Notwithstanding this, the editor said that the poll was one of the ironies of the latest Australia Day. Readers may well wonder what the other ironies were!
Arguing that some commentators had the effrontery to interpret the result as a conservative shift in society, others daring to say that the republican cause had failed to ignite passions in young Australians, the editor declaimed:
"We beg to differ." What a pity the editor did not maintain that tone in the remainder of his editorial. He then became emotional, resorting to the sort of irrational abuse we sometimes hear from unfortunate inebriates who have lost their minds and lurch about the streets abusing all and sundry, having been denied proper treatment by our negligent state governments who are more concerned with creeping republicanism than doing what they were elected for.
But before the abuse, the editor conceded the obvious. Support for a republic, he admitted, has waned since 1999. But seeking to retrieve something from this, he seized upon the statistic that those who describe themselves as strongly in favour of a republic had more than doubled since 1987. He ignores the fact that when confronted with a republican model, a significant proportion of these will still vote No. This is because they will prefer the existing constitution to the one proposed. For example, Malcolm Turnbull and Greg Craven will probably vote against a republic in which the president has similar powers to the Governor-General, but where he is to be elected by the people. So would most conservative republicans. So of the 30% who are strongly in favour of a republic, agood number will still vote No whatever model is put up. The editor then seeks support in the fact that the numbers of those strongly against a republic have almost halved. This of course has everything to do with the republican media juggernaut which makes people wary of admitting their inner tendencies to a caller from an obviously republican source. This is an example of the spiral of silence, where people become discouraged from openly supporting an institution out of the fear that they are alone, unfashionable, old-fashioned or in a minority. Some research indicates they may even give the pollster the answer they think the pollster wants. (I wrote about the phenomenon of the spiral of silence in Twilight of The Elites).
On the basis of this flimsy evidence the editor says Australia will be a republic – it is only a matter of time and timing. That is the tired old argument that some sort of republic is inevitable. When I was a boy, many in the intelligentsia repeated another mantra. This was that socialism was inevitable. This included many who were opposed to it. Who would hold this view today? Now well into his stride, the editor says it would be possible to turn the Newspoll on its head. He gives as an example this question: Do you want Charles to be King of Australia when Queen Elizabeth dies?
Let us put this in context. When it comes to the Royal Family, a large section of the British press has long ignored the minimum ethical requirements they claim to support in their codes. An egregious example, one we have commented on in this column, was the vicious lie about the Prince a British newspaper published not so long ago. A fee was paid to the purveyor of the untruth.
Before the real facts emerged, thanks to the investigative efforts of the London Daily Telegraph, the lie had been repeated around the world. The press has gone out of its way to damage the reputation of the Prince. No wonder the public is cynical.But a certain amount of the mud thrown tends to stick. The editor should know the public are cynical about polls too. They have already seen how polls can be manipulated to produce the desired result. For example, questions which assert we do not have an Australian Head of State, or talk of terminating the links with the British monarchy. Many constitutional plebiscites are based on a similar spin doctor approach to the drafting of the question. Indeed there was general surprise in the UK when the question concerniong the EU plebiscite was announced. It was surprisingly straightforward! But back to the Herald Sun. The editor says the answer to his question would result in a stampede to register disapproval of the monarchy which he says would send needles leaping off Richter scale graphs all over the world. He then launches into personal abuse of the Prince that he would not dare follow in relation to most other public figures.
Continuing on, he says Charles is the:
"damaged product of a dysfunctional family". Readers are of course accustomed to the republican practice of qualifying most references to the Royal Family as dysfunctional, a term rarely used in relation to any other family in the land.
It is remarkable how some journalists are prone to pose as paragons of virtue.Presumably, their families could never be described as dysfunctional.
Having descended into this tasteless abuse, the editor claims Charles is a potent symbol of what is wrong with our present constitutional arrangements. Experts usually say the most serious constitutional problem in Australia is vertical fiscal imbalance, an almost impenetrable term I hesitate to use for fear that my readers may turn the page. It refers to the fact that the Commonwealth is responsible for collecting the bulk of taxation, and the states spend much of this. Now an issue of this importance is apparently of little interest to our editor. He just wants to change this one particular feature of the constitution which works- and works well. So then the editor pulls the lever and lets his guillotine fall. Despatch monarchy, cries our revolutionary editor, as if he were knitting in the front row during the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution. Despatch monarchy, he insists. A revolutionary cry which will, he hopes have Melbournians out in the streets. According to his own survey they will not do this. And then we learn of the simple hopes and aspirations of our editor.
There is no future, he laments, in this old and tired connection with a family which, he forgets, has never charged us a penny, with a sovereign who has never put a foot wrong, reigning over half of the life of our nation, and is always ready to accept our will. There is, he stresses, no hope of restoring the warmth of the relationship, which of course assumes, wrongly, that Australians do not feel warmly about their Queen. Then he resorts to the already tired vicious personal attack on a twenty year old that has just left school. But then the editor affects some gravitas-just in case he is wrong and the relationship proves to be too warm for him. So his fallback is that the issue will return to the political agenda in due course, no matter who occupies Buckingham Palace. The subtext is that if the royalty proves to be loved and respected, that does not matter. No doubt the editor recalls the funeral of the Queen Mother, where he and the rest of the commentariat were proved hopelessly wrong about the care respect and concern of the people. He says that next time the debate will be more mature and rational next time, stripped of the anger. Let us hope that debate will not be on the level of this editorial!
Then we have the piece de resistance- hopefully, the editor says, the cult of personality will have faded, the celebrity debaters making way for people with serious views on constitutional reform. Such as, no doubt our editor? Then the final salvo. While there are good reasons, he says, to cherish the British traditions that course through Australian society and to strive to maintain the strongest of bonds with Britain, there are, he asserts, better reasons to despatch the monarchy to the colourful pages of our history.
But that is not what his readers think. Nor, we suspect, is it what most Australians think
Until next time,