I have been asked a series of questions about Princess Mary. Here they are with my answers.
Q: Mary is phenomenally popular with the general public in Australia? Why do you think she has such wide appeal?
A: She is beautiful, charming and and elegant, and I think Australians are proud not only because she has been chosen, but also about the way in which she has fulfilled all the expectations of both the Danish and Australian people.
Q: What is your view of her?
A: My view is I think identical to most Australians. She has taken to a demanding position superbly, she is as I said beautiful, charming, elegant and dignified and she strikes me as determined to fulfil her duty, as best she can, first as Princess and later as Queen.
A: Do you find her sufficiently royal?
A: Yes. She has the right touch-she is not too aloof, she is friendly and charming, but maintains an inner dignity.
Q: What is your view of the way the constitutional monarchy works in Denmark?
A: It works well, and is in essence similar to most other constitutional monarchies. The point is that the Crown is an institution at the heart of the nation, and one which is above politics. Apart from the ceremonial position of honour it occupies, it is an important check and balance against the abuse of power, being important not so much for the power it disposes, but the power it denies others.
During a debate in an inner city venue during the referendum, I was ridiculed for observing that the most advanced countries tended to be constitutional monarchies. But this is an established fact. The proof is in the regular survey by the UN, the Human Development Index, which is calculated on a number of criteria relating to the rights, welfare, prosperity, health and education of the populations of all nations. At the very top of the list, constitutional monarchies dominate. In the last survey the top five, and most of the top ten, were constitutional monarchies. This is no co-incidence.
Q: What is your view of the Danish monarchy compared to the House of Windsor?
A: They are similar. Of course the responsibilities of the monarchs are different, at least in degree. Queen Elizabeth is Queen of sixteen counties, including two G7 powers, the UK and Canada, as well as Australia and New Zealand. She is also the Head of the Commonwealth.
One difference in perception flows from the appalling standards of a significant part of the British press. A recent survey indicates that in terms of the respect of their own nation, the British press compares poorly with the rest of Europe. The attitude of many journalists in Britain is that all restraints, legal and ethical, disappear whenever they are reporting about members of the Royal Family. An egregious example is the tendency of some journalists to preface almost any reference whatsoever to the Royal Family with the word “dysfunctional”
Q: What do you think of NSW parliamentarian Meredith Burgmanns call last week for Mary Donaldson to become the queen of Australia?
A: I suppose that a daughter of a bishop is prone to develop a good sense of humour after spending so many years in an ecclesiastical palace!
Q: What does our passionate interest in Mary Donaldson say about the future of the republican movement in Australia?
A: It signals one of four particular difficulties for the republicans. That is the magic of monarchy, which re-emerges not only with every new generation of Royalty, but also, as we saw with the Queen Mother and as our Founders saw with Victoria, as they grow older.
Another difficulty is that as the late judge and Governor of Victoria, Dick McGarvie, used to say, Australians are a wise constitutional people. They will not agree to change unless they are sure it is an improvement and does no damage to the system- in the words of one of our Founders, that it is desirable, irresistible and inevitable.
Changing to a republic is not a minor or simple decision. This nation was founded, as the Preamble says, humbly relying on the blessings of Almighty God, as an indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown and under the Constitution.
Thus the very essence of our constitutional system is that it is a constitutional monarchy. As Professor PH Lane, Professor of Constitutional Law at Sydney University once observed, it would be better for republicans to attempt to write a new constitution than graft a republic on to this one which is essentially monarchical.
The third difficulty is that a significant number of conservative republicans prefer the constitutional monarchy to radical change, but also that a significant number of radical republicans prefer the constitutional monarchy to a conservative republic. In other words, either group will tend to vote against the other model because they prefer the status quo.
The fourth difficulty is that polling has long indicated that in terms of age, support for the republic is a bell curve. It is strongest among the middle aged, and especially among middle-aged males. Former Senator Susan Ryan was absolutely wrong to observe that the attainment of an Australian republic merely involves waiting until the passing of the generation which greeted The Queen’s first visit to Australia. The disinterest of the youth of the nation in a republic is a time bomb for the republicans.
Q: Do you think modern monarchies have a political role any more given that the main function of their members seems to be decorative and entertainment-related?
A: As you will have noted from the above, the Crown plays an important, crucial and I would say, an indispensable role in the Westminster model. The difficulty of the republicans in devising an Australian model which works as well and is acceptable to the people is testimony to this. In the nineties the republicans were given carte blanche and a vast sum from the taxpayers to choose their best model so it could be put to the people. This, the second Keating- Turnbull republican model was overwhelmingly rejected. Their new model and the convoluted and even more costly process designed to achieve it, the Latham model, would face an even bigger defeat. And that is not only my view; it is Malcolm Turnbulls considered prediction!
Q: What do you predict for the future of monarchies in Australia?
Our constitution will long continue in its essential form. The most pressing constitutional problem for Australia, in my view, is in the transformation of the states into willing mendicants on the Commonwealth, which was perpetrated by the politicians, and by an earlier High Court reinterpreting the Constitution in a way which would have astounded our Founders.
The Founders of the USA warned of the danger of this to good government. It has led to an obvious inability on the part of the states to fulfil their basic functions- schools, hospitals, public transport, water, mental health, electricity etc to a proper standard. But that is another question.
The point is that republicans are wasting their and our time, and vast amounts of the taxpayers money, in trying to change the one part of our constitutional system which works, and works well. We pay nothing for the monarchy-no salaries, and certainly no superannuation or golden handshake. Of course they must have security when they travel-what are our security people for, after all?
They stay in our Government Houses -except in Sydney where the Carr government ejected the Governor from Government House -an inexplicable decision which puts an additional and a senseless burden on the taxpayer.
The monarchy has a unique ability to regenerate itself as new members emerge, but also as others change and develop. This is part and parcel of the magic of monarchy, which will continue to interest and fascinate us, and which is absent in a republic. Indeed under the model the ARM now prefers, the Latham model, the president will be just another politician who will play a political game to undermine the prime minister.
There is no magic in having yet another politician-as if we need another!
When The Queen last visited Germany, Die Welt , one of the newspapers with the highest circulations in that country, observed that Germans look at the monarchy with envy and admiration.
Envy and admiration!
You can well understand Germans comparing their history with that of the UK.
If you want a comparison with Australia, consider Argentina, which with Australia was one of the richest countries in the world at Federation. We inherited our constitutional system, including the constitutional monarchy, the rule of law, and parliamentary government under the Westminster system, and we australianised them all. Argentina did neither-her colonial mistress, Spain, did not enjoy them when Argentina became independent.
The Crown is as Australian as our language and our laws.
PRINCE CHARLES, POLLS AND THE PRESS
The Sydney Morning Herald, Digital Edition, reported my reaction to the Galaxy Poll, on 27 February, 2005. It said:
Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy Chairman David Flint said the Galaxy Poll was flawed because it was based on the assumption that Prince Charles and Mrs. Parker Bowles would become Australia’s heads of state. However it was not intended that Mrs. Parker Bowles would ever be given the title of Queen, and in any case, some people believed the Governor-General was Australia’s head of state, Professor Flint said.
“I don’t think anybody has suggested Camilla will become our head of state,” Professor Flint said. Professor Flint said only 400 people were surveyed for the poll and there could be a large margin of error.
I sent the following letter to the Sunday Telegraph, which was one of the papers to publish the poll:
The poll on a republic (27 February, 2005) suffers from such a surfeit of flaws that its results cannot be taken to be indicative of public opinion. Such polls typically do not explain how the republic is to be grafted on to our constitution which centres on the Crown, nor indeed the costs of the process.
The current Latham model involves, putting aside the states, two plebiscites and one referendum federally, and then the regular election of yet another politician as president who will play political games against the government. At this point the cost will be about half a billion dollars with the meter well and truly running. This is incidentally about the amount Prince Charles raises for the disadvantaged over two or three years, a matter rarely reported for some reason or other.
These polls frequently do not even describe the model about which republicans are implacably divided. The Galaxy poll, which does not state the margin of error, attempts to test support for some mythical republic were Prince Charles and Camilla Australia’s Head of State. But Camilla can never, ever, be our Head of State, and foreign governments and organizations say the Governor-General is our Head of State.
REPUBLICANS AND ROYAL VISITS
Some republicans do not like any royalty. Others, when they perceive that royalty is under attack, use that as an argument for massive constitutional change. An example of the first was when the nation learned of the engagement of Crown Prince Frederick to Mary Donaldson, as she then was. The leading republican Greg Barnes wrote a scathing critique about the public fascination with the engagement, which I mentioned in a Hot News. An example of the second is the claim by the republican movement that their numbers are up because of the announcement of the marriage of Prince Charles and Mrs. Parker-Bowles. When asked for details of the increase in membership, the movement was unable to give these. We look forward to seeing these.
My recent letter to the Sun Herald about their editorial was on this point:
You were right to say that it would be tactically stupid for republicans to try to capitalize on the wedding of Prince Charles and Mrs. Parker- Bowles. The republican movement, anxious to raise their flagging cause has not heeded your advice. But the fact that the usual gaggle of so called Royal watchers and experts have decided to increase their incomes and circulations in putting words into the mouths of members of the Royal Family will impress few Australians, who can see through this. If Australians were told that just last year, Prince Charles raised a quarter of a billion dollars for the disadvantaged, they would have a better understanding of his agenda, which they could compare with the ambitious politicians angling to become our first president.
Incidentally, the 1999 referendum question was not, as you suggest, a ‘tricked –up” question. You must have forgotten that the republican movement tried, unsuccessfully to remove two words from the question, ‘republic’ and ‘president’.
I wonder why.
ROYAL HUNTING-THE LAST GREAT BLOOD SPORT
We have written much about this in this column, and in Hot News. It took the leading journalist, Paul Sheehan, author of the best sellers Among the Barbarians, and The Electronic Whorehouse, to see an analogy with hunting. The heading above was the title of his superb piece in the Sydney Morning Herald of 28 February, 2005
In it he observes:
In Australia, every sneer directed at Charles or his family in the name of republicanism has served to cheapen the cause rather than advance it. In Australia the constitution itself, not the symbolic role of the royal family, has defined the republican debate. Until the republican movement can offer reforms that would improve a constitution which most Australians believe is in sound working order, republicanism will remain dead at the political box office in this country. That applies especially to calls for a directly elected president.
Well said, Mr.Sheehan!
Until next time,