April 28

Republican annus horribilis


This has been something of an annus horribilis for the Australian Republican Movement, writes Nick Bryant, the BBC's Australia correspondent. 

This was before the release of the Newspoll on 25 April 2011 showing that support for some vague undefined politicians’ republic had fallen to a seventeen year low, confirming trends evident well before the Royal Wedding.  

Only about 25% are now strongly in favour of a republic.  Among the young this falls to 20%. It has to be stressed that is a vague undefined politicians' republic, not as so often claimed, "the" republic.

 When a specific republican model is announced – as it must be for a referendum – a good number of those 25% strong supporters will indicate a strong preference to stay with the present system.  So will a good number of the young strong supporters which, you will recall, is now down to 20%.

One thing is clear. If another referendum were to be held now, whatever the model,  the national vote would be lower than the 43% then in favour.  No state would be won, and the Yes vote would be concentrated in a number of elite inner city electorates.  

Polls also disclose that those strongly in favour of a republic are concentrated among middle aged males especially in elite inner city electorates.

So is this the end of the republican spectacle, at least to the extenet that anyone takes it seriously ? Is the curtain about to come down?


Mr. Bryant penned  an opinion piece in the national newspaper, The Australian (18/4), which we referred to recently:  “Republican movement tells the BBC one thing, the ABC and Canberra Times the opposite.”

In my view, almost every year since 1999 must  have been something of an annus horribilis for the republican movement.

 None of their stunts, especially the disastrous Mate for Head of State has made any impact. Even the official 2020 Summit to the extenet that it concentrated on a vague undefined republic was a fiasco.

Well before the Newspoll, support in the  polls had been trending down to a low 40%. 

The admission by Malcolm Turnbull four months before the 1999 referendum applies even more today: nobody is interested.

With almost  two decades of noisy agitation distracting the media and the politicians, is this the end of this phase of republicanism as a serious force in Australia?

…PM abandons republicans…

Mr. Bryant points out that Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the movement’s long-time ally, has now ruled out a referendum on the question while Queen Elizabeth remains on the throne.

As Mr. Bryant would know, this is not out of any tender affection for the Crown. Ms. Gillard knows the polling and focus groups are telling her not to touch this with a barge pole.

…the Greens…

The only hope for the republicans of getting this issue onto the agenda are those of her allies who are “passionate “ about this – the  Greens and the independent member for Lyne in New South Wales Rob Oakshott , whose position is precarious.

Ms. Gillard has already adopted issues to satisfy her allies;  who knows whether some vague politicians’ republic might not be added.

…14 points of republican distress…

Mr. Bryant lists the following fourteen points which must distress the republicans:

1.     The Prime Minister’s putting the issue off during this reign

2.     Tony Abbott, its long-time bete noire, has buttressed his leadership of the Liberals.

3.     The King's Speech, where the survival of the monarchy was portrayed as a joint Anglo-Australian enterprise, has played to packed houses.

4.     Now comes the public relations juggernaut of the royal wedding, threatening to leave the republican movement flattened, like road kill, in its path.

5.     The injuries come with an insult: that of seeing Gillard attend the nuptials in London, the latest in a long line of prime ministers to inflict coronary damage. 

6.     The antipodean hoopla surrounding the wedding celebrations, from the minting of more majestic coinage to the primetime biffing of Friday night footy on April 29, is another setback. 

7.     The republicans are on the wrong side of rolling news. Every day, it seems, the Buckingham Palace press machine serves up yet another William and Kate-related puff piece to a global press corps ravenous for uplifting headlines.  

8.     A dry constitutional counter-narrative is up against a love story.  

9.     Neither can the republicans hope to compete with the wedding in a country where two out of three of the most watched television events in history have involved the Windsors: Diana's wedding and funeral.

10.  Athough the media carnival will doubtless pass, the monarchy will emerge repackaged and revitalised, and that could pose a more serious long-term problem.

11.  The influence of Elizabethans as opposed to monarchists: small "r" republicans intellectually in favour of an Australian head of state but unwilling to offend Her Majesty by agitating for her removal.  

12.  The possibility that a younger generation come to view William with similar affection: a 20-something, king-in-waiting who has moved from being merely a benign figure to a genuinely popular one?  

13.  Two successful visits to Australia in the past 15 months have certainly elevated the Prince’s standing.

14.  It has been possible almost to detect a hint of hometown pride in some of the Australian coverage; not quite favourite son, but certainly decent, down-to-earth bloke.

…no Palace campaign… 


Mr. Bryant  says his “man at Buckingham Palace” tells him “he is unaware of any concerted effort on the part of the royals to target Australia and New Zealand, and that a recent spate of regal visits has been the consequence of disaster rather than design.”

But as Mr. Bryant says, the following have surely strengthened the umbilical connection with Britain:

·          the cumulative effect of seeing William visit fire and flood-affected communities,

·          Charles taking part in the Australia Day celebrations in London to show fealty towards the people of Queensland and

·          Princess Anne attending the bushfire memorial service in Melbourne, has surely strengthened the umbilical connection with Britain. ( … when she addressed victims of the Victorian inferno from the stage of the Rod Laver Arena, Anne even became the first speaker to receive a round of applause.)

H e says that one of the reasons why the monarchy has survived so long in Australia is because this remains a surprisingly Anglo centric country where the British-made or British-influenced takes up a huge amount of cultural space. 

But is it so surprising for Australia, most of whose foundations were brought by Governor Philip or given by the British in the nineteenth century?

Those foundations have all been Australianised, and Federation was almost all our own work – after resisting earlier British attempts to encourage it.

…addition to freedom…

 Sir Robert Menzies he says made an often overlooked point in his famous  "I did but see her passing by" speech during the 1963 royal visit.

In the presence of the young Queen, he called the monarchy: "An addition to our freedom, not a subtraction from it."

This he says  remains a powerful idea, as evidenced by the blanket Australian coverage of the wedding.He says that for the Windsors, the decade since the failed referendum in 1999 has seen a stunning turnaound.

 Its resurgence since, in Britain especially, has shades of the Anzac revivalism, with a devotion among monarchists bordering on idolatry, and a keen interest among the young that seems counterintuitive.He says that Australia will not get a King William or Queen Kate without Charles and Camilla coming first, at which point the republican movement will make its move.

In my view, for the republicans to move against the Crown at that time would  be foolish. It would be doomed to failure. 

I am happy to give gratuitous advice on this to our republican friends.

“But for now,” writes Mr. Bryant ,  the republican movement   “….is stymied. Like Prince Albert in The King's Speech — played with such aplomb by a British republican, Colin Firth — it appears temporarily to have lost its voice.”



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