Princess Anne has confirmed her reputation as serious, no-nonsense, hardworking and above all, genuinely concerned. Dropping everything in the UK where she is involved in a myriad of good causes, she flew to Australia on short notice. Having just landed in Melbourne after the long flight from London, she went almost immediately to the memorial service where, without standing on ceremony or protocol, she delivered the Queen’s message and her own.
Australians are very good at detecting insincerity. The reaction to the Princess Royal has demonstrated this. Last Monday in the small town of Wandong in the fire-ravaged areas north of Melbourne, she met members of the Country Fire Authority brigade and other local emergency service workers.
Volunteer fire-fighter Sharon Hibbert told the Princess how she had saved her own home before joining the battle against the flames.
"She was very interested in everything we had to tell her," Ms Hibbert said. "It's a fantastic thing for us after what's happened, to know that somebody from the royal family wants to know what happened here."
On Sunday at the Melbourne control centre, one of the workers commented on her “genuine interest. "
"We were excited,” she said “but we didn't think she would engage as much with us as she did, which is wonderful."
By their words and actions other members of the Royal Family have demonstrated their genuine concern about the tragedy. According to the Premier, The Queen wanted to be briefed about the situation every day.
All of this flies in the face of republican distortions which try to show how unrelated the monarchy is to Australia. In 1999, at a " deliberative poll" meeting at old Parliament House, a relatively newly converted republican law professor Greg Craven declared that The Queen knew little and cared little about Australia. " She would not even be able to find her way from Canberra airport to Old Parliament House," he cliamed.
Given that her late father King George VI had actually opened the building, and that she herself opened the parliamentary session there in 1954, this seemed unlikely. This claim was of course made to support the untruth that The Queen and the Royal Family could not care less about Australia.
The fact is that The Queen is very well informed about Australia. Taht said, it is probably true that for the Royal Family, Australia does present a singular challenge. This is only because of the fact that Australia’s minute republican movement is contemptuous of both democracy and for the Australian people.
The republicans were given a free hand to design the best model their experts could come up with. Their republican politicians approved the question. Most of the media were on side. Yet the 1999 result was a landslide defeat for them.
Notwithstanding the public’s indifference the republicans have since then engaged in a series of increasingly desperate stunts to keep the issue in the media spotlight. And they constantly peddle the lie that most Australians want a republic.
The fact is that the republicans know they would lose another referendum. That is why they want to engage in that confidence trick, a constitutional plebiscite. But the succession of stunts, the lies, and the occasional murmuring of politicians who think there is something in the issue for them means that the republican media keeps the issue alive. Republicanism in Australia today is like some ugly festering sore. The impression the media is putting out must be of a country which can’t make up its mind.
Given the Royal Family’s scrupulous propriety in leaving this issue to the Australian people, they have to be careful not to be seen as taking sides on the issue.