As I walked into the Sydney Cricket Ground for the second day’s play in the recent Test I was asked if I would like a pamphlet about an ‘Australian republic.’ I firmly responded, “not now, not ever”, but as I walked on was puzzled as to why republicans would think the cricket was an appropriate place to proselytize. One of the great things about cricket in Australia is that it is our one truly national sport which unites all. Our four football codes are fractiously divided along geographic, social and even ethnic lines … but cricket is for all. Why politicise it I wondered?
The following day I had that question answered in the Sun Herald by Adam Collins. Mr Collins is a member of the Australian Republican Movement’s National Committee and had a piece entitled, “Time to Rob the Barmy Army of Ammunition.”
Mr Collins believes the sporting rivalry between Australia and England can be used to spur interest in fundamentally restructuring our political system. How silly.
Rather than being a source of enmity our cricket rivalry with England demonstrates all that is good about closeness with England. Like so many other good things in Australia we inherited our love of cricket from the English. Australia plays international cricket against a dozen or so other nations … but a Test series against England is always the highlight. The legend of the Ashes doesn’t diminish with time … it grows. The ARM would have us believe that England is just another nation … the Ashes demonstrates it is not.
There is another concrete example of our familial bond with England demonstrated through sport.
…World cup, Brazil..
The biggest sporting event of all is arguably the soccer World Cup. I pay no attention to soccer until the World Cup comes around and then, like almost everyone I know, very happily sit up in the early hours to cheer on the Socceroos. What happens if the Socceroos are eliminated? Most Aussie’s then barrack for the English soccer team … and sorry republicans it’s not just me and my mates. The soccer World Cup is in Brazil in a few months. If the Socceroos are eliminated you watch what team our nightly news will then focus on … it will be England because the media knows what the people are interested in.
…..junk constitution – why?….
The centrepiece of Mr Collin’s is piece is laughable. He argues that because the Barmy Army sing quite amusing songs at the cricket that include lines such as, “God Save Your Queen” that we need to become a republic. Let’s just pause for a moment. The ARM believes that because some English sports fans with quite a few beers in their belly, sing a harmless little song that Australia must therefore throw out the most successful political formula in the history of the world – constitutional monarchy.
For over four hundred years constitutional monarchy has proven to deliver greater peace and prosperity to its citizens than any other constitutional arrangement … but we should junk it because of some comical songs. This illustrates the lack of depth and the ignorance of history that is behind the slogans of the ARM. The only people who could take offence at the good humour of the Barmy Army are cranky republicans.
It is true at first glance constitutional monarchy is an odd system … but boy oh boy does it works. The ARM believes it is just a coincidence the following nations are both constitutional monarchies and at the top of any global ranking of human happiness – Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Luxembourg and others. Morocco, Jordan, Thailand, Malaysia and the Gulf States are more or less constitutional monarchies … they are not perfect but they are a beacon of stability in their neighbourhood. The South Pacific and the Caribbean are generally poor nations … but they are mostly constitutional monarchies and have avoided the upheaval and bloodshed of republics with comparable living standards – think Haiti and Cuba. Just a coincidence the ARM wants us to believe.
On the other hand nations which throw out their monarchies and replace them with republics usually enter a period of sustained human misery – think France 1792, China 1912, Russia 1917, Germany 1919, Vietnam 1955 and many others. I am not defending those former absolute monarchies … but do note there were significant forces in each of those nations who were pushing for the monarchy to become an English style constitutional monarchy. If these nations had evolved into constitutional monarchies tens of millions would have escaped death and torture.
…….why constitutional monarchy works…
Why does constitutional monarchy work? I was converted after reading one line, ‘the significance of the Crown is not the power it possesses but the power it denies others.’ Constitutional monarchy is the antidote to tyranny. We want politicians with ambition … but constitutional monarchy puts a healthy cap on ambition and prevents a Caesar or Napoleon winning absolute power. Every political system needs someone at the apex … so let’s put someone on top where it can’t be contested because it is a birthright. And let’s have the monarch, the person with supposedly the most political power, utterly removed from the political process except to umpire a once in a century political crisis. When the umpire decides that is final because it is final … and the crisis peacefully resolved. Not all will be happy … but it’s better than civil war.
If Australia were to become a republic I agree it is hard to imagine a tyranny in the decades to come … but a constitution is designed to stand for centuries not decades.
A constitutional monarch is not and will not be dependent on political favours for their position and that explains why the experience for the past four hundred years has been that the umpire adjudicates in the national interest. If a constitutional monarchy did use their power in a sustained way that was against the national interest, well at that point the people would remove the monarchy … but it’s not happened yet and over 400 years ‘not out’ is a good innings. When ultimate power is in the hands of a president and they are asked to adjudicate a political crisis then those unhappy with the umpire’s decision may revolt and insist on a new umpire … and that is when the blood flows.
This explains why electorates with a large number of new Australians from failed republics voted overwhelmingly to keep the Crown in 1999. These people had experienced firsthand what can go wrong in a republic and the greatest moment in their lives was becoming an Australian citizen. They like many things about Australia … but the thing they like most, consciously or otherwise, is our political stability. The ARM makes the mistake of thinking that political stability is the natural state of affairs. It is not. The cohesion Australia enjoys is abnormal in world history and world affairs today. There are many factors to explain Australia’s success … but political stability is the cornerstone and constitutional monarchy makes it a rock solid cornerstone. At some point, hopefully in two decades or more, we will have another ALP federal government. I consider it likely we will then have a second referendum on a republic. Bring it on I say … the Crown was supported by six out of six states in 1999 and that was at the end of a decade that was difficult for the Royal Family. The republic would need a national majority and a majority in four of the six states … but in 1999 was only competitive in one.
And finally I want to address the question of Australia having a “foreign monarchy.” Not that The Queen is a foreigner. Like many Australians she has more than one nationality. But having a monarch who resides elsewhere is not a flaw in our constitutional arrangements … it is as Michael Kirby argues a positive. More than once in English history did the parliament decide that the monarch would be a foreigner … for the very sound reason that they are not caught up in the contentious politics of the day. The English Crown has given its authority to Australia’s Governor General and the State Governors … but those individuals knows they cannot abuse power because there is an additional safety check over them.
Since 1901 the Sovereign has never intervened in Australian politics. When Jack Lang and Gough Whitlam were dismissed (and elections immediately called) the NSW Governor and the Governor General did not take instructions from the Sovereign. I think it unimaginable that an Australian political crisis would ever be decided in Buckingham Palace … but I quite like knowing that there is an additional back-up to ensure the Governor General acts appropriately. Our arrangements are identical to Canada and New Zealand. When we think of those nations does anyone think they are subservient to England? Of course not and no-one thinks it of Australians either … except ARM wants to make us think we are.
There is and there always will be a special relationship between Australia and England. The goodwill of the two recent Ashes series demonstrates that perfectly … and the Barmy Army and their songs will always be welcome.