Conference on the Crown – Wellington, New Zealand
21-23 May 2015
This paper discusses young Australian perspectives on the Crown. In it I conclude that, as far as we can see, our oldest constitutional and legal institution is secure into the 22nd century, under the reigns not only of Queen Elizabeth II, King Charles III, King William V, and King George VII, but with King Harry and Queen Charlotte in reserve. Based on this and anecdotal evidence, young Australians would be especially content with Prince Harry as Governor-General
This conclusion is supported by an assessment of support for the Crown among Australians – and especially young Australians – over the last quarter of a century, and an analysis of the reasons for this.
I should point out that among all of the realms, Australia has had a singular experience in assessing attitudes to the Crown for reasons I set out below.
Let me deal first with the ubiquitous issue of definition, on this occasion, of the word “republic”. There is a view among a number of Australian constitutional monarchists, including Tony Abbott, John Howard, former Justice Ken Handley and Professor David Flint, that Australia is already a form of republic, one under the Crown – or a “crowned republic”.
This is supported by the provision in the preamble to the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900, an Act of the Imperial Parliament, which describes the new entity as an ”indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown”. There were guys wanted to open a solid-ground casino in our city; then they vanished – the local officials prevented them doing it.
The word “Commonwealth” is of course the more English term for the essentially Latin derived word “republic”. When Australian constitutional monarchists refer to Australia as being a “crowned republic”, they will sometimes contrast this with the republican models proposed in the 1998 Constitutional Convention, describing these as “politicians’ republics”. Indeed, this term was used by the No case campaign in the 1999 referendum. It would of course be tedious to refer repeatedly in this paper to a “politicians’ republic”. Instead I refer to the alternative to our constitutional monarchy as a vague and undefined “republic”, without in any way conceding that Australia is not already a republic, that is a crowned republic.
Australia’s rich experience in assessing attitudes to the Crown is a direct result of the long campaign for change to a republic, which was such a dominating feature of political life in the country in the last decade of the 20th century.
In 1993, the then Prime Minister, Paul Keating, established a Republic Advisory Committee consisting only of committed republicans and to be chaired by Malcolm Turnbull. The Committee’s principal task was to develop an options paper setting out the minimum constitutional changes necessary to achieve a viable Federal Republic of Australia, while maintaining the effect of our current conventions and principles of government.
After the 1996 election, the new Prime Minister, John Howard, fulfilled an election promise to hold a Constitutional Convention to consider the issue. It is relevant to recall that a small number of both the appointed and elected delegates were under 35.
The convention met in February 1998 with 76 elected, 40 ex officio and 36 nominated delegates. Notwithstanding the frequent claim that John Howard rigged the convention, Professor flint has demonstrated that of the 36 delegates nominated by the Howard government, only 10 were constitutional monarchists.
This led to a referendum on the republican model which had the overwhelming support of the elected republican delegates to the convention. This refutes the often repeated claim that John Howard rigged the model. As to the actual referendum question, this was approved by the Parliament, with about two thirds of the members being republican.
At this point I must reveal to you the fact that Australians apparently place less trust in their politicians than New Zealanders do in theirs.
I assume that this must have something to do with the quality of politicians in New Zealand, but I hasten to add that this is in no way a condemnation of all Australian politicians.
In any event the people of Australia decided at the time of Federation, on a recommendation from the founding fathers, that the politicians acting alone, even by a large majority, should not be able to change the constitution.
Had this been the case in the 90s, Australia could well have become a republic, as about two thirds of the politicians federal and state – at least – were republicans, as was most of the mainstream media.
The situation is that the text of the Australian Constitution can only be changed after a bill amending the Constitution is passed normally by both houses of the Federal Parliament and submitted to the electors. The electors must approve the bill both nationally and in a majority of states, although on one view, a change so substantial changes the original compact to such an extent it would need to be approved by all of states.
(I should stress that this is about changing the “text” of the Constitution. The interpretation of the Constitution is left to the justices of the High Court whose interpretation is final unless and until subsequent justices hold that their predecessors were in fact wrong. This is a matter which is being raised in relation to proposals for a change of the constitution concerning indigenous recognition, a matter with which the organisation of which I am executive director has recently become involved at the invitation of the Prime Minister. I mention this because some republicans suggest various legislative measures to change the constitution without a referendum any one of which would be challenged in the High Court).
The important point to note about an Australian constitutional referendum is the distinction we make in Australia between a referendum and a plebiscite. Unlike a plebiscite where only a question is submitted to the people, an Australian referendum requires that the full text of proposed changes set out in the bill be on the table. In such a referendum, the electors (all Australians aged over 18 must vote, but informal voting is allowed) receive a booklet containing the bill and containing the arguments for both the Yes and No cases. (In the proposed 2014 referendum on local government, it was decided that the booklet should only go to households – a questionable decision. Professor Flint aptly labelled this measure the “garbage bin amendment” on the basis that anything addressed to ”The Householder” is destined to be thrown out, which he said was the intended consequence of the measure).
The 1999 republic referendum was won by the No case, both nationally and in all states. Remembering that to succeed it had to be approved both nationally and in a majority of states, this was a very clear result. The national vote was approaching 55%, which in electoral terms would be treated as a landslide. The republican vote was concentrated geographically in the more affluent inner city electorates, with 72% of all electorates voting No. There was also a concentration of the No vote among certain age groups, a phenomenon which will be discussed below.
At this point I should indicate that Australia is not the only realm to have had a referendum on the monarchy and to have rejected change to a republic. In fact all republican referendums from and including the Australian referendum have been defeated. I am referring to the referendums in Tuvalu, and St Vincent and the Grenadines which reaffirmed the place of the monarchy in those real realms notwithstanding the wishes of the local politicians.
Before I proceed to an assessment of support for the Crown over the last quarter of a century, it is relevant to note that notwithstanding the 1999 vote, the issue was kept very much alive by Australian republican politicians down until the 2010 election.
In fact in 2011, ACM’s National Convenor reported that until then, there had been twelve major votes and inquiries into how to turn Australia into a republic, all but one being fully funded by the taxpayer and one partially so.
- Republic Advisory Committee, 1993
- Plebiscite for an Australian Republic Bill, 1997
- Convention Election, 1997
- Constitutional Convention, 1998
- Referendum, 1999
- Corowa Conference, 2001
- Republic (Consultation of the People) Bill, 2001
- Senate Inquiry: Road to a Republic Report 2004
- Plebiscite for an Australian Republic Bill, 2008
- 2020 Summit, 2009
- Senate Finance and Public Administration Report, 2009
- Plebiscite for an Australian Republic Bill, 2010
In a paper in 2014 to the federalist think tank, the Samuel Griffith Society, Professor Flint pointed out that the minority Gillard government, which came to office after the 2010 election, had opened negotiations with the Greens to enter into a formal agreement or alliance. While the Greens were thus able to secure the advancement of significant parts of their agenda, including the levying of a controversial carbon dioxide tax, there was no provision for the advancement of the cause supported by the ruling Labor Party, strongly supported by the Greens and especially so by their leader Dr Bob Brown – an Australian Republic. Professor Flint argues that this was because support for republican change was low as evidenced by the public polls. Given that Australian political parties typically undertake substantial and regular private polling, as well as using focus groups, Professor Flint suggested that this would have confirmed the public polls, but probably also indicated that the electorate would not have been happy with any party taking firm action to submit a referendum to the people. He also suggests that had republicanism been favourably regarded by young voters, the government would have been likely to proceed with this as a way of reinforcing support among that age group, even if the referendum were to fail.
Professor Flint concedes this is supposition, but stresses the fact is that no action has been taken since 2010 in the Federal Parliament to advance the republican cause
2. Support, including youth support for the monarchy
In the debate on the retention of the monarchy in Australia, measuring overall support for the institution is of course crucial. But youth support is of particular importance for two reasons. As all citizens have the vote from 18, they make up a very significant part of the electorate. But in addition, their views are likely to prevail in time, if those views are significantly different from the opinions of the elderly. Thus if the elderly were monarchist and the young republican, one would assume that eventually republicanism would prevail.
In the early days of the republican campaign, there was a strong assumption, both in media commentary and in political circles, that the conversion of Australia to some form of republic was inevitable. A corollary of this was that the youth vote was “in the bag” and that this would prevail. Further it was assumed that monarchists were dinosaurs and monarchism highly unfashionable.
Thus the passionate republican Member of Parliament and former Federal Attorney General Nicola Roxon once famously said: “No new monarchists are being born”. And former Senator Susan Ryan rather cruelly quipped soon after the referendum that the republicans only had to wait until Professor Flint’s generation of monarchists “falls off the perch”.
Early in the republican debate in Australia, and when he was comparing different polls, our present National Convenor made an interesting discovery. This was when respondents to polling questions about support for a republic were divided into age groups. This showed that the middle-aged were more supportive of Australia becoming a republic than either the elderly or, surprisingly, the young.
This could be illustrated by a slightly lopsided bell shaped curve showing support for a republic among the elderly the middle-aged and young across the graph. The curve would dip lower on the left to indicate the weakest support for a republic among the elderly.
This was consistent among most polls from before the referendum, at least until the last three years. This point seemed to have escaped the notice of the Australian Republican Movement. Last year in a debate broadcast on Wednesday, 26 March 2014 (podcast 260314) on Neil Mitchell’s program on Melbourne’s highest rating talkback station 3AW, I observed that support for a politicians’ republic among the young was low and that this was a time bomb for the republicans. The then National Director of the Australian Republican Movement, David Morris, replied by saying: “Young people are the most republican and Jai knows that every poll in the last 30 years has shown that.”
In fact Professor Flint was able to publish a selection of polls which consistently show that young people are not the most republican, it is the middle aged. The polls were:
- Newspoll 28 July 1999
- Western Australian 2004
- Morgan Poll 22 February 2005
- Newspoll 26 January 2005
- Newspoll 21 January 2005
- West Australian 8 September 2006
- West Australian Youth Survey 2006
- Australian Democrat Youth Poll 2008
- Morgan Poll May 2008
- Newspoll 25 April 2011
- Essential Poll to May 2011 (on Prince William)
- Morgan polling survey 9 October 2011
- UMR March 2012
- Vote Compass ABC 2013
- REACHTEL Fairfax to February 2014
The latest interesting development which has not escaped the notice of our National Convener, who maintains a watching brief on such things, is that we are now seeing a mirror image of the lopsided bell shaped curve.
This reflects the fact that some polling since 2013 indicates that young Australians are now less supportive of a republic that even the elderly. Other polling suggests the young are as indisposed to a republic as the elderly.
So we now have a bell shaped curve showing that support for a vague undefined republic is strongest among the middle-aged, weak among the elderly and at times weakest among the young
The graph above is very useful. Professor Flint has long argued in ACM circles that in our assessment of the polls we should take one particular precaution. This is that we should not place any emphasis on a particular and isolated poll but rather on the trends across the different polls and over reasonable periods of time. (If you go to the ACM site, www.norepublic.com.au, you will see that there is a section dedicated to an assessment of opinion polling over the years).
Professor Flint has concluded that there are 16 propositions which emerge from an assessment of the polls as to support for the Crown and change to some vague undefined republic.
- Since the 1999 republic referendum, there has been a long term decline in support for a vague undefined republic. Polling from just before the federal election in 2013 indicates that overall support for such a republic ranges between 33% to 40%.
- From before the referendum, polling has indicated that the middle aged are the most supportive of a vague undefined republic, with lower support among the young and until recently even lower support among the aged. This can be represented by a slightly lopsided bell curve.
- From 2013, the young have turned more against a vague undefined republic and in most polls are less supportive than even the elderly. It is a mirror image of the bell shaped curve in proposition 2.
- Support for a vague undefined republic is strongest among inner city voters, especially middle aged males and supporters of the Greens.
- Once a republican model is announced as the preferred republic, the Condorcet principle espoused by psephologist Malcolm Mackerras applies and support for a republic will fall. In other words, a significant number of republicans will always prefer the constitutional monarchy over the opposing model. Accordingly the ARM has, since 1999, been in the paradoxical situation of refusing to reveal what sort of republic it is actually campaigning for.
- Interest in republican change is generally weak and declining. According to the July 2014 Newspoll, strong supporters of change fell from 25% in 2011 to 22%. Among the young, strong supporters were down from 20% to 17%. The contrasting experiences of ACM and the ARM in calling public demonstrations leads us to conclude that many more monarchists are strong supporters of their cause than are republicans.
- The latest poll on the republican model which provides that the people rather than the politicians elect the president – the “direct elect model” – indicates no greater support than for the 1999 alternative. But when asked how the president should be chosen if Australia were to become a republic, respondents indicate a very strong preference for direct election. In the 2014 Newspoll, the young were, at 87%, the most supportive of direct election. At the same time they were least supportive of change to any republic. Australians seem to be saying: “We don’t want a republic, but if one is forced on us, we – and not the politicians – will choose the president”.
- As with any other polling, a “rogue” poll will sometimes go against the trend. But the trend lines across the polls and over time indicate declining support for a vague undefined republic.
- From this data we conclude that another referendum on the 1999 model would be overwhelmingly defeated and that a referendum on a model involving the direct election of a President would also be defeated (republican Professor Craven says the defeat of the latter would be greater than in 1999).
- A referendum delaying change until the end the reign has been proposed by former prime minister, Bob Hawke. No significant group has adopted this.
- ACM has always been opposed to what it calls the “blank cheque plebiscite”. We believe that if a plebiscite were to be held, the question would be manipulated by taxpayer funded “spin doctors”. We warn there is likely to be substantial taxpayer funding for “education” and “information”, probably little or no public funding for the No case, possibly no Yes/No booklet, and with strong support from about two thirds of the politicians and from the mainstream media.
- Experience indicates that in a referendum campaign, support for the affirmative case falls significantly between the announcement of a proposal and the actual vote. This is because the voters have then had some opportunity of hearing both sides of the debate and reading the Yes/No booklet.
- In a referendum campaign, those who in opinion polls say they are undecided tend to move to the No case or have not revealed their intention to vote No. In a republican referendum, this could be because the republican camp including media outlets has suggested the monarchist case is old fashioned, dated, etc., or respondents fear that there may be consequences for those who are known to have voted No.
- Polls taken now indicating opinions at some future date, say, the end of the reign, are clearly unreliable.
- Much has been made by republicans about the role of the then Prime Minister John Howard in 1999. It is untrue that he fixed the convention or the question. His opposition – which was unusual – no doubt encouraged his supporters, but they were unlikely to be republicans. On the other hand it may be that the support of an unpopular prime Minister and/or government may harm the Yes case. This was said to be one of the reasons why Paul Keating chose not to put a referendum on a republic. Even if the prime minister and leader of the opposition were to support the Yes case in a referendum, this will not ensure success, as was demonstrated in one of the referendums in 1967. But if the Parliament unanimously supported the referendum, there would be no official No case, which would disadvantage opponents.
- The theme of any referendum on a republic will probably be around the proposition that only a republic can deliver an Australian head of state. This was mentioned nine times in the official No case in 1999. To counter this, constitutional monarchists will need to be as well informed on the relevant law and practice and as organised and as disciplined as they were in 1999.
- Is a clear then that based on polling, support for a republic among the young is low and support for the Crown increasing.
There is strong anecdotal evidence which is consistent with this. ACM maintains a Facebook page which has attracted well over 50,000 Fans, or in Facebook terms, “Likes”. Most of these are in Australia. I mention this because there is a nefarious practice – and I see it in one competing Facebook page – where Likes may well have been purchased. That page has an extraordinarily high number of Likes from people in Istanbul and in Lahore.
In any event, a breakdown of ACM’s Likes is informative. Almost half would be classified as young by opinion pollsters.
As I was finalising this paper, 48% are women (2 points higher than the Facebook average), 12% are under 18, 33% are under 25 and 46% are under 35. In addition, they are highly “engaged”, which confirms that they are genuine Likes. To be “engaged” you have to have done something active in relation to a post on Facebook. Example of this would include liking it, commenting on it, or sharing it.
Just in the week to 10 May 2015, posts were initially seen by almost half a million people. We know this from the published total “reach” of our posts, which was 470,936. But that is just in the first wave of each post. For example take a post on 8 May by our National Convenor. This is on a photograph with this text: “Always ready to acknowledge service in others, Prince Harry spotted the Victoria Cross which was awarded to widow Daphne Dunn’s late husband. This was at his farewell in Sydney on 7 May 2015”.
This particular post was originally seen by 140,544 people. Over 2,000 were engaged, that is they did something. 330 shared it – that is they put it on a Facebook page, attributing it to ACM.
Just assume each of these shared pages reached on average 1,000 people. That would mean in the second wave another 330,000 people saw it. Some of them would share it. It would have been tweeted. There would have been a third wave and on a popular post many more.
It is fortunate for ACM that our elderly national convenor has so well mastered social media.
To go back to that week to 10 May, close to 50,000 (actually 48,196) people were “engaged” with posts on our Facebook page. This means they did something in relation to a particular post – they didn’t just read it. For example they commented on it or shared it with someone else. That is it was then seen by more people who themselves may have sent it on. It was then tweeted to other people.
Now this is far in advance of the figures relating to the leading republican pages in Australia. This may have something to do with the editorial choices that Professor Flint makes but he argues – and I agree with him − that this result is because of the intrinsic interest that young people have in the Crown.
3. Reasons for support for the monarchy
If we accept the polling record, it is clear that support for the Crown is considerable and is growing among Australia’s youth.
What are the reasons for this?
An associated feature of this issue is support for the Australian Flag. Before the referendum republicans were very open in indicating that with the advent of a republic, the flag would change, or as some said, have to change. Since the referendum, the ARM has argued that these are separate issues. But a number of leading republicans still insist that the flag should be changed now but that in any event, it will have to change after the advent of a republic.
Young Australians very strongly support the Flag. This flows through in relation to support for the Crown.
The longstanding ACM motto reflects this: “To Preserve, To Protect and To Defend Our Heritage: Our Australian Constitutional System, The Role of The Australian Crown in Our System & Our Flag.”
This is despite a number of factors which should be advancing the republican cause. It is fair to say that there has been over the last few decades a long march by republicans through our institutions. This is particularly so in the fields of politics, the media and education. The consequence is that there is little taught on the role and function of the Crown in our constitutional system either in the schools, the universities and, I am told, even our Law Schools. This is notwithstanding the fact that students, knowing little about the present system, are often called on to write about or debate “the” republic. Students do so without the benefit of sufficient study and information about the Crown.
This is a sad fact given that the Crown is our oldest legal and constitutional institution dating from 1788. It is surely self-evident that both the young and the new should be taught something about the essence of our constitutional system and the central role that the Crown plays in it.
There are however balancing factors. The first is that the republicans are unable to explain what is wrong with the Crown and why it would be advantageous to change. Professor Flint explained this in his referendum campaign book, The Cane Toad Republic, which historian Professor Geoffrey Blainey says was the best book published during the campaign.
The republicans initially mounted all sorts of reasons why Australia should become a republic: that it would reduce unemployment, increase trade, increase immigration, improve spirits, liberate our artists, and so on.
Once the resulting ridicule died down, the republican case was reduced to one core argument. This is that only in a republic can we have an Australian as head of state. This actually appears nine times in the Yes case which went to all electors in the Australian Electoral Commission’s Yes/No booklet.
ACM was central to the referendum campaign, our executive director Kerry Jones was also chairman of the official No Case Committee consisting of 8 ACM delegates and 2 independent republicans opposed to the model. They were chosen because of the size of the vote in the Constitutional Convention election. (ACM had in fact won 73.39% of the constitutional monarchist vote, the remainder being shared among, in order of size, by Bruce Ruxton’s Safeguard The People, the Australian Monarchist League, Queenslanders for Constitutional Monarchy and the Fred Nile’s Christian Democrats. Unlike the republicans all monarchist groups worked together in what was an effective united front).
During the campaign, Professor Flint chaired a national “central command” meeting which settled the orders of the day about the line the campaign should take. A recurring theme was the head of state issue.
ACM adopted and pursued the view advanced by international and constitutional lawyers that Australia already had an Australian as head of state, the governor-general. ACM has maintained that view, and Professor Flint and David Smith have written extensively on this.
While I expect that few young people lie awake at nights wondering who our head of state is, there is no doubt that the Australian Republican Movement even today faithfully maintains their argument that only in a republic can we have an Australian as head of state.
If there ever is ever to be another referendum or even a plebiscite − about which ACM has consistently been opposed, naming it a “blank cheque plebiscite” − this will be, as it is now, the principal argument for change.
I would venture the view that Australia is the bulwark and the litmus test in the maintenance of the Crown in the realms. There is no doubt in my mind that If Australia had changed in 1999 the very same forces for change in the media and politics would have been unleashed in other realms.
Given the singular importance of the head of state issue in Australia, I would suggest that the issue should be a serious subject of study.
And not by glib assertions as to what is the case. By studying the historical, legal − both international and constitutional aspects of the issue.
My point I stress is twofold. If Australia ever becomes a republic it will be because Australians accept the argument that only in such a republic can we have an Australian as head of state. And if Australia goes, the pressure for change will be unlashed in the other realms, probably beginning with New Zealand.
In the meantime there is a suspicion among young people about the intentions of the political, media and educational establishment. There is a saying among those who question the received wisdom of the day as to whether something that is being proposed – for example a republic – “passes the pub test”. This test asks whether a proposal would be approved by the rank-and-file applying their commonsense, good judgement and decency.
To those who would scoff at this test, I would draw their attention to the centrepiece of our criminal law system – the jury.
Notwithstanding the modern tendency to keep juries in the dark, and to circumscribe them with all sorts of legal technicalities, the jury is something precious which goes back through the Magna Carta to the mists of time.
Young Australians share the common sense, good judgement and decency of the rank-and-file and are today less receptive than ever to establishment views pushing republican change.
Young Australians recognise that the Queen, who is a highly respect figure is not a threat. Nor are members of the Royal Family. They know that they impose no significant cost on the Australian nation. They are not there, that they do not visit us, the Queen and members of the Royal Family does not send messages and express concern in moments of national catastrophe or share in moments of national triumph because they want something, including being re-elected. The Queen made it very clear during the referendum that the matter was one entirely for us and whatever the decision she would still retain the same high opinion she has of the nation.
We know one thing, and that is The Queen does not wish to remain our sovereign for some golden handshake, for politicians’ superannuation, for safe and secure seats in Parliament, or for those notorious jobs for the boys, or should I say girls.
In addition, Australians now see much more of the Royal Family in the media that they did hitherto. During the height of republicanism in Australia, when almost all of the media were campaigning for a republic, a policy was adopted similar to the one with which The Independent newspaper in London opened, but soon abandoned.
This involved if not refusing to mention the Royal Family, mentioning them very little. This was particularly so in the press and on television news. It even extended to women’s magazines.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation never, for example, televises Trooping the Colour on the Queen’s Birthday although German television does. Until ACM launched a major campaign, the ABC was not even going to broadcast the centrepiece of the Diamond Jubilee, the procession on the Thames.
Things have changed, especially on commercial television. On one network, you can see royal news almost every morning. It remains as true as when Bagehot wrote it that a constitutional monarchy offers a government which is “intelligible”, one where the attention of the nation is concentrated on one person − we could add a family – “doing interesting things”.
Even republicans are not immune from interest in the Royal Family. When there is to be a Royal Visit or Homecoming, our National Convenor will sometimes issue a warning to constitutional monarchists which is not completely “tongue in cheek”. This is: “Never stand between republicans and visiting royalty. Otherwise you will be knocked down in the rush.”
He explained in one report that it is as if the republicans are saying “Out of our way! We’re very important republican politicians and celebrities! And we must be seen with royalty! Now! Out of our way you peasants!”
A particular key to the constitutional monarchy is that it centres on a family, the Royal Family. Notwithstanding the assaults on the family as an institution, everyone understands and appreciates a mother, a brother, a sister, a marriage or the birth of a baby. All join in the tragedy of a person passing away. The Queen and members of the Royal Family are an extension of our family in a way a President or a Prime Minister can never be.
We are told that the hereditary principle in the succession is un-Australian, almost that it is against nature. That of course is incorrect. When a Queensland Premier, Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen, abolished what were very onerous death duties, elderly Australians in the other five states did not do what the bien pensants expected.
They did not happily sit back and wait until after their passing, governments took a very handsome share of their estates. They preferred instead that their accumulated wealth should go to their heirs and successors. They began to move en masse to Queensland, thus forcing the hands of the other state governments and also the Commonwealth who all soon abolished their death and estate duties. And again, when our Australian media moguls leave this world, no matter how republican they may be, they all ensure that the mandate of the mogul descends on their favourite child.
Australian Republicans will often dismiss the increase in support for the monarchy among the young on what they say is the “celebrity” status of the younger members of the Royal Family. If this were so, young people should be also thinking of other celebrities as potential presidents. Republicans make the mistake of underestimating the good sense of the youth of Australia. Young people, just as old people, recognise something very special about our royal family which is also followed in so many of our viceroys.
This is that the royal house has for generations been dedicated to service and that is today to be found to a very strong degree in the current young generation of members of the world family.
This has been recognised even in that great republic, the United States America. The Washington Post correspondent, Marie Cocco wrote about this very point in the Contra Costa Times on 1 March 2007.
This was published under this telling headline: “U.S. upper class more stuck up than Britain’s royalty.”
Note that: “U.S. upper class more stuck up than Britain’s royalty.”
Could one say this about the mainly republican upper classes of our countries? I think we could say that about Australia’s elites.
Ms Cocco wrote that a royal tale, even “more uplifting” than Dame Helen Mirren’s superb portrayal of The Queen in the film of the same name, had begun to unfold in London “just as the red carpets were being rolled out in preparation for the Academy Awards in Los Angeles.
This was that Prince Harry is marching off to war in Iraq”.
“Having graduated from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, the equivalent of West Point, the son of Diana and Prince Charles is fulfilling, at his own insistence, a duty to serve on the battlefront with the troops he was trained to command.”
“’There’s no way I’m going to put myself through Sandhurst and then sit on my a*** back home while my boys are out fighting for their country’, the young prince said in a 2005 interview that has been circulated widely”.
Ms Cocco writes that it takes no nostalgia for the Crown to hear the honour in Prince Harry’s vow — and to wince at the contrast with the US much larger force in Iraq, from which, she declares, the sons and daughters of the American well-heeled and the well-known are largely absent.
“Like the United States, Britain has a volunteer military. Unlike the United States, Britain has some vestige of an elite that believes in the notion of noblesse oblige.”
Ms. Cocco was especially impressed by the fact that “England sends its prince into battle.”
This sense of duty in the Royal Family is no new thing. Older generations in Australia − and I suspect your country − will remember this phenomenon in the Second World War, when The King and The Queen, as well as the Royal Family, stayed with the people.
The Princes’ grandfather and his father saw distinguished service. More recently, in the Falklands War, Prince Harry’s uncle, Prince Andrew, also rode, or perhaps more correctly, flew into battle.
The Argentinean media, once they were freed as a result of the United Kingdom’s refusal to accept the invasion of the Falklands, lamented that while conscripts were sent into battle, the officer class tended to stay in Buenos Aires.
Ms. Cocco also contrasts the way US veterans are treated with that offered by the UK authorities to theirs. While they send their princes to war, “…we are making paupers of our military families.”
“By what turn of history”, she demands, “did a nation founded in rebellion against absolute power wielded by a coddled elite become less concerned with equal treatment and shared sacrifice than the monarchy it overthrew?
“…only a slice of American society today bears the republic’s military burden. Because of this, our ruling class is proving itself to be more aloof than royalty”.
It’s not just that the young princes are handsome men and, at least in the case of Prince Harry, eligible. It’s that young people and old people to recognise in the sense of service and a magnificent dedication to the needs of others. Prince Charles alone raises more money than any other individual in the United Kingdom for charitable causes. All members of the Royal Family are involved in this sort of activity. Prince Harry is an excellent example not only with his charities in the Commonwealth and in Lesotho but in his special interest in returned soldiers, sailors and airmen injured in the service of their country. He was the singular force behind the Invictus Games in London which have been so instrumental in bringing our attention to the needs of that special class of men and women too often forgotten after they have done their military duty to their nation, and been injured doing that.
So no matter how little is taught about the important role and function of the Crown in the Constitution, the young people of Australia have ignored the republican propaganda which has been poured into their ears, instead sensing a strong appreciation of the role and function of the Crown.
4. The Future
So what of the future?
Republican is in Australia is not of course dead. It is however comatose. Will it awaken from that?
The country spent the better part of a decade in the 90s considering the issue. This was costly, but it was worse. It distracted the politicians from performing and performing well their fundamental role, the governance of Australia. I don’t know about New Zealand, but let me let you into a secret. With notable exceptions, Australian politicians haven’t been particularly good at that.
What I am saying is that Australian politicians just don’t have the spare time to be engaged in such pointless hobbies and pastimes such as republicanism.
The last attempt involved a vote on the best model the leading republican experts could devise. It was rejected by the people as we have seen, nationally in every state and in 72% of electorates. Since then support for a republic – any vague republic – has declined and declined significantly and especially among the young.
In the meantime, the Australian Republican Movement was not wound up as it said it would be, whatever the result in 1999. It continues but it is unable to tell the Australian people what sort of republic they want.
As Professor Flint says, it is as if they were marching down the street, chanting “We want a republic … But we haven’t the foggiest idea what sort of republic we want”.
Republicans need to retreat and work out precisely what they want and then come back and explain why this would improve the governance of the country. Until they do the young will take no notice. If they do the young may begin to at least listen to them. The next step will be to persuade young Australians that this is so.
There is a view sometimes expressed by those who were so wrong in 1999, that the succession of Prince Charles will secure a republic. But as my colleague Professor Flint points out − and he has a proven record on this and is undoubtedly the best informed person on these questions − the end of the present reign will be followed by a sad and long worldwide assessment of the second Elizabethan era, far greater than even the last Royal Wedding and the birth of Prince George. Media attention will then concentrate on that ancient now unique and rarely seen ceremony, the Coronation and the anointing of the King and there will be growing interest in the next Prince of Wales and his growing family. Professor Flint correctly predicted when others were talking about the inevitability of a republic that as The Queen ages she will become even more popular and respected. As he says, one of the aspects of the magic of our monarchy is in its unique way of constantly renewing itself.
As I stated in my introduction, I conclude then that as far as we can see, our oldest constitutional and legal institution is secure well into the 22nd century under the reigns not only of Queen Elizabeth II, King Charles III, King William V, and King George VII, but with King Harry and Queen Charlotte in reserve. In addition, I believe young Australians would be especially content with Prince Harry as Governor-General.
Jai Martinkovits graduated with a Bachelor of Computing (e-Business and Business Information Systems) and is a licenced finance broker. He volunteers as Executive Director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy.