Time for another tilt at creating a republic

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

IF Malcolm Turnbull replaced Tony Abbott as Prime Minister and as a result won next year’s federal election, we might get another shot at a republic.

Making Australia a minimalist republic will only ever succeed by referendum if a conservative prime minister backs it. Only 18 per cent of referendum proposals have succeeded since 1901.

There are a lot of “ifs”. Mr Turnbull is too trendy for rank and file Liberals. He was chairman of the Australian Republican Movement in 1999 when the movement’s chaotic split over the method of selecting a president cost it the referendum, cleverly established and exploited by monarchist prime minister John Howard.

A referendum requires a majority of national votes and a majority of states and in 1999 it got neither. Still, it is worth noting that in spite of a disorganised republican movement and a prime minister pushing the royal barrow, a pro-republic national vote fell short by just 600,000 voters.

Even sections of the republic movement campaigned against the “Yes” proposal because they couldn’t get their way on a selection method.

I was once a strong monarchist. I find the presence of royalty intimidating, like a medieval superstition about the divine right of kings, but I want to grow up. It is insulting in this age to owe allegiance to a foreign monarch from another hemisphere.

Buckingham Palace has little impact on our routine in the colony, but the palace and its vice regal representatives in the colony vets and approves our laws; approves our vice regal nominees; approves the appointment of ministers in federal Parliament plus all states and territories; approves the issuing of writs for elections; approves the Australian honours list and approves the appointments of judges and ambassadors.

The layers of paperwork sheets home the predominant constitutional role Buckingham Palace plays in Australian politics. The power of the throne. It is bizarre – just as bizarre as the portent of Australia Day each year confounds Aborigines.

Since 1965 most of our vice regal appointments approved by the palace have been Australian born. We’re Australian in most facets of our culture and multiculture, but we have this damn apron string caught in the old door.

This is why Australians were insulted when Tony Abbott demoted Prince Philip from prince to knight. But you see, out of that bleak and black palace dungeon springs a tiny streak of light.

Maybe the stupidity of our monarchist PM’s princely knighthood exposed a hint of change out there in the community. Maybe Australians now realise how ridiculous and inappropriate it is for our wonderful Queen Elizabeth II to remain Queen of Australia.

She’s truly been a sensational head of state, but unless Britain decides to leapfrog their allegiance to Wills and Kate, we’re going to look pretty adolescent as a nation, grovelling to a foreign monarch who enunciates the Queen’s English; married his former mistress and talks to plants.

The momentum within the coalition for a Malcolm Turnbull recovery will gather strength as polling continues to show a coalition still in the game but held back by its leader. It is precisely what the anti-Abbott wreckers want.

If there is a leadership change don’t expect anything for a while, certainly not until after 2016. Young Australians who might be tempted to vote conservative next year because of the Turnbull factor will expect another republic referendum at some stage. They were in primary school at the time of the last referendum.

A republic wouldn’t change our way of life much and wouldn’t cost much, but to describe it as a low priority in our busy, economic world of high unemployment is a phony argument.

If that was the case we would still be singing a national anthem that starts with the lyrics God Save our Gracious Queen.

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