This Friday 6 November marks the 21st anniversary of the 1999 republic referendum.
Two decades on, republican lobbyists are on the rebound, arguing that ‘it’s time’ and devising fresh attempts to ‘ditch the monarchy’. Since 1999, they claim, four million new voters on the electoral roll are not only budding republicans but eager to exchange an Australian president for an ‘out of touch’ Governor-General.
Indeed, on face value, the currents may appear to be turning as republicans ‘gear up’ for another round.
A different kind of evolution
But what, really, has changed since 1999?
Here are some brief observations.
- The centennial urgency of the ‘republican moment’ has clearly passed – it’s less important, for example, and less on the minds of Australians, who should be opening the Sydney 2000 Olympics.
- Our year on year commercial relations have only grown with Asian neighbours – trends that monarchists and other ‘no’ voters in 1999 were told would recede.
- The Queen and other royal figures continue to command strong public appreciation in Australia.
- And Australian Election Study data suggests that the republic has been a downward – and not upward – trend on voters’ minds.
Indeed, in not just the past twenty years, but throughout the twentieth century, pragmatic Aussie winds have steadily blown through republican sales.
- God Save the Queen is no longer Australia’s national anthem.
- We now have our own honours system.
- The oath for new citizens does not mention the Queen.
- And Buckingham Palace has made more than clear that, when it comes to controversial political problems – such as November 1975 – it is the Governor-General and not the Queen that takes decisive action.
We’re not British British
Clearly, Australians do not think of themselves as British like we did, say, before the 1950s.
And neither, it seems, do foreigners.
A great example of this is from a 1942 cultural training booklet given to wartime American Servicemen deployed to Australia. “A member of the British Commonwealth, Australia is a British dominion, a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations – but that doesn’t mean Britain owns or rules Australia,” the United States Army pocketbook reads.
“The Australians govern themselves, as a separate nation, sending their own diplomatic representatives overseas and managing their own relations with foreign nations. At the same time, there are certain traditional ties with Great Britain which the Australians value”.
It perfectly captures the organic balance we’ve found as a nation between heritage and ‘coming of age’.
Despite all this, republican lobbyists – intensely well-resourced and with advocates in influential places – still want their republic.
The issue will stagger on and present as how it has always presented – a (misguided) solution looking for a (not real) problem.
Monarchists, and other fair-minded and pragmatic Australians, will need to be prepared.
Image source: The Spectator Australia