To say the British monarchy, and by implication Queen Elizabeth II, is “divisive and dividing our nation” would puzzle a lot of Australians. But the Australian Republican Movement has found a way.
Recently featuring in the UK’s Express, the movement noted how the royals had undermined Australian trade negotiations, delegated unfair powers to the Governor-General and now drifts out of touch with “four million voters [who] have come onto the electoral roll” since the 1999 republican defeat.
These are all familiar republican arguments. And all buckle under examination.
The claim of “sending Prince Andrew out on trade missions to secure jobs for the UK over and above Australia” is a bizarre wedge to rally the republican cause. Indeed, that Buckingham Palace is somehow manipulating Australia’s trade links is a hard claim to make, especially when Australia annually exports over $195 billion mainly to China, Japan and South Korea, and imports around $187 billion from an even wider orbit of global economic partners.
Equally puzzling is the idea that the Palace’s meddling extended to prime minister Gough Whitlam’s 1975 dismissal – a royal power that republicans now claim is a “ticking time bomb”. Here little mention is made of the failures leading up to Whitlam’s dismissal – only that correspondence between the Queen and Australia’s governor-general Sir John Kerr, which the Palace has not released, offers blueprints to a conspiracy. “It’s another reason why we need an independent head of state,” note republicans, “that can represent Australia’s interests exclusively.”
But what exactly is to hide?
“Her Majesty, as Queen of Australia,” wrote private secretary Martin Charteris in the heat of November 1975, “is watching events in Canberra with close interest and attention, but it would not be proper for her to intervene in person in matters which are so clearly placed within the jurisdiction of the Governor-General by the Constitution Act.”
The reply says a great deal – not only did the Queen seek to stay out of Australian domestic politics but that, even if any supposed manipulation occurred, the ‘governance ball’, so to speak, lies firmly in Australia’s court. “That reply confirmed,” according to Kerr’s official secretary Sir David Smith, “if confirmation were needed, that the Governor-General is indeed the constitutional head of state, and that in the exercise of his powers and functions he does not act as the representative or surrogate of the Sovereign.”
Finally, the four million new voters on the electoral roll since 1999 don’t automatically equate to republican voters. Election study data in fact suggests that the republican issue is on a downward and not upward trend. And not only do young people get older but many, at least those willing to defend Australia’s monarchy, still find space for tradition and continuity in our current constitutional arrangements.
It is a battle that’s clearly worth the fight. But one built on unity rather than vague stabs at division.
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