During the Republican Referendum debate in 1999, people would often ask, “The Queen seems like a very nice person, but what exactly does she do that benefits us?” I’d respond by saying, “It’s not what the Queen does, it’s what she stops other people from doing!”
More about that shortly.
When the Republican Movement started in the early 1990s, I immediately joined Australians for Constitutional Monarchy (ACM) and offered my services to them. It was at the Adelaide Town Hall launch in November 1993 that I met ACM organiser Tony Abbott, Adelaide identity Kym Bonython, editor of The Adelaide Review Christopher Pearson and Federal Court (later High Court) judge Michael Kirby. After the launch, the five of us went to the Oxford Hotel in North Adelaide for dinner to discuss tactics. So began a long association with the cause.
Asking ‘What exactly does the Monarch do?’ is a bit like asking, ‘What exactly does that guard out front of the bank do all day’?
Knowing what we know about human nature, we are not naïve enough to think there aren’t closet dictators and tyrants lurking even in Australia. There are those among us who believe they are above the people, they disdain the people and resent having to answer to them. They are not as rare as you might think.
In 1975, former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam tried to govern without the consent of parliament and was subsequently sacked by the Queen’s representative, the Governor-General.
We can be sure no-one will ever try that again – govern without the consent of parliament, that is! You only have to do it once.
With the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, everyone it seems has their own special reflections on our late Queen.
For me, I was born the year she ascended the throne – 1952. My father was born in the same year as her – 1926, and my mother adored her. She spoke warmly of her throughout her life, from her war-time exploits – my mother was in England’s Land Army – to the Queen’s annual Christmas Message. My mother never missed a message.
But now, at the age of 96, the Queen has gone. Not quite as old as her husband Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (or ‘Fella-Belong-Mrs-Queen’ as they call him in PNG’s Pidgin English) who was 99 when he died last year, but a wonderful age all the same.
Speaking of dying at 99, the Queen greatly admired the American evangelist Billy Graham who also died aged 99. As some wag said at the time, ‘God obviously wasn’t a cricket fan, giving his best player out on 99 …!’
Over a period of more than 30 years – from the 1950s to the late 1980s, the Queen met with Billy Graham at least a dozen times.
“For me, the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life”, she said.
David Bruce, Executive Vice-President of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association said,
“Reverend Graham would say Queen Elizabeth was a deeply spiritual person. We know from listening often to her Christmas messages to the British Commonwealth, that she would invoke the gospel.
“Reverend Graham took every opportunity to end their meetings in prayer”, he said.
Here in Australia, the Republican Movement is once again firing up, sensing perhaps an opportunity to change our system of government from a Constitutional Monarchy to a Republic. From a monarch represented in Australia by a Governor-General as Head of State, to our very own President.
And there’s the rub.
How will this President be elected or appointed – by the people as in the United States? Or by a select few?
There is no doubt that if a President were to be elected, it would be a political contest. Just what we need, replacing a non-political monarch with a Donald Trump or Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton. Wonderful.
Current political leaders and academics can see the obvious flaws in a direct-election model of voting for a President. The politicisation of the office of Head of State, as in the US, would be unbearable. The last thing we need is another layer of politics.
And yet, consistent polling since 1999 shows that if we are to become a Republic and have a President as Head of State, then the people want to be the ones to elect him or her. So, for the foreseeable future, King replaces Queen. Checkmate.
One thing’s for sure, Australians will not be persuaded to change to a Republic by academics like Professor Greg Craven and his silly 1999 full-page ads:
Who will you put first –
YOUR FAMILY or the ROYAL FAMILY?
Professor Craven would do well to remember Margaret Thatcher’s maxim, ‘First you win the argument, then you win the election’ (or referendum as the case may be) and leave the writing of political ads to Clive Palmer.
So, the current system will remain with us for the time being, and Australians, as is the Australian way, will give the new King a fair go.
Not that Charles is a stranger to us. He has visited Australia no less than 16 times, even spending part of his schooling here.
God save the King.
Thank you for your support.