Albanese and Dutton could cooperate to remove King Charles as our head of state in favour of a republic. Instead, early indications signal we will continue bowing to the monarchy for many more years, writes Stephen Saunders.
WHAT THE HELL just happened, Australia? Get a grip, we can’t keep grovelling like this. Can we never bring the curtain down on the 1954 Royal Tour?
As soon as news emerged of the Balmoral bereavement, sensible persons hit the brace position. It was going to be a rocky week. But it’s been more extreme than my darkest dreams. Much loonier than my silliest satires.
Before the royal coffin has even completed its own royal tour, our manifestly unsuitable new King is already having another jape at the old colony’s expense. In The Daily Telegraph, he’s 'planning a visit to Australia in one of his first moves as monarch'. He has a standing invitation from Anthony Albanese — who appears not to be outdone by fanatical royalist Scott Morrison.
But it’s not so much the Murdoch press that’s failed us. It’s our supposedly “centre” or “leftish” mainstream media. ABC, The Guardian and The Conversation and The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH).
Here’s what they could have said: For years, our wise leaders and pundits have concurred, hush, be patient, "wait until the Queen dies". Well, she finally did, folks. So, we wave an overdue goodbye to her white-British-Christian Palace and urge a prompt transition to a more appropriate head of state.
Instead, their message was, hush, be patient, don’t you know the Queen just died? They created a tsunami of nauseating Palace propaganda and simpering royalist bilge.
Or, as William Faulkner could have written: 1954 is never dead. It’s not even past.
In our fake post-Elizabeth “republican debate”, I shouldn’t single out any one commentator. Instead, let me eyeball two. On their good days, either one can do a whole lot better.
Consider this breathtaking insight from SMH's Peter Hartcher about 'Why Albanese won’t race to a republic...'. Earth to Hartcher: Timid Albanese already kicked that can so far down the road that it’s no longer possible to discern can or road.
As Hartcher himself writes, he’s:
'working towards creating a working group to begin planning a republic referendum.'
I guess one could shoehorn a few more get-out-of-gaol cards into that sentence. But let’s cut to the chase. Albanese looks scarcely more likely to deliver an Australian head of state than Morrison.
His greater national priority (yep, almost “racing”) seems to be stamping the head of Charles on our coins — following age-old British tradition, as one must.
When would we get our own head of state? On Hartcher’s timetable, about never. The Queen, he insists, didn’t make us the 'coup capital of the western world'. So what? What’s that got to do with the anxious apron strings that still bind us to Buckingham Palace?
For 121 years, Australia has been sucking up to these British royals. Whatever versions of the truth John Howard is given leave to repeat on royal lover ABC's Insiders, the fingerprints of Queen Elizabeth appear to be all over The Dismissal. And now comes this fresh tidal wave of grovelling.
Burbles Hartcher in response, Australia faces 'deeply serious' problems, so the head of state must remain a 'second-order issue'. One could advance these nanny cautions any old time — there’s never a right time.
Hartcher’s cautionary companion is John Warhurst in The Conversation, claiming (ARM) Australian Republic Movement’s preferred model is a “creative” starting point. No, it’s not. It’s bollocks. ARM's clunky (indirectly) elected head of state would likely never get up.
A second republican referendum, continues Warhurst, is 'at best five to ten years away… when Charles will be close to 80'. Gee, as quickly as that, lucky us.
Back in 1999, Howard, who had sabotaged the first republican referendum, had been duly rewarded by his Queen. These days, as even ARM concedes – and as other polls confirm – the general proposition of a “republic” barely wins a voter majority.
Any new head-of-state referendum could easily fall over again. Unless the prime minister and opposition leader converged on a prior deal. I don’t see them agreeing on an elected head of state. What’s in it for them? Their constituents don’t seem mad keen on an “elected president” either.
I’d be surprised if any head-of-state progress emerged under Albanese and Dutton. Even though the latter’s possibly cruel (but politically sensible) circuit-breaker of a postal plebiscite helped bring on same-sex marriage equality.
Australia, we don’t need to waste ages over “republican debates”. Or so-called “republican models”. A commonwealth is fine — even America has them. The essential (and difficult enough) step towards a grown-up nation is just this: legislation to unyoke our governor-general from the Palace.
Some might look askance at continuing with a governor-general role. Morrison’s bungled choice of David Hurley has become a dead man walking. The same happened to Howard’s poorly chosen Peter Hollingworth.
Determined leaders could turn that argument on its head. Even more reason, they’d say, for parliamentary sign-off on the head of state. Not as luxurious as the prime minister having his or her own private pick, but more protective of prime ministerial powers than an elected head of state.
Yep, why not revisit the 1999 proposition? Which might just about have got up but for Howard’s perfidy and the republicans fracturing. Have ourselves a head of state (or governor-general) with no antiquated Palace links but with the (prime minister’s) nominee requiring endorsement by a two-thirds majority of a joint sitting.
This, I know, wouldn’t sort out our six state governors, doggedly reporting back to the Palace. Or our stubbornly British national flag. Or our stubbornly British national day. But, after 121 years as a royal doormat, we have to start somewhere to get anywhere at all.
Stephen Saunders is a former public servant, consultant and Canberra Times reviewer.
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