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Despite royal family’s scandals, Australia is unlikely to ditch monarchy

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Members of the royal family at the Buckingham Palace (image by Carfax2 via Wikimedia Commons)

The royal family is facing its biggest crisis since the abdication of Edward VIII, as Prince Andrew is accused of sexual assault by Virginia Roberts Giuffre.

Whenever there are scandals or major events that occur within "the firm", Australia’s republicans would urge us to support scrapping constitutional monarchism but, almost certainly, the Down Under’s head of state will still bear the surname Windsor largely due to our indifference to change and obsession with the royals.

When these bombshell allegations came to light in 2019, Prince Andrew emphatically denied them as he had done so in an interview with BBC’s Emily Maitlis. Naturally, the scandal has brought much embarrassment to the firm and he quickly stepped back from royal duties and he wasn’t featured in Princess Beatrice’s official wedding photos.

When Ms Giuffre filed a civil lawsuit against the Duke of York, the Prince made a beeline to his mother’s estate, Balmoral Castle, in Scotland. The Daily Beast reported the Queen defended her son, who is said to be her favourite, by ordering solicitors to ask media not to take photos of any royals inside the castle.

Prince Andrew has evaded Scotland Yard’s investigations, but the monarchy has become a target of anti-monarchists who called for it to be abolished.

And it does also raise some questions about why Australia should still attach itself to an archaic institution that has zero relevance to our politics, identity and future. Supporters of the republican movement have capitalised on opportunities to reinvigorate the debate.

For example, when Prince Philip died, an editorial was published calling for Australia to change its head of state. Then, after Harry and Meghan’s controversial interview with Oprah, another op-ed was published begging the question, what will it take to revive the prospect of an Australian republic?

Whatever the reason is behind our reluctance to become fully independent, there is a very noticeable obsession we have for all things royal.

Australia, as we claim, champions egalitarianism and we turn our snouts to elitism and class. However, our media has this awestruck devotion to covering any major and trivial news about the Windsors. From weddings, scandals, funerals, little Prince George doing a painting to the Queen using a walking stick, our journalists will be there to give us their analysis of the situation.

Even though Australia has flown out of the colonial nest, it is still entangled in this complicated love affair with the royals. Down Under, initially a dumping ground for the UK’s misfits and undesirables, had fought desperately to establish a sense of autonomy back in the day.

Our forefathers who fought in the First World War were determined to make a mark on the global stage to establish a distinct Australian identity.

Of course, there are differences in Australian and British culture, mannerisms and accent. Yet, our politics, ideologies and geopolitical futures are bounded and perhaps we see the Windsors as our “extended family” due to our countries’ close ties.

Royal visits are often met with exuberant fanfare, flowers, a fanatical crowd and people would queue up just to catch a rare glimpse of the visiting royal. Even our politicians, such as former PM Tony Abbott, makes it obvious he is a staunch royalist as he re-introduced knighthoods and damehoods to our honour system in 2014, and had nominated the late Duke of Edinburgh to receive a knighthood.

For a country that doesn’t have a peerage system, it’s easy to be in awe of aristocracy because of its grandeur and it feeds into our guilty pleasure of wanting to know what life is like for them. We could only imagine, through historical records, artefacts, films and books, what having absolute power was like back then.

We’re also curious about what having privilege and living in a majestic castle is like. It is through the Windsors we could learn and witness old traditions and see the glamourous side of being a royal.  

When I was working in the UK, many of my colleagues and friends spoke of their reverence for the Queen who is mainly responsible for popularising the royal family. One colleague told me he was both excited and extremely nervous when he met Princess Anne, whom he described as “lovely” and “very cool”.

And to this day he still bemoans the fact his colleague didn’t take a photo of him greeting the Princess Royal. Since the Queen’s reign in 1952, her impressive leadership and dedication to her duties are enough to tug the heartstrings of a modern-day Oliver Cromwell.

Older Australians might feel a sense of nostalgic closeness and fondness with the royal family. A survey conducted by Research Now found that more than 60% of Australians aged over 65 are in favour of a constitutional monarchy. They watched the coronation of the young Queen and the challenges she faced such as the Aberfan disaster in 1966. Australians also celebrated royal births, weddings and they watched the turbulent years the monarch has continued to encounter as a Queen and mother.

As for the younger generations, the survey revealed 62% of people aged 18-24 don’t have strong views on the monarchy. Perhaps it is because we see the royal family as just celebrities with titles and scandals are treated as mere gossip.

Admittedly, even I can’t help reading up on the latest royal drama. While many young Australians are politically indifferent to the firm, yet there is no inclination to become a republic and this lack of incentive is perhaps there would be no substantial change (or improvement) to our political system and future.

But the firm is also working hard to woo the interest and engagement of young people around the world. Credit should be given to this ancient institution for trying to move with the times. Members of the royal family have their own social media accounts, and they permit young royals like the Cambridges to display emotions in public, such as the race for charity event.

The Duke of Cambridge is taking a strong lead in campaigning for global conservation and the Palace is also making a commitment to diversity; the Queen appointed the first black Lord-Lieutenant who represents Greater London.  

William and Kate are billboarded as the “modern royals” and young people look up to the performance of the Cambridges, judging them on their leadership qualities. So far, the future King and Queen Consort have impressed and they are praised as positive role models.

Australia is, in all intents and purposes, an independent country even though our head of state is more than 15,000km away.

In the last referendum in 1999, the republican vote lost by nearly 10% and the Australian Republican Movement (ARM) is proposing a new model to entice more Australians for support. It’s hard to say whether the ARM’s refreshed campaign would garner more momentum, seeing that a majority of Australians are lukewarm to change and with the media’s stalwart coverage of the royals, it’s hard not to feel a sense of connection to the firm.

Former PM John Howard once prophesied that Australia won’t become a republic as long as the Queen still reigns and I think he is right, at least for now.

Hsin-Yi Lo is a Melbourne-based writer, commentator and avid tennis fan. You can follow Hsin-Yi on Twitter @hsinyilo.

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