Former ambassador Robert Hamilton says the Republic debate ignores, to its detriment, the fact that our royal family "...actively works for British interests against those of Australia or Australian companies".
The recent royal wedding has refocused attention on the question of whether Australia should or should not become a republic. The pomp and circumstance that so many have enjoyed on TV has, inevitably, given the monarchists a boost.
What has been missing from the discussion, however, has been the most important point about why we should, indeed, abandon the monarchy. We have heard the usual stuff about the Windsors being a foreign family, the restrictions on royal Catholicism, that Australia is now a multicultural society that is not adequately represented by the historical links with the royal family and that royalty is not based on merit but on birth-right. Some also wonder quite what the connection between the royal family and Australia actually is, particularly when the two duchesses, Camilla and Kate, now first and second in line to the position of consort, perhaps queen, to the monarch, have had so little to do with us. The late Diana at least had a mother who married an Australian.
However, the truly important issue is that the royal family actually represents and promotes interests that are at odds with Australia’s. In fact, the Australian Royal family routinely works to undermine Australian interests abroad, both political and economic. This is hardly surprising but is almost always overlooked. After all, the British Royal family works to support the interests of its home, namely the United Kingdom.
The importance of a royal visit to promote British interests has long been well understood. When the Queen visits her royal brothers in the Middle East she goes there not through filial obligation or sisterly love but rather to promote a set of national interests. The delegations that follow are testimony to this. Commercial, trade and political relations are the real substance of the visit. While the queen herself does not conduct the negotiations, she provides the umbrella under which it all takes place. And the interests pursued during and subsequent to such visits are those of the UK, not Australia. Whenever there is a commercial competitor from Australia or a difference in international perspective it is the British view that is advanced. Never, ever, the Australian position or interest.
Prince William has had few chances yet to travel and to represent British interests, though no doubt he will do so increasingly. His uncle, the fourth in line to the throne, Prince Andrew, actually holds the position of “Trade Ambassador” and his role is abundantly clear. Prince Charles, Andrew’s elder brother and first in line to the Australian crown, has travelled dozens of times and has repeatedly assisted British interests against those of Australia or Australian companies. The Queen has been doing it for years. This is not to say that the Royals are intentionally trying to undermine Australia. Not at all. It is simply that their primary and real job is to be the British royal family and to do all that goes with that set of positions. Their loyalty to Australia is occasional and almost entirely reserved for their infrequent visits to Australia.
It is ironic but should the Australian royal family decide actually to promote Australian interests from time to time it would probably make the situation worse. The British royals are also the monarchs of more than a dozen other countries and any move better to represent Australia would necessarily lead to a similar approach to the other realms. Thus the Australian Royal family would not represent just British interests ahead of our own but would also, from time to time, represent the interests of a swag of other countries, admittedly mostly small, but including New Zealand and Canada, ahead of Australia’s.
Thus Australia has a monarch and a royal family that does not and cannot represent any Australian interest internationally. But worse, we have a monarch and royal family who actively work against our national and international interests whenever it suits their real constituency, Britain. To support Australian interests is just not part of their job description. And it never will be.
(Robert Hamilton was the Australian Ambassador to Mexico, Cuba and the countries of Central America, 1997-2001.)