Politics Opinion

The King of Australia will easily outlast Albanese's Labor

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s stinging Voice rebuff and now his Governor-General appointment, Samantha Mostyn, snuff out any slim chances of him delivering an Australian head of state.

In Albanese Government histories, one chapter will be slim pickings: republicanism and Matt Thistlethwaite.

Recently, the mini-minister set me off again by saying:

“...becoming a republic has got nothing to do with the royal family.”

Huh? A hereditary monarchy automatically providing our heads of state is the very thing making us not a republic.

Sorry Palace Letters saga

In 2020, historian Jenny Hocking finally wrested Palace Letters from the 45-year clutches of Queen Elizabeth II and the Australian Government. Archives chief David Fricker spun the release, pro-Scott Morrison and News Corp.

QEII fibbed again, about Palace involvement in Gough Whitlam’s 1975 Dismissal. Then Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese ducked and weaved, while frontbencher Tanya Plibersek launched the wrong book on the Letters.

She ran Paul Keating's line. The republican “case” has nothing to do with the “respected” monarchy. Never mind the Everest of evidence to the contrary, in the Hocking book.

Our present King Charles had mishandled the Dismissal when the Governor-General floated it with him. A youthful unforced error of which plenty would follow. Albeit his environmental cred, a dubious candidate, for any nation’s head of state. No wonder wily QEII tried to live forever.

In his maiden PM speech, Albanese ducked this issue again, favouring the Indigenous call for the Voice. After that 7-1 drubbing, there’s little chance of him seriously tackling the head-of-state issue. Even if he did, would he have the tactical chops to forge a win?

Where’s Labor really at? 

For conservatives, monarchy still “isn’t broke”. Sure, once you ignore the never-ending royal farce. Oh, no, what about their Photoshop trainwreck

What about their clandestine, commercially selfish, intrusions in UK government business? Their tax evasions and garnishing estates of the dead.

Already this year, obsequious Australia has fretted over the royal cancer. An ABC royal correspondent explained the drill. Then Albanese pivoted, anticipating a royal tour as his ABC simpered over Queen Camilla and the princess shortage.

For yonks, our craven leaders said, wait till QEII dies. As if we owed it to her. As if her death would make any difference. When it suits leaders, they don’t wait. Check Whitlam’s first days in power. Or John Howard, off to Iraq in a flash. 

For Liberal and Labor, QEII and Son are still the good oil. But documentary history, the ill-informed and patronising Palace “advices” to the 1975 Governor-General, embarrasses both nations.

As recently as 2014, Tony Abbott knighted Prince Philip. Why would 21st century Australia have a British-Australian Prime Minister, batting for Britain? Back in 1999, John Howard also backed Britain, against his own government’s Republic Referendum. QEII duly rewarded him.

Labor, however, is pro-republic. In this matter, it would like to be pure, if not just yet, while it kowtows alongside Liberal counterparts.

Consider Julia Gillard, another British-Australian. Her 2011 panegyric for Elizabeth and Philip, and 2012 gusher for Charles and Camilla, channelled Bob Menzies from 1954.

Even Kevin Rudd had his twee royal corgi story. As Prime Minister, Albanese was soon renaming Canberra’s Aspen Island for QEII — originally Morrison’s grovel, not his. But Albanese himself laid it on thick at the QEII funeral and Charles coronation as his ABC lost its mind for a week at a time.

Meantime, Minister Andrew Leigh has produced his naff Charles III dollar, flattering Charles with big hair, perpetuating “17th century” tradition.

Labor, if royalty’s so wise and munificent, embodying such kinship with Australia, why would you even want to stop dating?

Just ditch the Palace

Labor and the Australian Republic Movement (A.R.M.) appear to be on a “journey” to find some novel “republic”. That soufflé will never rise. Just unyoke the uncaring Palace. Even that seems beyond us.  

Before the Voice failed, Thistlethwaite blathered about conventions, plebiscites and the Irish model. Afterwards, he admitted, his republic was on the back burner.

Matt, there’s never an exact “right time”. Australians might like their own head of state, but they’re not red hot for it.

A head of state is only achievable, I’d say, via a unity ticket of Liberal and Labor leaders. As we sort of developed for the same-sex marriage postal vote. As couldn’t happen, with Albanese and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton.

Also, be a small target. Don’t proselytise the republic moniker — it’s a turnoff. This is not Trump’s America or Macron’s France. Or North Korea, nominally a democratic republic.

Apparently, only two other nations and six American states/territories are officially “commonwealths”. Only Dominica is a commonwealth but also a republic. We could be, too.

A minimal referendum proposition to disconnect the Palace might read something like “Modify the Constitution to remove the King and retain the Governor-General as head of state, as appointed by the Prime Minister”. No R-word. Keep the “by convention” five-year GG term.

Royalists trot out, Governor-General’s already in effect our head of state. Great, let’s make it official and govern ourselves 100%. In other respects, the GG role looks reasonable.

Instead, Labor rumoured an Indigenous Governor-General, reporting to the White Palace. Before settling on businesswoman Mostyn, a Labor insider who ticks the boxes, in football and climate policy alike. 

One smallish republican target has already been attempted, that 1999 referendum. If – and that's a big if – a strong unity ticket coalesced, perhaps Australia could give this another shot.

But, this time, omit the R-word and P-for-president word. Something like “Modify the Constitution to remove the King and retain the Governor-General as head of state, as appointed by two-thirds majority of the members of Commonwealth Parliament.”

It’s what the A.R.M. calls “parliamentary appointment” — the second favourite model, among the voters it surveyed for its 2022 Australian Choice Model. This creates a target the size of Uluru — guaranteed to fail.

What is Australian Choice? State and territory parliaments select eight candidates. Commonwealth adds another one to three. Up to 11, if you’re still paying attention. Then a national election for captain’s armband, among that soccer team.

Voila, our “ceremonial” head of state with “limited” powers. Just one more catch — several pages of constitutional amendments.

Australian Choice is a camel, an ungainly hybrid between parliamentary appointment and open election.  

When I turn 100…

Under Australian Choice, one caution was the six state governors, reporting to the Palace. The A.R.M. kicked that can down the road.

Yet it would be so easy, to fail once again. The Labor-A.R.M. aim should be a successful manoeuvre, not policy navel-gazing.

We’d do better to await a pragmatic unity ticket. Coming from the clouds like Steven Bradbury, but getting the job done, as per SSM. Meanwhile, forget about any Australian head of state, for the life of the Albanese Government and then some.

Noting Australia’s habits of cultural cringe and political torpor, I only need to survive another quarter-century or so to claim my centenarian Message from the King.

Stephen Saunders is a former public servant, consultant and 'Canberra Times' reviewer. He is on the Sustainable Population Australia Executive Committee.

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