Friday the 6th of November marks the 10th anniversary since the referendum proposal to abolish the monarchy in Australia was defeated. Herewith a few points on the prospects for the monarchy in Australia going forward.
But before we do, it is important to remember the seriousness of the defeat that republicanism faced at the referendum in 1999. If you have a passing interest in Australian psephology, I strongly recommend this article on the referendum results by leading electoral analyst Malcolm Mackerras here. Additionally, this article explains the propensity of Australians to vote “no” – regardless of the issue at hand.
That was ten years ago. So what lies ahead for the monarchy in Australia?
First, republicans know they don’t have a model that they know can win. They know that a president chosen by politicians is a vote loser. But they seem unwilling to commit to a president chosen by popular vote. Why? Because such a change would be even more radical than the 1999 proposal – and would probably go down to a substantial defeat after being subjected to the white heat of a referendum campaign. Direct election is apparently popular now – but other referenda proposals have had high levels of support that evaporated in the lead-up to a vote. This conundrum ties the republicans up in knots.
There is also no political will to revisit the issue. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull (both republicans) have said that the issue is not a priority. In fact Turnbull has gone further by saying that the time is not right for a republic during the reign of the present Queen. This policy shift by Turnbull – who led the republicans before and during the 1999 campaign – is extraordinary.
Even then, as retired Major-General Mike Keating, head of the Australian Republican Movement says: "…if Charles and Camilla take over, the old Aussie ethos will say: he's in there now and maybe he won't be such a big dolt now that he's the monarch; it's only a fair thing to give the man a go …"
Finally, I have my own theory. Despite having a notionally republican Prime Minister, we have had a large number of royal visits this year. In January, we expect Prince William on a brief tour of Sydney and Melbourne. It has been reported that Prince William’s visit is his own initiative, and was then approved by Rudd’s office. Usually royal visits are at the initiative of the government at the day, but this one has come from Buckingham Palace. Why? Because I think the Palace now believes that due to the reasons above, if all things remain equal, William will almost certainly be the King of Australia one day, regardless of the government of the day. Pleasingly, it seems the Windsors are on the verge of returning to a normal transmission – of sorts.