Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Need for Imagination – the future of the monarchy in Australia

. Wednesday, October 26, 2011

As the the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh’s latest tour of Australia has passed its halfway mark and nears its end, it is worth reflecting on the state of the monarchy, the activity of the republican movement and what is required from our side to secure the monarchy’s future.

The first feature of this visit is the evergreen popularity of the Queen. I think the crowds are bigger and warmer than any I have seen for her than at any other time in the last 20 years. During walkabouts, there have been frequent spontaneous renditions by the crowds of God Save the Queen – an anthem not played in this country in an official capacity away from her presence for over twenty years - wherever she goes. Crowds have been 20 and 30 people deep.  The media management has been masterful, too - royal tour coverage dominates rolling news channels during the day and the Queen and Duke landed in Canberra at the start of the 6pm news bulletins in Sydney and Melbourne.  Flawless timing. 

So, where does this leave the republicans?

The politics of republicanism in Australia are now clear – there is nowhere near enough support to carry the necessary referendum to abolish the monarchy and establish a republic. Australia’s baby-boomer elite have begun to realise that they will die as subjects of the Queen or her successors. This article, by Australia’s pre-eminent political commentator, the Australian’s Paul Kelly, shows how raw this is for them. Kelly (the former husband of a Labor minister from the 1980s) accepts the battle is lost but can’t bear to face the monarchy in its triumph. He is by no means alone.

So what is to be done?

I think the monarchy (preferably the Queen before the end of her reign) needs to reach out to them and bring them into the tent. In no other realm is the “disconnect” between the monarch and local elites so pronounced. While it’s not a tactical problem for the Crown because it will always win an insiders-vs-outsiders referendum, the strategic problem remains. I don’t just want the bomb’s fuse to be extinguished, I want to dismantle the bomb.

For non-political elites, I think the answer is easy and lies in restoring an older part of the Australian honours system. If all Companions of the Order of Australia were offered to be upgraded to a knight or dame to join the few living AKs left (similar to New Zealand’s move last year), then the nub of republican support would instantly be given “buy-in” with the monarchy and so the two would be reconciled. I suspect we would see similar take-up rates to NZ, and public life would be enhanced (as would the Crown’s cause). In my view, this scenario can only realistically occur with Tony Abbott becoming prime minister, and would be made easier by investitures personally conducted by the Queen. Plausible, but by no means certain.

The real challenge is to negotiate some sort of truce between the monarchy and Labor. Labor has deep Irish-inspired republican roots, resents the existence of vice-regal reserve constitutional powers (and has spectacularly suffered from them twice), and values republicanism’s utility as a low-cost symbolic issue that connects its two core constituencies – blue collar workers from a non-English speaking background, and urban social progressives. This is all in addition to the frequent suspicion that social democrats and others on the Left have for inherited privilege and the hereditary principle. Asking Labor to accept the monarchy is like asking Labor to deny its success since embracing cultural nationalism and moving beyond being a purely class-based party (which meant endless electoral defeat). This is THE challenge for our cause in my country but I have not found a long-term solution yet - I am hopeful the Palace will.  If the Palace and its Australian friends and advisers can come up with a solution to this, then its long term future is assured. Until then, though, vigilance remains needed.


Kipling said...

A very well thought out post. Excellent practical insights on matter. The use of the honour system to bring in Labor elites is a good point.

Lord Best said...

Good post, though I have two minor quibbles. The first is Tony Abbott restoring the old honours system, I doubt he has the courage to be honest. The problem with Australian politics is tha both sides are cowards interested only in short term stunts to win votes. I would be happy to be wrong, but as it is I thank god we have a constitutional monarchy to keep absolute power out of the hands of the buffoons on both sides of politics.

The second is the statement that blue collar workers from a non-English speaking background are a core Labor demographic. Until the 2007 election they were firmly in the Liberal camp most of them (much to Labors disgust). They switched to Labor during that election along with many English-speaking blue collar workers primarily due to the abomination that was Work Choices.

Crux Australis said...

M'Lord Best, my understanding is that people around Abbott are favourably predisposed towards looking at restoring knighthoods within the Order of Australia. I am in a reasonable position to know this. If Abbott thinks he can do serious damage to republicanism he will. Mind you - there will be many monarchists who will never vote for Abbott, for all sorts of reasons.

On the other point, if you look at electoral maps of Sydney and Melbourne, Labor's safest seats are dormitory seats of blue collar workers with a non English speaking background, come what may (but that's psephology, not monarchy!)

Robert Nicks said...

Excellent piece, I very much enjoyed reading it. It brought up an interesting idea in my mind; if the resumption of titular honours is being considered in Australia, why is it not being considered in my home country, Canada? The Canadian Honours system is missing a critical element to it in that we cannot confer high honours on our citizens.

I therefore pose a question to those more informed than I: if titular honours are being considered for re-introduction into Australia, what are the chances that the Canadian government would do the same?

Michael said...

I seem to recall that the indigenous monarchs and nobles of the Indian subcontinent were eligible for the India-specific Honors. Though the indigenous peoples of Australia, New Zealand and Canada don't have hereditary aristocrats, I can't help thinking that similarly awarding the most prominent members of those tribes might also be a good means of addressing the suspicions of members of the left.

Leacock said...

I would support giving them honours (the deserving ones at any rate), but I would disagree with any specifically Aboriginal honours being created, as in the case of India. Then again I am also opposed the creation of any new orders of chivalry, the existing ones are sufficient in my view, and we do not need separate national ones.

Crux Australis said...

The honours stuff is interesting but a bit of a sideshow. I am sure the monarchy can thrive in Australia without knighthoods; it just strikes me as a way to heal the breach with various elites. It would look classy too.

For what it's worth I think NZ has given titular (knight/dame) honours to Maori royalty.

The key here to this article is the dynamic between the monarchy and Labor. Canada's Grits and UK and NZ Labour have never had as party policy to abolish the monarchy, whereas the ALP has since 1980. Labor's preferred position now is to be "Elizabethan republicans" - ie not in this reign, but yes afterwards.

What I don't know is if this is code for "I surrender" without losing face. Labor is a proud party that has seen this issue previously as a matter of honour.

This article suggests to me it is:

The author, Graham "Richo" Richardson, was the man who made Paul Keating, godfather of Australia's republican movement, prime minister. He was the ultimate Labor machine operator and strategist of the 80s and 90s. He understands Labor's heart and ethos well. Bear that in mind when you read his article. He is effectively conceding Labor cannot secure a republic.

He isn't intimately involved in politics in the way he once was, but he still understands Labor well enough for this to be a good insight on the issue.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why Labor/Labour/Lib Dems are so hostile to titular honours. In the past, hundreds of politicians from these parties accepted hereditary peerages, baronetcies, life peerages and knighthoods, and thought nothing of it. Why should it be any different now?

David Byers said...

I have always found "monarchist" organisations in Australia to be - well - a bit strange. I can't put my finger on it exactly, they seem to go off message or something from time to time and seem to attract people with an axe to grind. When I look at the Monarchist League of Canada website, I find their argument clear and true and they come accross as a wonderful inclusive organisation. I could go into more detail about Monarchism in Australia but will leave it open for other to discuss, as I think this is the REAL problem for the Crown in this Realm.

ERP Software said...

We love you our queen

Crux Australis said...

Good points David. The reason the organisations are less than slick here is because they were ultimately built for one purpose - the lead-up to, and the holding of, the 1999 referendum campaign. Now that the campaign has been and gone the players have moved on.

The Monarchist League in Canada is built as an educational outfit as well, as opposed to being a campaigning tool. So their focus and capabilities are different.

If anything I think the atrophy to the ARM is far, far worse than anything in the AML or ACM.

I still think the core problem is the near-unanimity of the ALP on this issue. People take their lead from their preferred party on issues if they are sufficiently tribal. Look at the Newspoll jump in support for a republic from 1991 to 1992.

A ten point increase in support for a republic over an 8-9 month period doesn't happen by itself. There were no royal scandals at this stage (eg toe sucking, etc) - the only variable was the ALP committing to a republic by 2001, and Paul Keating fuelling the debate.

We don't need the support of political parties to stop a referendum, but we do need to go within political parties to head off any pressure to bring a referendum on. This is the strategic shift - particularly with a focus on the ALP - that I would like to see our cause work on.

Bernard Mills said...

I don't think the minority that is Australian Monarchists have anything to worry about while Gillyard is top dog. She has shown herself to be a total hypocrite on this issue, turning more times than a dog chasing its tail.

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The Last Rhodesian: What began with Rhodes and ended with Ian?
Gentleman Journalist: The Lord Baron W.F. Deedes, 1913-2007
Not Amused: Blair's sinister campaign to undermine the Queen
Loyal Subject: Queen Elizabeth: A stranger in her own country
Reverence Deference: Bowing and Scraping Back in Tradition
Rex Murphy: Kennedy, Churchill, Lincoln - The rousing bon mot is no more
Gerald Warner: Don't shed a tear for Diana cult in its death throes
The End of Grandeur: Rich, chincy Canada puts Strathmore on the blocks
Confessions of a Republican Leftie: "The Queen charmed the pants off me"
The King's Own Calgary Regiment: Cpl. Nathan Hornburg is laid to rest
The Royal Gurkha Rifles: Prince William grieves the death of Major Roberts
Queensland Mounted Rifles: Trooper David Pearce, 41, killed in Afghanistan
The Order of Canada: 100 investitures later, Canada's highest honour turns 40
Prince Edward on Prince Edward Island: Troop's link to monarchy important
HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN: Unveils the UK Armed Forces Memorial
Great Britain: "A rotten borough with a banana monarchy" - by Europhile
Peers of the Realm: The decline and fall of the House of Lords - Charles A. Coulombe
Remembering 'Smithy': An obituary tour de force by Andrew Cusack here, here and here.
NOT AMUSED: Her Majesty The Queen in Right of Quebec not invited to Quebec's tercentenary