Australian Prime Minister, Welsh-born Julia “Moving Forward” Gillard has thrown a prawn of controversy onto the Barbie of news with her republican headline chasing a few days prior to the General Election called for reasons most Australians don’t understand.
With China (now the world’s second largest economy), Japan (formerly the second….), and India on its Asian-Pacific doorstep, Aus tends to look towards economics rather than monarchs for its daily distractions. Only during election times does the subject tend to become a hot-debate, although Gillard has caused some feather ruffling bringing it up at all. Unlike many developed countries, Oz survived the economic downtime without lasting wounds or injuries.
However Australia looks to the outside world, the testy subject of its ultimate Head of State – currently the ruling Monarch of the United Kingdom – means the nation will always have an uncertainty on the inside. Australian politicians are volatile mixes of American chest-beating and English eccentricities. They know never to avoid a subject, unless its absolutely necessary, and like a timed bomb, republicanism is one of those subjects.
Referenda are expensive. It would be foolish and somewhat tasteless to run any pro-republican debate in Australia while Liz is still alive. Notice how Gillard rushed out a blathering tribute to the Queen not long after making her original pledge?
The monarchy debate is very different in the two parts of the world often cited as good examples of the current Commonwealth set-up working without much complaint. In the United Kingdom – incidentally, I am somewhat agnostic towards the Monarchy, although without thinking too much on the subject the idea of a British President makes me want to go outside to stab a kitten through both eyes with a pencil – the monarchy debate has largely disappeared from view. Occasional outbursts from both extreme left and right flicker the debate with all the illumination you’d expect from a broken lightbulb.
Canada is a constitutional monarchy, sharing with its Aussie brethren Queen Brenda as its Head of State. As the Vancouver Olympics showed, Canadians share the same gene ingredients, just with a different mix; less nationalistic fervour, more eccentricities. The recent State Visit by Ma’am did not ignite much in the way of a Canadian Republican movement, much to the bemusement of neighbouring Americans, for whom the notion of a Soap Operatic Head of State is one they’ve endured since the nation was born.
Having an unelected Head of State whose position is down, ultimately, to an accident of birth centuries ago is utter bonkers if viewed from afar. Ideally the United Kingdom and all its former outposts and Dominions would be freed from such a constitutional screw-up. Unfortunately, just as the lack of religion in the UK has been replaced by elected officials preaching from beyond the ballot box, I fear losing the Monarch could create Politician Overdose. Dreams of a very British coup are drawn out only in the Morning Star, and even there usually in stubby pencil.
Australia has many reasons to be proud of the nation it has become, even tethered to the motherland by its flag and status. Its identity as an outcrop of Empire is one thing; how it will be viewed amongst its friends and enemies across Asia could ultimately dictate the result of any future monarchy referendum…