12 September 2022

Queen's passing opens way for the republic to be revisited

| Ian Bushnell
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Men and woman

Those days are gone. A young Queen Elizabeth with the Duke of Edinburgh and Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies on the monarch’s first visit to Canberra in 1954. Photo: Supplied.

Like many a post-war woman, my mother looked to the Queen as a model and inspiration, so my early republican musings as a callow youth were either greeted with sharp rebukes or the more unsettling teary dismay at my insensitivity.

The monarchy for her generation was a mainstay and a thing of reverence, more than a vicarious following of celebrity.

It helped that the Queen was a mother herself and grew into her ceremonial role with quiet dignity, aloof from politics and scandal, even when it involved her own children.

Somehow despite disastrous marriages and, more recently, the awful smell around her second son and the strange estrangement of Harry and Meghan, the Queen held together the House of Windsor and her exemplary commitment to duty earned the respect of world leaders, common people and republicans alike.

Although if some social media posts are to be believed, her passing gave the Irish something to sing about, a reminder that the Crown was not always beneficent.

READ MORE ‘A life of service’: Canberrans remember their Queen

Australians took the news of her death in their stride, if in a melancholic, nostalgic way, acknowledging the passing of an era, her constancy in many Australians’ lives and the influence she had on maintaining the idea that the institution of the monarchy was something integral to the system of government we enjoy.

The question now once more for Australia – a multicultural democracy a world away from London – is whether that connection is still relevant.

There has been a lot of nonsense and overreach aired since Friday morning, even from republican Labor Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who, amid the acceptable tone of respect, called the Queen a “wise and encouraging guide”, as if somehow she offered counsel to our elected leaders from afar.

Some media went into hyperventilating hysteria, fuelled by clicks and celebrity as much as the significance of the event, and without any sense of providing a measured response, convinced that their audiences simply could not get enough.

In a country where 48.2 per cent of the population have a parent born overseas, and 27.6 per cent were born outside Australia, not to mention the First Nations, what must many of them have made of it?

And why should Parliament, with so few sitting days available and much important work to do, have to shut down for 15 days? Respect should only go so far.

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The fact is that while the Queen was able to refashion an often blood-stained imperial legacy into a modern force for good and now has Prince William’s much-admired family in waiting as the royal prototype, the English monarchy is an anachronism in Australia.

Its constitutional ties are a leftover from colonial times that will eventually need to be resolved because their undemocratic nature was laid bare during the 1975 political crisis that culminated in the Dismissal and is still with us.

It is not, as some state, a situation of ‘if it ain’t broke, why fix it?’, even if we play along with the parlour trick of accepting the Governor-General as head of state.

Beyond that, Australians have to ask whether our democracy and system of government need a foreign institution based on privilege, bloodlines and a redundant political form to invest in it the power of legitimacy.

Surely, as the mature nation we claim to be, that does not have to be the case.

It is perfectly understandable for people to feel sentimental, and for some with British ancestry, those who believe the Crown offers some sort of protection, those who are just magazine fans or those simply afraid of change to want to keep the status quo.

But hereditary, high-born kings and queens are for stories, not modern democracies, although one shouldn’t underestimate the power of myth to maintain a hold on the imagination or for monarchists and magazine owners to exploit it.

In the aftermath of the Queen’s death, the prose has been purple with royalist romanticism, and any who dare to suggest that Australians should think a little more rationally or take a different path have been told, and not necessarily politely, now is not the time.

But now is exactly the right time.

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Nearly a generation on from the failed 1999 republic referendum, the question should be revisited, without the opportunity for the republican vote to be split the way then Prime Minister John Howard so skillfully did.

To start the conversation is in no way to diminish the respect that the Queen earned throughout her long life of service.

Whatever form of republic may eventually be proposed, Australians should again have their say.

Something the Queen herself said was our prerogative.

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d the BritishIt’s funny how times have changed in relation to the monarchy and queen Elizabeth.I remember a time when Catholics especially those of Irish connections hated her and the British connection.Now people like Tony Abbott and similar(today’s Catholics)seem to be the staunchest defenders!

I for one am fed up with wall to wall coverage about a wealthy, privileged woman that I never voted for.

The toadying by the ABC has been nauseating.

I fully agree. And now we will be bombarded by her funeral event.

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