Charles will one day be our king. But is he fit for the role? Dr George Venturini explores this question in this six-part series. (You can read Part 1 here).
The local scene
Everything was going so well, but a new poll released by the Australian Republican Movement carries a blunt message from Australian voters: 51 per cent would prefer an Australian head of state to ‘King Charles’ when the time comes for him to replace his mother, Queen Elizabeth.
The poll of 1008 voters, commissioned by the A.R.M. and conducted by Essential Research from 5 to 8 November, asked “When Prince Charles becomes King of Australia, will you support or oppose replacing the British monarch with an Australian citizen as Australia’s head of state?”
Apart for the poverty of the suggestion – most likely the result of ‘animation’ rather than education – in fact the succession to the throne will be governed by the Bill of Rights of 1688, the Act of Settlement of 1701 and the Royal Marriage Act of 1772 which were part of U. K. law well before the invasion of Australia in 1788, along with other rules of the common law which are said to have been extended to Australia at that time. Any doubt about their application was dispelled by the enactment of the Australian Courts Act of 1828. From then on, those foreign acts applied as part of the law of the Australian colonies, first, and of Australia, now.
Any other view would suffer from fawning adulation, dismissive contempt, every-day sycophancy or plain, downright ockerism.
There remains in the end – but solidly – the power of celebrity gossip, on which undoubtedly Charles and his Camilla rely, and of course the more solid connection of undeclared interests.
It really does not matter much that just 27 per cent of voters opposed replacing King Charles with an Australian head of state, while 22 per cent of people were undecided. Nor is it more significant that 50 per cent of Coalition voters – who typically are less likely to welcome a Republic – supported constitutional change, with 34 per cent opposed to it. As usual, among Labor voters, 62 per cent supported change and 21 per cent oppose it, while for Greens voters, 57 per cent supported change and 17 per cent oppose it.
As Charles and Camilla arrived in Canberra on 11 November, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, once a prominent republican, brushed aside questions about whether he still believed – as he has previously argued – that Australians would struggle to accept Prince Charles as King of Australia one day.
He made a safe and legalistic point – but one too ‘academic’ to be understood by the populace – when he said: “If the Queen’s reign comes to an end and the constitution is in the form it is today, Prince Charles will become our head of state … so if Charles become the King of the United Kingdom as I have no doubt he will be, unless our constitution has been changed, he will become the King of Australia.”
And the prospect of such constitutional change? Just zilch.
Australians should be left with a constitution, which is an act of the Imperial Parliament, and is racist, out-dated, reflective of surviving colonial domination and the foundation – if that is the word – of a pantomime parliamentary democracy. Parliamentary democracy is not representative democracy; of course, it suits the profound interests of a surviving money-based empire.
The Australian Republican Movement chairman, Mr. Peter FitzSimons said that while the movement welcomed Charles and Camilla to Australia, “We look forward to the day when members of the royal family make the trip as our equals and not Australia’s current and future rulers.”
Commenting on the public view, he said: “This polling makes it abundantly clear, the question of an Australian republic is not a left/right issue: support exists across the Australian community, and the Republican Movement hasn’t even really started campaigning yet.”
“As our future King and his wife touch down for their five-day tour, the Australian people are getting behind the idea of an Australian head of state in a big way. And that support is only going to increase, especially if Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull makes it a priority as we hope and expect he will.”
This, of course, is at best: aria fritta = hot air.
Mr. Fitzsimons said he had spoken to Mr. Turnbull about the republic since the change of leadership and had been left in no doubt the Prime Minister’s passion for the change was undimmed. But he said: “It has to be a people’s movement and it does need to be, wide and broad.”
Expressions of support had also come from Liberal ministers, including Christopher Pyne, Marise Payne and Wyatt Roy, Mr FitzSimons said, and membership had grown by 131 per cent since he took over in July.
A generation after the defeat at the 1999 referendum – the ‘republicans’ having fallen for a trick perpetrated by Prime Minister Howard – Australians of various tinge seem to have in mind a plebiscite by 2020 followed by a referendum proposing a specific republican model by 2025.
Why wait? Nobody would dare to answer.
As far back as 31 January 1988 Mr. Turnbull – then an avowed republican who would lead the “yes” campaign for a republic in 1999 – wrote in London’s Sunday Times newspaper that an “Australian Republic must await the end of [Queen Elizabeth’s] reign” – but that “if her son wishes to do something of significance in Australia’s history, he should make it plain that, whatever the Australians may think, he will not be our King.”
It is not known if now Prime Minister Turnbull and Prince Charles discussed that suggestion when they met.
The republican movement’s difficulty is that it is standing for a solution to something which does not appear as a desperately pressing problem for most Australians. They are less concerned with citizen’s rights than with the equality of enjoyment. A ‘royal’ visit presents another distraction, an opportunity for schoolmasters to relent their custodial duties and provide floods of excited children to cheer ‘the royals’, as any other ‘celebrities’, whether a top football player or an exotic ‘movie star’.
As The Sydney Morning Herald editorialised on 12 November, “The first daunting task for the Australian Republican Movement is to get in the face of voters. That’s necessary because the republic is not front of mind for most Australians.
The task is a tad hard when even one of the less rock-star royals, heir to the throne Prince Charles, receives a rousing reception in Sydney. He and Camilla even get to steal the limelight from republican Malcolm Turnbull while he’s on his first overseas sojourn as Prime Minister.
A republic solves a want rather than a need, if you like.
And that want is best defined as restoring Australia’s dented pride: the pride in our progress from humble origins; in our maturity; our stability; our ability to decide for ourselves; our multiculturalism; and our need to get back to what A.R.M. chairman and Herald columnist Peter FitzSimons calls the “I am, you are, we are Australian” factor.
The Herald reminded its readers that it has:
“long argued that Australia cannot reach its democratic and independent potential as a constitutional monarchy beholden to another nation’s inherited ruler. We need to be our own boss, taking the credit for good work and the blame for stuff-ups.
Mr. FitzSimons and the A.R.M. are giving the republic push a red hot go, in Aussie parlance. The Herald hopes they succeed. But we and fellow republicans will need plenty of luck.
As Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove said many years ago, the republic is not a dead duck but rather it’s in a coma.
And as Mr. Turnbull conceded, “The opportunities for constitutional change are somewhat more challenging than the opportunities for economic growth.” The Prime Minister should know. As the main proponent of the so-called politicians’ republic at the failed 1999 referendum, Mr. Turnbull faced many obstacles – some bad luck, some due to the difficulty of securing a “yes” at referendums and much the result of what Mr. FitzSimons calls “the Nervous Nellies”.
If only Mr. Turnbull could use his honeymoon period as Prime Minister not just to reconsign Australian knights and dames to history but also actively [to] advocate a republic.
If only Sir Peter Cosgrove would try to dismiss an elected government like Sir John Kerr did in 1975, then the momentum would be unstoppable. If only a clear-cut republic model could unite Australians, then the divisions from 1999 might vanish. Perhaps the A.R.M.’s current minimalist preference would work given it simply makes the governor-general head of state with the same powers and approval form a joint sitting of federal parliament.
If only voters weren’t so concerned about other more personal matters such as same-sex marriage, climate change and house prices, then surely a plebiscite followed by a referendum would a dead cert.
If only all Australians – especially those from myriad immigrant backgrounds – could be easily won over with talk about sprigs of wattle, Donald Bradman, Phar Lap and Anzac valour on the battlefields, then maybe the desire for a republic would become front of mind.
Most of all, if only the Queen, much loved and respected by many, stepped aside and we had King Charles of Australia. Maybe that would be the necessary stroke of luck.”
Unquestionably, there are too many ‘If only-s!’
The Herald continued: Mr. FitzSimons is right. “It is not about the royal family, and their children. It is about our Australian family, and our children.” Or so he told the National Press Club in August, just before Mr. Turnbull ousted monarchist Tony Abbott and gave republicans a shot in the arm.
So, the Herald would still “welcome Prince Charles, wish his mother good health and thank the whole royal family for their charity work here and overseas. No hard feelings, though, because we also hope, as Mr. FitzSimons says, that one day you will visit us “as our equals, not as Australian current and future rulers.”
Perhaps it is time seriously to look at those “charity work here and overseas.”
But first a little question: would there have been flags and receptions, flapping frills and gaily coloured rags to make the arrival of an ordinary man who has never done anything save be born, and grow up, and get married (even twice) and exist by breathing regularly and be the son of a father and mother who did exactly the same things – a man who has made nothing of any importance ?
That question was asked on 18 May 1901, but still one is not sure as to what the possible answer, if any, would be.
Australians were given once more Prince Charles of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. If they should been feted as a celebrity couple their specialty would sum up to one word: adultery.
To be continued. Tomorrow … A real ‘Charlie’
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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