According to the latest Australian Financial Review/Nielsen poll, support for an Australian republic is at its lowest levels since March 1992. The poll provides that 42 percent of Australians favour becoming a republic whilst 51 percent are in favour of staying a constitutional monarchy. However does this poll, and the many like it, which have been conducted over the years, really demonstrate that Australians do not favour a republic or is it something else?
The 1999 referendum on the question of an Australian republic saw the proposal convincingly defeated. Nationwide the vote in favour of the republic proposal received only 45 percent of the vote. This was despite the fact that in August 1999, in the lead up to the vote a Nielson Poll found that 54 percent favoured an Australian republic. Paradoxically support for the Australian republic hit its peak in the month following the defeat of the republican proposal. A Nielson Poll conducted in December 1999 found support to be at 57 percent. Again what does this show?
It is hard to conclude that Australians, particularly in the lead up to and in the immediate aftermath of the 1999 referendum were not inclined to favour the transition to an Australian republic. As author and social analyst Eva Cox noted on Q and A on Monday, 21 April, the 1999 referendum demonstrated a resounding distaste for the particular model of republic that was put to the electorate more so than an Australian republic per se.
Similarly the latest poll does not signal the death of republicanism or the rise of monarchism in Australia. Rather it indicates that no institution is beyond the grasp of the cult of celebrity.
The cult of celebrity sees persons who may or may not have made extraordinary contributions or achieved extraordinary outcomes in a particular field of inquiry become the focal point for public discussion. Their words, actions and dress become a public obsession.
The recent visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge highlights the cult of celebrity, it has encompassed their time in Australia. This we can see in the media. The fashion editors of the daily papers suddenly became leading commentators for their respective papers. Their columns were moved from the gossip section to the front of the papers as they offered an in depth analysis of the daily outfits that adorned the Duchess.
However the cult of personality that has engulfed the monarchy in Australia is not limited by anecdotal evidence and recourse to the placement of the columns of the papers' fashion editors. The recent Nielsen Poll also highlighted the growth of the cult of personality that has taken hold of the monarchy in Australia. The poll found that only 35 percent of Australians believed that Australia should 'never' become a republic. In contrast 28 percent said that Australia should move towards a republic immediately whilst a further 31 percent said that the move should commence 'only after Queen Elizabeth's reign ends'.
This last finding in particular shows that though republicanism may be at a low, it does not follow that Australians are monarchists. Instead it is the cult of personality that holds republican sentiment at bay in Australia.
Raff Piccolo is a member of the Australian Republican Movement, but these views are his own.
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