As Australian athletes drown in a sea of awe-inspiring gold, now is a good time to reflect on the brief visit of Australia’s head of state, Queen Elizabeth II.
The Queen kicked off her tour with a significant speech at the Opera House on March 13 when she stated Australia was now “a proud member of the international community and as a respected neighbour in her region”. This was widely interpreted as the Queen accepting that Australia had grown up and that Australia is now perfectly capable of formalising its independence with an Australian head of state.
At the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony we had the bizarre spectacle of the royal couple entering the MCG in an old black Roller, with a quaintly capped driver. It almost seemed like a digitally enhanced piece of archival news footage. It was a flashback to the 1950s that had our prime minister in picket-fenced raptures. Dame Kiri Te Kanawa’s magnificent rendition of a small portion of "God Save the Queen" saved the whole royal presence from being somewhat of a fizzer.
Monarchists doing their best to politicise the games handed out leaflets with the words to the royal anthem outside the MCG, rightfully petrified those under 30 wouldn’t know the lyrics. Lucky for them there was no sign of the police who were busy managing the Queen’s encounters with Aboriginal protesters near Government House.
The royal couple seemed to give the appearance that they might have preferred to be back at Buckingham Palace that night. Queen Elizabeth couldn’t seem to bring herself to smile when a well-meaning schoolboy told her she was the glue that held our Commonwealth together. And true to that impression, our Australian head of state jetted out of Melbourne the next day. Republicans could be fairly confident that an Australian head of state would spend more than one night at our nation’s sporting capital and second largest city during the Commonwealth Games.
But we shouldn’t be too hard on the Queen. She is approaching 80 and has performed her role with some dignity and aplomb. Even she must see the relevance of her family’s reign in Australia is in a steady and inexorable decline. Prime Minister Howard admitted as much when he effectively stated during her visit that the Australian monarchy is only safe while Elizabeth II remains on the throne.
Across the Commonwealth 37 of 53 nations now have their own heads of state. Australia is one of just 16 that persists with the Queen of Great Britain as head of state. For a country as powerful on the sporting field as Australia it seems inconceivable that we can flog the English in the medal tally but offer them up our top constitutional position on a platter.
During the Queen’s visit, arch-monarchist David Flint’s website unleashed a daily torrent of royalist propaganda. He even claimed the Queen “came home” to Australia. Sorry David, her home is in England. She went home on March 16. The one thing Professor Flint’s website has been strangely silent on, however, is the issue of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy’s relationship with the Constitution Education Fund of Australia (CEFA), which has tax deductible status. This relationship was recently labelled in parliament by Lindsay Tanner as a “brazen tax scam”, and is now reportedly subject to a tax office audit.
Professor Flint also whipped up hysteria about “God Save the Queen” not being played in full at the games opening ceremony. The Australian Republican Movement’s national chairperson, Ted O’Brien, was absolutely correct to say in response that we should never compromise on our national identity.
After the Queen has gone the republican debate risks being sidelined again. While opinion polling will continue to show that more Australians favour a republic than a monarchy as they have done for a decade, national leaders will continue to talk about the inevitability of a republic as they have done for over a century.
But hopefully through our magnificent athletes we can learn something about national pride and national identity. National pride and identity means the Australian people demanding an Australian head of state now and not at some inevitable time way off into the future. Thirty-seven of the 53 Commonwealth nations have made this leap of faith and have forged their own destiny. Australia led the pack in securing our independence from Great Britain, and we should now join the pack in formalising it. Our national pride, our national identity, and our national sovereignty demands it.
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