According to the BBC’s website: “Almost all of Australia’s state and territory leaders have signed a document in support of the country becoming a republic.”
This follows republican Malcolm Turnbull replacing monarchist Tony Abbot as prime minister of Australia. Both men are Liberals. The Liberal Party in Australia is actually the nation’s conservative party. Mr. Turnbull feels that this is not the time for a republic – it would be best to wait until the Queen’s reign ends.
Elizabeth II has been Queen of Australia for more than half the country’s existence as an independent nation. Nobody speaks ill of the Queen, who has been a conscientious monarch, serving the country well. But Australia has changed in the fifty years since the queen’s first Australian prime minister, Sir Robert Menzies, was in charge. Sir Robert was an ardent monarchist who attended the coronation of the monarch in 1953.
At the time, Sir Winston Churchill was the British prime minister. When the nine Commonwealth prime ministers met for their bi-annual conference, they spent a great deal of their time discussing defense matters. The Korean War was ending and there were serious threats to the British Empire in Egypt, where the new radical government of Gamal Abdul Nasser wanted to gain control of the Suez Canal, a move that would later deal a fatal blow to the whole idea of empire.
Today, the Commonwealth has 53 members, almost all of whom are non-white and mostly have different ideals and priorities to the mother country.
Trade ties have declined with Britain’s industrial decline. Australia now has closer ties with Asia than with Britain.
Demographic trends also mean that there are less people of British descent in Australia.
It’s interesting to note that the new Canadian prime minister feels very differently to Mr. Turnbull. In December, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was in Malta for the latest Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. The BBC asked him if he had any plans to make Canada a republic, something his father favored when he was PM. Justin Trudeau, thirty years later, replied: “No, we are very happy with our Queen, the Queen of Canada.” Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal Party is a left-wing party, so very different from Mr. Turnbull’s Liberal Party.
Why the difference in attitudes toward the Crown?
I suspect the answer lies in the word “identity.”
Canada was founded by Loyalists who did not want to be a part of the new American Republic after the American Revolution. They asked for independence in 1864 while the US was fighting a Civil War. They did not think much of the American form of government, adopting a system more in line with Great Britain. They wanted to retain the British Head of State, Queen Victoria, as their own monarch. They laid the foundation of the Commonwealth. Australia, New Zealand and South Africa followed their example. These nations were the mainstays of the British Commonwealth until after World War II, when India, Pakistan and Ceylon joined the club.
Canada’s identity, dwarfed by its more powerful southern neighbor, is bound up in the monarchy. It needs to retain the link in order to maintain its sovereignty, separate and distinct from the United States.
The same dynamics do not apply in Australia, though a case can certainly be made for preserving Australia’s distinctly unique way of life, separate from other nations in the region. The link with the Crown is a part of Australia’s cultural heritage, which sets it apart from most other countries in the region.
magazine has been in favor of an Australian republic ever since the issue was first raised, describing the queen as “Elizabeth the Last.” But even The Economist admits that it will lead to ten years of political instability, as the ripple effects will require a number of constitutional changes. Perhaps now is not a good time to change the system.
It should also be pointed out that, approximately half the population remains very loyal to the monarchy, so any change could be divisive.
Interestingly, whereas many Australians who favor a republic would prefer the US system, it’s not likely to happen. Politicians prefer the German or Irish system, replacing the Queen with a figurehead president appointed by parliament. This is not a very good system. While the monarch is above politics, any political appointee inevitably won’t be. It should also be remembered that, when the German president, Paul von Hindenburg, died in office, the new Chancellor did away with the office and had himself proclaimed Fuhrer. The rest, as they say, is history!
It’s also interesting to note that the Toronto based organization “Democracy Watch” recently listed the seven most democratic countries in the world. All were constitutional monarchies, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The United States was not in the top seven. Sadly, America has become less democratic in recent decades, as big business together with lobbyists seem to determine everything in politics. Add to that the influence of the media – elections are increasingly just personality contests. Reality TV has taken over.
An additional factor for Australia to consider is that constitutional monarchy is the cheapest political system.
Christians should also remember I Peter 2:17 – “Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.”
It might be good for everyone to ponder on the old maxim: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”