John Menadue. Australia Day – the Queen and the Asian Century

This is a repost from 26/1/2013

A major barrier to our future in the region is our dependence on foreign institutions and powers. First it was the British and now the Americans. We cling to others.  

The British monarchy and the British flag are important parts of our history, but they are now barriers to our future in Asia. They have serious consequences both for how we see ourselves and how the Asian region sees us.

Underlying our dependence on others, is our fear of Asia, that as a small, isolated and white community we will be overwhelmed by the teeming millions of Asia. We therefore need to rely on outsiders. The British monarchy leads us to foolish sentimentality and distracts us from the critical need to focus our energies directly on relationships with our region. The British symbols distract us from seeing ourselves as who we are, our fears and where our future lies.

The Asian region also finds it hard to understand how a country that gives lip service to its future in Asia has a British Queen as head of state. To most people in our region this is more than confusing. It is nonsense.

When I was in the Australian Embassy in Tokyo, I called on Shigeo Nagano to tell him that the Australian Government was awarding him an Honorary Companionship  in the Order of Australia for his  contributions to Australia/Japan trade. He had been the Chairman of Nippon Steel and of the Japan Chamber of Commerce.  He was a lovely man. When told of his award, the first thing he asked me was  when he should go to Buckingham Palace to receive the award from the Queen. I let him down by saying that he could go to Canberra or I could present the award at a function in Tokyo.  He chose the latter.

Also when I was in Tokyo, Sir Zelman Cowen, our Governor General elect at the time, asked me to arrange a meeting with the Emperor. I spoke to the Japanese Foreign Ministry who said that such a meeting was possible as Sir Zelman  had not yet taken up his role as Governor General.  If however  he was the Governor General it was made clear that he could not call on the Emperor.  The Japanese Foreign Ministry said that if he was the Governor  General  and the Queen’s representative in Australia, he would have no status in Japan. As a private citizen, Sir Zelman Cowen saw the Emperor.

When I presented credentials to the Emperor the New Zealand flag was flown. With a Union Jack in both flags the mistake was understandable but it says a lot about how other countries are confused by our British connection.

That was almost 35 years ago. Nothing has changed.

Today, we could ask who really does our Governor General represent when he goes  abroad for he has no status outside Australia.

The British monarchy confuses both ourselves and the people of our region. It is a major barrier to our future in the Asian Century.


John Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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1 Response to John Menadue. Australia Day – the Queen and the Asian Century

  1. Avatar John Menadue says:

    I liked your piece on governors general and Japan. I had a similar experience when the then GG, Bill Hayden, came to Kazakhstan where I was accredited from Moscow. The British Amrbassador told me that when Kazakhstan received our request they asked the British Embassy if it was OK to receive this fellow. Luckily for us, the Brit was a tolerant man and said it was OK. President Nazarbaev, a highly intelligent man, found it all totally confusing and the meeting left him even more confused. Bill did his best but he was selling an inferior product.
    I have had similar experiences elsehere but one very important point is that when she travels abraod, the Queen goes as the UK Queen and Australian ambassadors are treated no differently from those Commonwealth countries with their own head of state, e.g. India, Malaysia. Also, where Australian and British companies are competing for the same government contract, she goes into bat for the British one. I was HOM in Santiago, Bangkok and Kula Lumpur when she visited and that is how it was.

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