John Menadue. The lesser royals are on the move again.

Mar 7, 2014

Prince William, his wife Kate and son George are to visit Australia next month. What joy awaits us. The weather should be good for a holiday and adulation from Tony Abbott and his monarchist friends.

Seeing such a visit, the leaders in our region will again scratch their heads. In this ‘Asian Century’ why is Australia inviting a British royal to a country that says that its future is in Asia. The visit may give a short-term lift to tourism, but it will again put us on the wrong side of history.

The royal entourage will visit Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra plus Uluru and the Blue Mountains. The all-up cost, based on previous royal tours, will be about $2 million, another dent in Joe Hockey’s plans to reduce our budget deficit.

A visit by a lesser royal reminds me of Gough Whitlam’s comments to Queen Elizabeth at a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Jamaica in 1974. He had been concerned for some time about the lesser royals ingratiating themselves with state premiers to have an expenses free trip to Australia. Inevitably Gough Whitlam would receive a letter from Sir Jo Bjelke-Peterson or Sir Charles Court that it would be nice if a member of the extended royal family could visit Australia. Gough Whitlam was faced with the political problem of being seen publicly to be unfriendly to the royals. So he was cornered and the visit by the lesser royals went ahead.

But at CHOGM in 1974, Gough Whitlam told the Queen that she and Prince Phillip were welcome – but could she please discourage other members of the family ingratiating themselves with state premiers to get a visit to Australia.

So I was not surprised when the Queen told Australian officials on board Britannia at a reception ‘Your Prime Minister was very kind to Phillip and me. But he was a bit rude to the rest of my family.’  Importantly the message had been conveyed and she understood. She is a smart person. If only her children and grandchildren were half as smart.

In Japan in 1979 I had the privilege of calling on Shigeo Nagano to tell him that the Fraser Government wanted to confer on him an honorary award of Companion in the Order of Australia. Shigeo Nagano had been a major contributor to the development of trade and particularly minerals trade between Australia and Japan. He had been Chairman of Nippon Steel and in 1979 was Chair of Japan’s Chamber of Commerce. He was a very nice man.

After I described the award and its significance, the first question Nagano san asked me was ‘When can I go to London to receive the award from the Queen’. I had to let him down gently and explain that it was an Australian award and it could be presented to him either in Japan by me or he could go to Australia and receive it from the Governor General. He chose the former and a reception was held later in Tokyo for the investiture together with many of his business colleagues.

It was just another illustration of the confusion in our region that comes from our quaint association with the British royal family.

When will we mature and become an independent country with our own Head of State. We can do with fewer visits from lesser royals or any royals for that matter.

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