Let us stop the Queen’s death watch (Editorial SMH 18.10.2018)

The visit by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to Australia has been delightful, especially since the happy surprise that they are expecting a baby. Back in Britain, however, there is reportedly growing impatience at Australia’s uncomfortable impasse on whether to become a republic.  

According to a new book, Buckingham Palace is frustrated that out of misplaced respect for  Elizabeth II some in Australia are delaying discussion of becoming a republic until after her death. The book calls this approach a “death watch”.

Tying Australia’s political debate to this unhappy event is indeed gruesome and guarantees prolonged uncertainty. Queen Elizabeth is now 92 but perhaps she will become the first centenarian monarch.

From the Queen’s point of view, it is also bad for her successor.  If Australia delays this debate until after her death, the reign of Charles III will begin under the shadow of the loss of one of the monarchy’s crown jewels.

Queen Elizabeth, who at every stage in her reign has shown a total sense of responsibility to her duties, would be the last to want to shirk the burden of managing that transition.

The  republican debate has been put on the back burner in the past decade largely as a result of Australia’s fissile politics. The failure of the 1999 referendum on the republic underlined how hard it would be to move to a republic without bipartisan support and that has been lacking in recent years, even when the prime minister was on side.

With a  one-seat majority and then Opposition Leader Tony Abbott promising to fight tooth and claw for the monarchy, Julia Gillard first hit on the formula of shelving the republic until after Queen Elizabeth’s death.

Similarly when Australia’s most famous republican, Malcolm Turnbull, came to power in 2015 he did not fight for the cause for fear of antagonising the right-wing of the party where Mr Abbott was still active. Fat lot of good that did.

The next election will pose a significant choice. ALP leader Bill Shorten has promised to hold a plebiscite in the first term of a Labor government on whether to become a republic or remain a constitutional monarchy. If the answer is ”yes” he will then start consultations on the form of republican government to adopt.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is not closely identified with the debate, although he seems to favour current arrangements.

What the leak from the palace shows is that it is not disrespectful of the royal family to talk about the republic now. It makes sense to run the debate under Elizabeth, who has the experience to manage it. Her reign coincided with the end of the British Empire.

Nor it is a sign of disrespect to talk about the issue during the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. As they travel around Australia, the couple are showing themselves to be intelligent and modern adults. The duchess is an American who would understand exactly why Australia would not want to have a foreigner as its head of state.

The Herald has long advocated that Australia should become a republic as a useful symbol of the reality that the historical ties to England are no longer the focus of our national identity. The republic is not the most important issue on the agenda. But there is no reason to delay it out of protocol.

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3 Responses to Let us stop the Queen’s death watch (Editorial SMH 18.10.2018)

  1. In response to the Herald’s editorial, repeated above, I submitted the following letter which, not surprisingly, it has not published:

    “If, as today’s editorial argues, there is no need to delay the republic debate out of misplaced respect for the Queen, perhaps the Herald could lead the way.

    To date, the debate has been artificially constrained to the narrow issues of whether to retain the Crown, and how any replacement should be chosen. Your editorial refers to mere ‘symbolism’.

    The far more important issue is the role and powers of the position. When one third of the Constitution grants powers or a role to the monarchy, it is legitimate to question whether those powers are still required. You would not know that from the shallow debate we’ve been having for the last 25 years.

    Scholars have long called for the head of state’s powers to be codified. Some republican proposals advocate this, such as the Real Republic model and my own Advancing Democracy model. Yet they receive no attention from your newspaper. Why not?’

  2. John Gray says:

    Seriously SMH? “As they travel around Australia, the couple are showing themselves to be intelligent and modern adults. ” … is this the best you can come up with? Such incisive and deep commentary! Did I read somewhere that SMH was just taken over my Channel 9? What a trite bit of nothing!
    I’m assuming that Pearls and Irritations choose to publish this as a nice lead in to the next article on the Invictus Games and the arms trade.

  3. Bob Mills says:

    This would be the Queen, nominally of Australia, who deems we, her subjects, cannot know what role she and her minions played in dismissing the Government we elected, even after more than 40 years have elapsed. So long as this foreigner wishes to keep meddling, in secret, in our self-governance, a “death watch” should be the least of her embarrassments.

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