Prince William vs the Republic of Australia

Prince William's visit to Sydney and Melbourne last week came just as we were gearing up for Australia Day. The paradox of that visit for monarchist enthusiasts is that, despite all the spin generated by Buckingham Palace and a media pack lusting after stories about a young celebrity, the visit has fuelled the republican debate and laid bare the weaknesses of members of the Royal Family such as William as candidates for Australian Head of State. 

The celebration of 26 January has numerous controversies associated with it and many still question its legitimacy and appropriateness as our national day. But it is a day when as well as enjoying ourselves we pause to think about our country and its values. These are themes that will be taken up in many Australia Day addresses.

As the Boyer Lecturer Major-General Peter Cosgrove, himself Australian of the Year in 2001, put it in one of the early addresses entitled 'Sunshine and Shade: The Triumphs and Tribulations of Australia in our Time', Australians 'are a highly moral, inclusive and stable society with the precious gifts of democracy, affluence and security'.

For Cosgrove the sunshine in Australian values was seen in our generous response to the 2004 Asian tsunami, while the shade was demonstrated both in the 2005 Cronulla riots and in recent attacks on Indian students.

Australia Day is associated with the announcement of Australian of the Year and other awards to inspirational and representative Australians. Last year's Australian of the Year Professor Mick Dodson has lived a life that is both inspirational and representative of the aspirations of Indigenous Australians. He immediately demonstrated not just the symbolic but also the substantive aspects of the award by taking part in a debate about Australia Day itself.

The announcement of the Australian of the Year provides a good opportunity to think about the monarchy-republic debate because that too has symbolic and substantive elements. Australians of the Year stand for Australian values. So must the Australian head of state. At the moment, no matter what the qualities of the governors-general and state governors, they represent the Queen in Australia.

The limitations of the British monarchy as demonstrated by Prince William for Australia are of two types.

The first is the obvious one that, not being Australian, they cannot represent Australian values. Not only do they not live in Australia but they are not Australian citizens. William came to try to get to know Australia. Even the pathetic refrain that 'if William was to marry an Australian he would blow the republicans out of the water' recognises indirectly the longing of Australians for one of their own at the apex of our constitutional system.

Perhaps more importantly the British monarchy cannot represent Australian interests when they conflict with those of Britain. In William's case he launched England's bid to host the 2018 Football World Cup tournament and has been lobbying on England's behalf, despite Australia also having launched a bid. This is just one example of a quite natural but inevitable conflict of interest to Australia's detriment.

The second disqualifying limitation is that the monarchy is contrary to Australia's egalitarian values because it is based on inheritance, not on merit. Our egalitarianism is something that we pride ourselves on, some would say even to a fault. William is second in line to the throne only because he is Prince Charles' first born son. Charles, first in line to the throne, in turn is the first born male heir of Queen Elizabeth.

In addition, not only cannot William convert to Catholicism if he wants to remain heir to the throne, but he cannot even marry a Catholic. So the monarchy is based on discriminatory rules as well as being foreign.

That is why the whole package represented by Prince William should be anathema to modern Australia's constitutional future, whatever else he might have to offer as a person.

John WarhurstJohn Warhurst is Deputy Chair of the Australian Republican Movement.

Topic tags: john warhurst, prince william, republic, monarchy, australia day



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Existing comments

All of these points have been made more forceful in the past. There is a much better reason why we don't want some foreign potentate representing us to the rest of the world. He doesn't want the job. Of course he would do it if he was asked. That's not the same as dragooning him into the job just to give something to do until he ascends the throne.
Kevin V Russell | 25 January 2010

the royal family when on australian soil are australian. when on canadian soil they are canadian. get your facts right
scott buchanan | 25 January 2010

Well said, John. The hype and artificially-generated enthusiasm about the visit of this young man was dreadful. He has nothing to do with us, nor anything to say to us.
Peter Downie | 25 January 2010

What ever happened to our dream of growing-up? Let's cut our own umbilical cord if the mid-wife/government will not. Surely we have matured enough to say we wish to be able to form our own destiny.Are we afraid of "leaving mother England?"
Where do we hear talk about "The Divine Right of Kings/Queens?"

Henry Lawson | 25 January 2010

When the republic referendum failed, the prince's grandfather Philip is reported to have said that we Australians must have rocks in our heads. William should be welcomed not as a possible future head of state but as a distinguished foreigner.
Michael Grounds | 25 January 2010

It seems to me whilst we retain the Monarchial system, it is imperative members of the Royals be Governor General and even State Governors. These roles represent the Monarch, not Australians. Having royals in these roles would speak more clearly of our constitutional reality; having Australians in these roles misrepresents their constitutional function.
Louis van Laar | 25 January 2010

General Cosgrove is a GENERAL in his own right. To call him a Major General is to place him below a Lieutenant General and only one above a Brigadier General.

After all he is a former student of Waverley College and we protect 'our own'.
stan Cusack cfc | 25 January 2010

Michael Grounds' comments about Phil Mountbatten are interesting. It is drawing a long bow, however, to refer to young Bill Windsor as a "distinguished foreigner". In what way is he distinguished?
Peter Downie | 25 January 2010

Typical of Eureka Street to promote the republican agenda the day before Australia Day.
Ron Cini | 25 January 2010

Royalism is one of the most racist and discriminatory institutions and as such has no place in Australia. A Monarchy is also a very illogical choice for anybody who believes that God created all humans as equals. The British Monarchy remains an important part of the UK Tourist Industry and as such can be justified partially for economic reasons for the UK economy. I am sure that nobody can find a single reason why Australia should have a monarchy
Beat Odermatt | 25 January 2010

A majority of Australian support a republic rather than a monarchy. The reason the last referendum didn't get up was that a majority did not support the proposed republic which was no better than the monarchy we have. They objected to the Prime Minister appointing the President.

The problem with our present constitution (and for that matter the UK 'constitution') is not the monarch but the concentration of power vested in the Prime Minister. When he has control of the Senate, he is nothing more than an elected dictator who can take us to war, enact draconian laws, detain people without court orders, and all in the name of the Sovereign. The recent experience of the Howard government illustrates my point.

Ginger Meggs | 26 January 2010

The main arguments put forwarded for an Australian Republic rely on 'feel good' abstract notions. Such arguments are unlikely to make the republic issue sufficiently important to gain enthusiastic public support.

To give the issue some potency it should form part of an overall policy to improve the efficiency of how we are governed. Such a policy could include abolishing the Governor General and State Governors and combining the functions of head of government and head of state. Certain formal functions such as dissolving parliaments for elections and swearing in of President/Ministers could be carried out by the Chief Justice.
Tony Francombe | 26 January 2010

As a Scot, I find it bizarre that Australians take the monarchy seriously - for all the reasons John Warhurst gives but also because, as a family we are supposed to look up to, it is entirely dysfunctional and I do not expect the progeny of Charles and Diana to be any different.
Duncan MacLaren | 27 January 2010

If, as Tony Francombe suggests, you let your Chief justice dissolve Parliament you have him/her effective head of state.

Speaking as a Pom, I think it's up to Australians to decide this issue for themselves. However I would advise some caution. We have a lot of history in common, including the trauma of two world wars. Australia's contribution to both was extremely generous, as was New Zealand's. Cemeteries in France and Belgium bear testimony to that. Hardly a single Brit of my acquaintance would regard an A
ustralian as a 'foreigner'. The part of London where I taught (Earl's Court) was full of them, some of them my colleagues. They did object to being treated no differently from Italians and Spaniards (not the expression they used!) at Heathrow.
It's a shame, but I think a lot of the writers in this string do not realise how close we feel to you and how interested we are in what happens to you (more Brits could name the Australian PM than the Irish or French one!). This shared history is part of what makes Australia Australia. Turn your back on it and you'll get something different from what you know and love in many ways you can't now foresee.

Anyway, it's up to you. Hope you forgive me for butting in. Advance Australia fair!
Paul Johnston | 27 January 2010

I taught in the UK (England) some years ago. The average Brit has little if any knowledge of Australia and I got the feeling they don't care much about us too! .With the exception of sporting events,there is never any reporting of events in Australia in the UK media. We are treated as aliens at Heathrow.We have less rights than EU citizens with regards to employment etc.I have the feeling Brits in Australia have more rights here than we do over there.

It's well and truly time we cut the ties and do what Canada and many other former colonies have done.In time we will be a Republic - I hope it's in my lifetime.
A well written piece, John
Gavin | 28 January 2010

To Gavin: Canada has the same status as Australia.
John Tobin | 29 January 2010

Well I certainly don't feel lorded over by the British royals. They are merely a picturesque reminder of our cultural past. They don't interfere in our governance and they don't claim to speak on our behalf, so I don't see any pressing need to remove them.

The Governors / Governor-General are the real decision-makers. If you have some deep need to see that formalised in a referendum, well, good luck!
Michael Walker | 29 January 2010

I became a republican when my Uncle who flew Lancasters in the war, has to justify his entry into Britan while the Germans can walk straight through.
Flanno | 29 January 2010


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