Like racehorses, Australia’s monarchs all have the same official birthday, normally the second Monday in June (according to today’s Oz, this was based on the actual birthday of George IV III). It’s fair to say that, of all Australian public holidays, this is the one for which the official occasion is most completely ignored. (Labour Day isn’t marked by much, but taking the day off is an observance in itself).
This leads to some general thoughts about when and how Australia will become a republic. This proposal continues to attract the support of a majority of Australians (52 to 32 per cent according to a 2003 Newspoll). This majority wasn’t affected much by Howard’s referendum on the topic, nor is this referendum regarded as closing the issue. Another Newspoll found that 57 per cent of people would welcome a new referendum.
As the non-observance of the Queen’s birthday shows, only a small minority of Australians, mostly people over 50 or migrants from Britain, feels any emotional tie to the British monarchy or to Britain. This is reflected in the Newspoll showing only 18 per cent strongly opposed to a republic.
On the other hand, the last referendum showed that there was little enthusiasm for a merely nominal change, calling the Governor-General a President and maintaining the elective autocracy of the Prime Minister.
This means that the only serious alternative to the status quo is a directly elected President. There are plenty of logistical obstacles in the way to this, the most important of which would be the need for the President’s powers to be codified and restricted. Nevertheless, my judgement is that we will become a republic in the term of the next Labor government, which will hopefully begin this year.
The obvious route would be a two-stage process, beginning with a plebiscite on whether we should become a republic. This ought to be done on a preferential basis with the alternatives being the status quo, Parliamentary appointment of the President and direct election. Assuming that direct election wins, it should then have the moral force to be carried at a referendum.
fn1. Better known, of course, as Kings or Queens of England. As an aside, one question that occurs to me in this context is whether the British Act of Settlement, which requires that the monarch be a Protestant is consistent with Australian law, beginning with the Constitution, which prohibits an Established Church.
fn2. Under a rather unsatisfactory ‘grandfather’ clause, British subjects who were on the Australian electoral roll before 1984 are permitted to vote in Australian elections even though they are noncitizens. Most of the time, this doesn’t make much difference as they don’t vote as a bloc. However, it’s obvious that Britons who have lived here for more than 20 years without being naturalized are more likely than the average Australian to favor close links with their homeland.