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March 2006
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Daily Media Quotation

Happy And Glorious Long To Reign Over Us?

March 17, 2006

by Mark Baker - The Age

A strange thing happened in the middle of the Delta Duckfest at the MCG on Wednesday night.

Just as Melbourne was revelling anew in its well-earned status as the greatest little sporting metropolis in the history of civilisation, out of the fluorescent blue came a sobering reminder that we remain, at our timorous constitutional heart, a vestige of our colonial ancestry, still unable to stand alone in the world.

As the spectacular sound and light show and the Channel Nine ads fell still for a moment, from the bowels of the 'G appeared a veteran Rolls-Royce with a cargo of even greater antiquity a queen from the other end of the world and her crusty consort.

Up on the podium, gutsy young Harry White reading from the script boldly declared to the "glue" of royalty: "The love and great affection we all hold for you is spread across one-third of the world's population in our Commonwealth." Then we were engulfed with a cloying, and quite premature, rendition of Happy Birthday. And worse: a fawning excerpt from that national anthem we rightly ditched a generation ago.

Who authorised this tosh? Who presumed so to speak for all Australians, not to mention one-third of humanity?

Many Australians do respect, even admire, the Queen for her stolid, enduring decency and we are bound, of course, to remember our manners when guests drop in, but "affection" is a far from universal sentiment and "love" is quite something else.

Once more the message beamed to the world when Australia wears its heart on its sleeve is this: we might be a young, prosperous and ambitious nation but we still can't bring ourselves to let go of Mum's apron strings.

The absurdity of the continuing official reverence for a foreign head of state who inherited her position by bizarre accident of history (her uncle found an American divorcee more seductive than the throne, so her dad got the gig and then it was her turn) and whose whacky offspring have redefined the concept of the dysfunctional family, has gone beyond a joke.

Our increasingly self-confident neighbours in Asia, most of whom got over their colonial thing years ago, look on with growing bewilderment at our continuing ties to a monarch whose real (British) subjects are busy trying to eat Australia's lunch in regional trade and investment battles. The rest of the world can only wonder about our apparent insecurity and immaturity.

Those looking for an explanation of all this need look no further than the smug figure who stood at the Queen's right hand on Wednesday night, mumbling along behind the trilling of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.

Australia might well be a republic today, or be well on the way to becoming one, had it not been for John Howard's cynical success in splitting the republican movement before the 1999 referendum and driving the issue off the political agenda where it remains, despite a clear majority of Australians favouring a change and even more regarding the monarchy as redundant.

There has been some feverish media analysis in recent days based on remarks by Howard in interviews with the British media suggesting the debate might be gathering new momentum. But what Howard said was uncontroversial. He simply acknowledged two obvious points Australia is unlikely to become a republic in the lifetime of a woman about to turn 80, and what happens after that is anybody's guess.

As for suggestions that Howard might be softening on the matter, take it as read that he will be buried with his monarchist boots on. When Howard says, as he did when asked on Wednesday about the monarchy's future, that it is "a matter for the Australian people", remember his skill in subverting that obvious popular will on the issue a decade ago. And we can rest assured that the Labor Party stuck in the dog house licking its innumerable wounds is not about to give Howard a second free kick.

As for the Queen, her conduct on the issue has been consistently proper and pragmatic. She has repeatedly declared that it is for Australians to decide their constitutional future and wished us well whatever the choice. If anything, she also must be puzzled by the disparity between what the polls keep saying Australians want, and what they still can't achieve.

Paul Keating, who has been conspicuously absent from the ranks of former prime ministers freeloading at court during the latest royal visit, had the right idea.

During the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of D-day in 1994, he and other Commonwealth leaders were guests of the Queen and travelled to France aboard the royal yacht Britannia. The next day in Paris, Keating delivered one of the most stirring speeches of the republican campaign.

This sparked uproar back home with monarchists outraged that the prime minister, no sooner had he decamped from the royal hospitality, was out publicly promoting the Queen's sacking and worse, in the midst of the perfidious French.

At a doorstop interview next morning, Keating was unruffled: "So what are you saying: she gives you a cup of tea and a scone and you're hers for life?"

Send her victorious? Send her packing on the next winged tram out of the MCG.


Mark Baker is opinion editor. He reported the 1975 royal tour for The Age.

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