He came. He saw. He kissed some kids and made some clucky old dames blush. He went home.
Apart from the predictable lashings of sound and colour emanating from our (mostly tabloid) press and current affairs programs over the last few days, there have also been a few rumblings about the lately neutered republican debate in Australia in the wake of Prince William’s brief visit. Earlier this week, Julia Gillard re-iterated the Rudd Government’s new, contradictory approach to the republic; supporting the change in principle, but curiously declining to nominate when it would put the matter to a referendum once again. The government admittedly has a lot on its plate, but there is only so long it can promise change while doggedly refusing to instigate it.
Even Malcolm Turnbull, arch-republican in chief, in a piece for The Times Online, has admitted that Australia’s shift towards a republic is now being guided primarily by the Queen’s mortality:
Changing the Constitution is extremely difficult and that is why I believe that the next republic referendum has the best chance of success after the Queen’s reign. That moment will be an historic and political watershed.
What is deeply ironic is the general view on this troublesome debate of ours from Prince William’s grey shores, exemplified by this contribution from Stephen Bates in The Guardian. Many in the United Kingdom view the monarchy as anachronistic and somewhat redundant, and in the trying economic times that we still find ourselves in, a drain on the public purse that is difficult to justify. To be perfectly blunt, the very concept of a monarchy – even an essentially symbolic one – is a throwback to a bygone era when blood trumped merit. It is antithetical to the Australian ethos.
Generally, British people just don’t seem to comprehend why Australia is holding itself back from declaring itself a republic, from finally cutting itself loose officially from its mother’s teat. The British are intimately familiar with the fierce love that Australians have for their country, their sense of superiority (particularly on the sporting field). This chest-thumping pride in the greatness of Australia is contradicted by the frustrating vacillation that has swallowed up the republican debate.
Do we live in such a timid and uncertain nation that we must wait for a lovely old lady on the other side of the world to die before we can chart a course for ourselves? It certainly appears so.