This is no time to rain on a funeral parade. The obsequies for Elizabeth II are fitting and well deserved, certainly in the nation that remembers her driving an ambulance in the war, forgives her initial indifference to the death of “the people’s princess” and displayed a stiff upper lip when she was venerated by Donald Trump.
For the British, she was the still centre of a down-turning world, an icon of selfless public service provided from a number of palaces, with hundreds of servants, horses (including racehorses) and carriages and the best of British speechwriters.
For Australians, she was an institutional link to a dwindling British empire, and her passing has provided an opportunity for our politicians and journalists to regale the nation with their memories of meetings with her that made them think themselves of importance. But once the tumult and shouting dies, advance Australia where? Does Australia in fact need a head of state at all?
Charles III will be a good king as kings go, at least of England (Scotland is likely to secede, and Northern Ireland may go south as a result of Brexit). His earlier inanities (“I talk to the plants and trees, and they listen to me”) can now be seen as prescient anxieties about climate change, and his support (at age 27) for John Kerr’s sacking of Whitlam can be explained as parroting the view from the Palace.
But the fact remains that he is king only by virtue of his descent from the 17th century German Princess – Sophia of Hannover – whose genes must inherit the British (and hence the Australian) crown by virtue of the 1700 Act of Settlement. His coronation oath will make him “defender of the faith” – an Anglican faith to which (according to last year’s census) only 9.8 per cent of Australians adhere. And his reign will mark the beginning of our head of state for the next 90 or so years, being a white Anglo-German Protestant male – after Charles III comes William V and George VII.
Charles will be a king without the magic of his mother, who has left no philosophy or recipe for government other than not to interfere in it, which Charles – on past form may have difficulty in following (his contempt for the policy of offshoring refugees in Rwanda is likely to be his first clash with the Truss government).
However commendable this may be, his enthronement should make Australia think again about the monarchy at a time when 39 (and the number is increasing) of the 54 Commonwealth countries have decided to choose their own head of state. The crowning irony of the 1999 referendum was that most voters wanted a republic. Forty per cent of those who voted against it did so because they could not stomach a president elected by politicians rather than by the people. The lesson is that any future republic, to pass at a referendum, must provide for a popularly elected head of state with candidates selected impartially and without previous political affiliation.
But do we need a head of state at all, other than our elected prime minister? It had always seemed that David Hurley was the very model of a modern governor-general until the revelation that he had signed the secret appointments of Scott Morrison to job share major offices of the state.
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