Monday, May 2, 2011

Of Royals, Republicans and Relatives, a guest post by Kim Armstrong

My good friend (and old Meating People co-blogger) Kim Armstrong (@kimridesabike) writes:

I’m kind of a hypocrite I suppose. I’m that upsetting, and probably very Gen Y, combination of a staunch republican who loves the royal family.

I like looking at pictures of them in trashy gossip magazines. I’ve devoured movies like The Queen, The King’s Speech, Elizabeth, The Young Victoria – should I go on? Needless to say I watched the Royal Wedding, surrounded as it happens by my English born extended family. I don’t remember how it came up, but as I have a tendency to do at family gatherings, I set a fox among the hens by mentioning that I think Australia should become a republic.

What with all the celebrity spotting, chip and dip eating, and baby admiring going on, I don’t think I presented my best case for Australia that evening, and was significantly undermined by stopping to say “ooh, Posh and Becks do look lovely”, “is it a rule to wear hats?” and most damningly “Prince Harry is definitely my favourite”.

I’d like a do-over. Here are my arguments in favour of an Australian republic, counter-arguments directed at the ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ school of thought, along with appropriate disclaimers about how much I respect my family, their views, and our shared English heritage.

Arguments against a republic:

  1. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.

    Well, I think it IS broken. I don’t mean to say that the royal family are actively damaging the country, but I do think the idea of a family having the power to dismantle the government not only in their own country, but in mine, disturbing. Would they ever do it? Maybe not. But we update archaic laws all the time for our own peace of mind and to improve our system of government. Our currency wasn’t broken, but we changed it because it needed an update for a variety of reasons. This isn’t so different.

  2. It will be expensive.

    There are many things worth doing that are expensive, that’s the rub with taxes you see. Hospitals are expensive, sporting events are expensive, the environment is expensive…royal nuptials are expensive. We do it anyway.

  3. We had a referendum and it failed, the people have spoken.

    Firstly, this doesn’t change my view. Secondly, in the words of someone is who not one of my heroes, Sir Robert Menzies “to get an affirmative vote from the Australian people on a referendum proposal is one of the labours of Hercules”. Out of 44 referendums held as of 2010, only 8 have been carried. Changing our constitution is a big deal. The model must be right. And, sadly, the marketing must be better. Not as a sales pitch, but as an
    explanation. The previous model was not clear.

  4. This country will go downhill if we lose the monarchy.

    Why? Do we really have so little faith in our own governing that we think the loss of a symbolic, inherited monarch will change the nature of Australia? I certainly hope not.

  5. It’s part of our history.

    Yes, it is. It will still be part of our history. A truly independent Australia will still have close ties with Britain, we will never forget the important role the Commonwealth has had in our history. Changing the future does not affect the past, you know, 'cos it’s in the past.

These are all arguments put forward during our wedding watching, they are arguments from smart and lovely people and I am not belittling them in any way. They are also arguments from people who have a very strong tie to our history and have every justification for that attachment. I just think they’re wrong. And I think we have to remember the fantastically broad variety of backgrounds that Australians now come from, not everyone still thinks of London as home.

Arguments in favour of a republic:

  1. The monarchy is not relevant to modern Australia.

    Sorry, but they’re not. See note above about our backgrounds. My 15 year old cousin who DOES have an English parent pointed out an older lady in startling yellow and asked who she was during the wedding coverage. You see where this is going? It was the queen. After I told her this, she asked what her name was. And you know what? Why should she know? I don’t know the names of any other country’s monarchy. The limited role the monarchy play here should be over. It many ways it already is.

  2. My children.

    No, I don’t have any, but when I do I want them to be able to aspire to be the head of state in their own country. Not just the political leader. But the figurehead, the person we believe exemplifies our values and can be a leader apart from other politicians.

  3. Secularity.

    Australia has a secular government. We are a nation of many faiths. Including the wishy washy agnostics which I call my people. So why do we have a family supposedly bestowed with the right to special treatment by one particular god held up above all others? I respect Christianity in its many forms but the church, any church, does not get to tell me who is my head of state.

  4. Respect.

    This one is pretty well up for debate but I feel that we will not be truly respected until we are independent, not just by default, but by design. The Australian people need to see themselves as an independent, grown up country that does not, and will not, except even the possibility of a family from another country interfering in our sovereign affairs. Yes, this is a symbolic difference for the most part. Humanity should know by know that symbols are important. Just ask the royal family.

I like the royal family for the same reasons I like books and movies, both fiction and non-fiction. I like stories, and they have some great stories filled with humour and tragedy and bravery. I’m also fascinated by celebrity, like a lot of people I like to see people with lives, clothes and friends I could never afford. None of those things is enough to tie the royal family to a country they no longer need play a role in.

I know why we like to believe that the royal family are a good thing, believing in these things is nice. But can’t we believe in something Australian? Justifying something as ‘traditional’ is just another way of saying ‘we’ve done this for so long that we don’t really remember why’.


  1. you have to say though, that is a bitchin' family portrait. Look at those poppy- outtie colours!

  2. It looks like something from a Wes Anderson film.
    I'm still looking for Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman in it.