Can republicans learn from the Queen?

| June 12, 2012
Public support for an Australian Republic has been falling over the past few years as interest in the Royal Family rises. David Morris says any potential new head of state could learn a lot from the Queen but should be there to represent Australia first and foremost.

The media frames issues as black and white.  But Australians live in a world governed by common sense, where things are not black and white but there are large areas of common ground.  Indeed, one of the great things about this country is the way we all get along, regardless of where in the world our ancestors come from or where in the world we might have attachments, because we are united as proud Australians.

So when the media says you are either for the Queen or against, it is a false choice. Many people who believe Australia should have our own head of state also have respect for the Queen. I congratulate the Queen on sixty years in the role. She will remain Head of the Commonwealth regardless of whether we are a republic or not. But most members of the Commonwealth do not still have the Queen as their head of state.

Indeed, the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, which provided Britain with a welcome national celebration in the midst of deep recession, underlined just how much the monarchy is a British institution. It underlined just how different we are, here, on this side of the world, where our great national celebrations tend to be for people who have excelled at sport or commemorations for people who have given their lives for our freedom.

We don’t much admire our own leaders, but might we learn from heads of state around the world? Indeed, it might be useful to identify those attributes we most admire, in order to be able to envision what an Australian head of state might or should look like.

So, what might a future Australian head of state learn from the Queen?

Certainly, the British head of state makes her subjects feel proud of their nationality. That would appear to be an important role for such a figurehead. The crowds celebrating the Jubilee certainly underlined their fervour for their nation, something we could all watch with genuine goodwill. The monarchy is a quintessentially British institution. As Prince Charles said, the celebrations made him “proud to be British”.

An Australian head of state, then, should equally make us feel proud to be Australian. He or she, should embody our values, be able to reflect our national character and represent our place in the world. Just as the British head of state does for Britain.

But would we want an Australian head of state to have as little to say as the Queen? It is interesting how rarely we actually hear from her. The very fact that she says so little publicly has limited scope for criticism, but also risks reducing the role to celebrity over substance.

Would we want an Australian head of state to have so little to say as the Queen does? Here, we might better learn from democratically chosen heads of state. Australians have been great admirers of Irish Presidents Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese, who visited us to spread their charm. The President of Ireland must not enter into the political debates of the day, but does speak regularly to and on behalf of the Irish people.

We all remember Mary Robinson’s inspiring words that spoke of the Irish soul, the Irish spirit and indeed reached out to people all around the world.  Mary Robinson helped to re-brand Ireland, to update its image to reflect its contemporary reality.  Her successors, while from different backgrounds, have followed in those footsteps.

That is something Australia could benefit from, someone above day to day politics, who could nurture our sense of who we are and where we are in the world. But it is hard to envision, because we have always had a very British head of state.

If we want an Australian as our next head of state, we should learn from overseas, but improve upon what we observe. We have always done that in this country. We have improved upon the British parliamentary system, by introducing votes for women, secret ballots and elected upper houses long before our friends in the UK and elsewhere.

Let’s design a head of state to work for us, to be one of us and to represent us. Someone who can stand beside queens and presidents from other countries, and stand for Australia.


David Morris has recently been appointed the new National Director of the Australian Republican Movement. He was most recently Executive Director, China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, which he helped establish, and Director, Government Relations, during which time he managed a series of high level dialogue meetings for the Australian Government between government, business and academic leaders at Shanghai World Expo.  He was previously a diplomat, with postings to Europe, a senior political adviser and senior public servant for the Australian, NSW and Tasmanian Governments.  He has managed trade missions for heads of government and ministers and business delegations to China, Japan, India, the US, Malaysia and Europe.

Read the other side of the debate with this related blog from the Australian Monarchist League –