Saturday, February 15, 2014

An Op-Ed I wrote last year on the birth of the Royal baby and what it means for the republican movement. Published in Literati Magazine.

I’m beginning to wonder if there’s something wrong with me. Here we are, a few months in and nothing; no shivers, heart palpitations or fist pumps. Not even the most mild spring in the step. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t bring myself to give a stuff about Prince George of Cambridge, or as he’s more commonly known, the Royal Baby.
I know, I know, I’m a mean spirited, stone hearted, latte sipping malcontent, but so what. I’m sure young George - who’s no doubt defecating happily into his golden nappies - is as cute and as lovely as any baby. And William and Kate are no doubt besotted with him as all parents are with their new progeny. But that’s where it ends; reserved admiration from the other side of the world.
Why then does it feel, like I’m Robinson Crusoe here? Where are my fellow objectors? Where are the republicans? It’s not the pomp and ceremony surrounding the arrival of the royal offspringthat grates. It’s the insistence that we are all excited; that this was an event everyone had been waiting for. It’s not that we republicans feel left out. More worryingly, it seems as though we’ve all be co-opted in.
Of course we’re talking about a joyous event; the birth of a child. Republican or monarchist, no one wants to come across as a curmudgeonly killjoy during a time of celebration. But if you believe that this country deserves to elect its own head of state and that both the monarchy and inherited privilege are an absurdity, then surely the time to speak up is when they are most prominently on show, whether new born infants are involved or not.
 Instead what we’ve seen over the past few months has been the opposite. It’s been a wall to wall royal extravaganza where every minute detail of the birth has been scrutinised as if it were a complex military operation. We’ve even had The Duchess proclaimed as some sort of feminist icon for not completely concealing her post baby body. Oh, and Australia has just elected the maniacal pro-monarchist Tony Abbott as Prime Minister. All this has led some commentators to conclude that we Australians are just a bunch of a hopeless royal tragics after all and all that silly republican stuff was a just a late 20th Century frolic.
This outcome reflects the contrasting trajectories of the republican movement and the royal family since late 1990’s. As tragic as her death was, it seems the massive outpouring of sympathy following the death of Princess Diana in 1997 has acted as something of a turning point for the Windsor’s, drawing a line under the tawdry tales of adultery, divorce and toe sucking that led them to the point of ridicule by the mid 90’s. Recently they’ve experienced a full blown renaissance with the wedding of William and Kate, the Diamond Jubilee and now the birth of young Prince George resulting in an orgy of pro-monarchy celebration.
In the face of this onslaught, the republicans have vacated the field. Devoid of leaders, direction and passion, and above all, publicity, most Australians would be forgiven for thinking that the republican movement had all but died. Can anyone think of a prominent national leader still advocating a republic? Malcom Turnbull used to, but now he’s in Government he’ll be too busy ripping up the NBN and Tony Abbott would never allow it anyway. And what of Paul Keating? As Prime Minister he did more than anyone to put a republic on the agenda, but his defeat by the arch monarchist John Howard in 1996 provided an early portent for the referendum defeat three years later.
The ongoing effect of that 1999 defeat shouldn’t be underestimated. It was a deflating end to a decade long campaign for an Australian head of state which at times seemed to have an almost unassailable momentum. That the political cunning of Howard along with a lack of unity in the Yes case over the proposed model and the sheer difficulty of achieving a successful referendum, contrived to stymie the republican case, sent the movement into an inevitable funk.
However it’s been the response to that defeat that has been most damaging. In the near decade and a half since, both sides have batted away the issue with the same refrain; that it will not happen until Queen Elizabeth II dies. For republicans, this is a fool’s errand.  It only denies the issue the necessary oxygen it needs to be successful. A republic delayed is a republic denied.
And in any case, it assumes the Queen is some delicate petal who feelings are easily hurt. Please. This is a woman who lived through the Great Depression and the Second World War. This is a woman who has dealt with British Prime Ministers from Churchill to Cameron. This is a woman who hasput up with The Duke of Edinburgh for more than 60 years.
Whether it’s an elderly lady in her dotage or a newborn boy in nappies, it’s Australia’s identity republicans should concerned with, not upsetting the feelings of whoever may be wearing the crown.

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