Proponents of an Australian republic often seek to reassure the average voter that nothing much — except the head of state — need change. Why, we might even get the ‘minimalist’ model, they say by way of soothing misgivings, where the Governor-General is renamed President and appointed by Parliament for a fixed term. How could anyone possibly object, republicans ask?
In reality, any Republican model on offer for Australia has far reaching consequences, especially when you consider how many checks and balances, implicit under our Constitutional Monarchy, may be dispensed with entirely. Nevertheless, republicans argue that we will notice hardly any changes to everyday life. I beg to differ, and outline below six things we may swiftly lose if Australia becomes a Republic.
1. Most of our statues
The first casualty of war is be truth, as they say, but the first casualty of revolution is almost always a statue, usually a lot of them.
The parks and parades of Australia’s major cities are home to a rather eclectic, pigeon-bearing tribe of stone faces, many depicting early explorers and settlers or former monarchs (especially Victoria). These will all have to go, perhaps tipped over and torn down by celebrating crowds in the first few, dark hours of the new republic. Maybe they will be replaced with icons of the Left’s virtue-signalling preoccupations — an Aborigine poisoned by settler flour and dying beneath one of Bill Shorten’s diseased blankets, for instance. Or it could be an illegal immigrant on a leaky boats or a Rainbow Flag crusader. On second thoughts, given how electorates with high ethnic populations voted against the same-sex marriage bill, better not put those two side-by-side.
Before long there will be grassroot republicans calling for recognition of the Republican pantheon. Here, a plinth bearing Fitzsimons. There, a plinth bearing Turnbull. Goodness knows, ambitious sculptors may be taking Tussaudian measurements and casting bronze as we speak.
2. The right to insult the Head of State
The UK’s Spitting Image mercilessly sent up the Queen and her family in 1980s and there has been no decrease in the jibes over the 30 years since. Mocking Her Majesty is a rude but very democratic tradition which continues to be honoured without penalty — praise be to free speech! The Americans, too, have a penchant for satirising their presidents, although the barbs tend to be sharper and come more often when the incumbent is other than a Democrat.
The opposite of this tolerance is usually the case in fledgling and still tentative republics, which is where Australia would be would be if voters were ever to change a system which has worked quite well since Federation and can reasonably be expected to continue doing so. In a country where Andrew Bolt can be subjected to the full force of law for writing “inappropriate” opinions, where a police commissioner thanks a career criminal for suing his department and a “public intellectual” sees a case for suspending democracy to save the world from atmospheric carbon, can anyone seriously believe the adoption of a republic would not come with a list of sanctions and punishments for those who mock the president? Should a republic come into being, keep any negative thoughts about the new head of state to yourself. Republican walls, just like Spitting Image puppets, have very large ears.
3. Half your weekend
It sounds farcical now, but the atheist French Republic moved very quickly to rename the days of the week, also renaming months, to remove names of Roman emperors. Needless to say, the new month-and-week system didn’t catch on and the somewhat absurd changes were soon reversed. But the key reason those changes were so unpopular had to do with the seven-day week being extended to a ten-day ‘decade’, with only one in ten days to be a designated day off work.
This is the sort of crazy fiddling with the long accepted basics of everyday life that some hell-bent-on-change Republicans may still find hard to resist. Once you have exerted and imposed your will in regard to one cause, the temptation to keep on promoting others will be near impossible to quell. It probably won’t be the calendar they mess with, other than to strip the Queen’s Birthday holiday from it. But in their mood and moment of triumph they will surely find other institutions and conventions on which to exert their will.
4. Your guarantee of freedom
Addicts of US TV shows know that ‘The People’ are the prosecuting party, whereas we rely on The Crown. If Australia becomes a republic, that change will quickly be made here too. So what, you ask? Well, notions of fair justice and personal freedom often seem to slip a bit when The People determine judicial priorities according to their latest whims. On the other hand, the English Crown, since King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215, has had an obligation to guarantee its subjects’ fair trial. That’s part of the reason good sense restored the British Monarchy after The Civil War and Cromwell’s brief Commonwealth.
Meanwhile, the highs and lows of real (non-Hollywood) modern-day American justice can be seen on TV news reports most days of the week. Close to 1% of adult Americans are behind bars. Close to 2% are on probation or parole. This is five times the rate of imprisonment in Australia. Many other ‘modern’ Republics outside Europe have similar sky-high rates of incarceration, apparently necessary to keep ‘The People’ satisfied.
5. The name of your state, city, suburb and hospital
Another rapid casualty of a republic must surely be place names. Queensland is definitely out, as is Victoria and Adelaide, too, for that matter. Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart honour British politicians who never set foot here — an frequent gripe directed at the Queen, who we are tirelessly told is not Australian and lives on the other side of the world. A logical consistency would demand that those names be scrubbed and the cities renamed. As republicans are always saying that a majority of Australians’ heritage is from places other than the UK, lets us rename, say, Brisbane as “Grasby” to honour the man who did so much to make it so.
At a more local level, expect all your ‘Royal’ or ‘Prince/Princess’ hospitals to be swiftly and soundly renamed and in a politically correct manner. Will we see a new big neon sign announcing The Stan Grant First Nations Hospital or The Lisa Wilkinson Hospital for Other Genders and Women Who Trip Over Red Bandannas in the Dark?
6. Your head
Many republicans note the once bloody history of the UK monarchy without acknowledging all that head-lopping and prince-murdering occurred centuries ago, when it was still an absolute monarchy, not a constitutional one. Meanwhile, the world’s modern republics, with few exceptions, tend to be more dangerous places to live as an ordinary citizen. It is today’s constitutional monarchies, in Japan, in the UK, and in Northern Europe, that have the lowest rates of civil unrest. Wonder why?
It is little known that Maximilien Robespierre, the French republican, originally opposed the death penalty — until, that is, he concluded a headless critic of his Republic was the only tolerable kind. Two-and-a-bit centuries later, Australian republicans swear blind we have nothing to fear. Believe them? Personally, I personally wouldn’t be sticking my neck out.