Only a few hours before the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge landed in Sydney for the start of their much-hyped royal Australian visit, Barry O’Farrell, the popular Premier of New South Wales, stunned the nation by resigning. His reason? He couldn’t remember having quaffed a bottle of wine. (No ordinary wine, mind you, but a bottle of 1959 Penfolds Grange, valued at around GBP 1,700.) In years to come, no doubt among Barry’s many regrets will be the fact that he didn’t get to hob nob on the harbour with the glam royal couple.
A timely coincidence, because what links these two events goes to the heart of why Australia’s constitutional monarchy is so popular. The polls are unequivocal. Down under, the monarchy is ‘in’, republicanism is ‘out’. As the latest Fairfax Nielsen poll has it: “more than half of all Australians now believe the switch to a republic is unnecessary with 51 per cent opposing any such move and only 42 per cent backing it.” Which represents “the lowest pro-republican sentiment in 35 years.” Even more astonishing: “Just 28 per cent of respondents aged between 18 and 24 years, backed the idea of an Australian head of state, whereas 60 per cent said no to the idea.”
Believe it or not, it’s the kids who dig our kings and queens. How much of this is down to Wills’ and Kate’s undeniable celeb status (Kate Windsor? Kate Moss? Katy Perry?) or the current popularity of TV shows such as Game of Thrones is immaterial. The point is, from an emotional point of view, an entire generation is perfectly relaxed about our quirky, ‘anachronistic’ constitutional arrangements.
No wonder. Their Majesties represent everything our political classes do not. They offer stability, tradition, respect, star quality and dignity. And what a contrast. More than ever in our history, Australia’s political classes have let us down in the most spectacular fashion. ‘Kevin 07’ was supposedly the people’s prince, but turned out to be a psychopathic princess; a self-obsessed diva. Then came the flame-haired unmarried Queen Julia, a polarizing figure who disappeared in a fog of sleaze and tiresome feminist rantings.
Tony Abbott, a decent human being, still struggles to connect with the public in any emotional way. We have reached the point where the Australian public tolerate rather than venerate their leaders.
Add into this mix the intriguing notion that the next Queen of Denmark is Australian, and the republican mantra that one’s head of state should be home-grown evaporates. What ordinary little girl doesn’t dream of becoming a princess? And Aussie Mary and Pommy Kate have both proved, in their uniquely egalitarian ways, that you can.
When the best that the republican movement can offer up is the idea of popularly electing an uninspiring, politically-motivated head of state, or, as an alternative, allowing our dreary politicians to appoint some technocrat (over a bottle of Grange, perhaps?) it’s hardly surprising the silent majority prefer the magic and majesty of our very own monarchy.
Rowan Dean tweets @rowandean