By Gabrielle Hendry
Is the monarchy relevant in Australia? Can our government system work indefinitely as it stands? What does is all mean? Gabrielle Hendry explores these questions….
I am 20 years old, and I am a monarchist. What? Really? Why do you believe in such an outdated system? Join the modern world! Just a few of priceless reactions I have encountered since I became a young monarchist last year. But for me, there is no greater logic than having faith in the current system, simply because it works!
For many years, the debate over whether Australia should remain a constitutional monarchy, or whether it should become a republic, has raged furiously. The question often simmers quietly in the background of Australian politics, however, it has and continues to flare up in #auspol at pivotal moments in our history.
So why does this debate not only endure, but continue to reassert itself time and time again? Why are there organisations such as the Australian Monarchist League Movement dedicated to preserving the current system? Fundamentally, it is because everyone has an opinion about how this country should be run; it affects us all. The system of governance that Australia implements affects everyone who settles in Australia – to live, work, and prosper.
Currently, Australia is a constitutional monarchy. This means that Queen Elizabeth II is Australia’s official head of state, but the job of making and passing legislation lies with the parliament, elected democratically by the people. Furthermore, Australia retains even greater independence by electing the Governor-General, the Queen’s representative who manages to look after the interests of both the monarchy and the Australian people.
We are fortunate that there have been very few instances in Australian history of when the safeguard that the Governor-General provides has needed to be implemented. The clearest case comes from the leadership of former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. In 1975, Australia experienced what is arguably its greatest constitutional and political crisis.
“55% of Australia voted no, voting to keep the constitutional monarchy, as well as every state voting no except for ACT. Australians voted for continuity and stability. The people also recognised that changing our currency and flag would be an expensive waste of time.” -How Australians reacted to the 1999 referendum.
Although Whitlam held a Labor-majority in the House of Representatives, the Senate was an Opposition majority. Whitlam’s ambitious policies were draining most of Australia’s finances and threatening the country with severe debt and ruin. Eventually, the Opposition used its control of the Senate to prevent the appropriation bills, which allows Whitlam to access more money, from passing. The government was in crisis, as no money was allowed through. Finally, Sir John Kerr, the Governor-General at the moment, used the special powers provided to him as the Queen’s representative to call a double dissolution, effectively getting rid of Whitlam and restoring Australia back to working order.
This is one of the most favourable arguments for a constitutional monarchy, as the Queen is a benevolent head of state who acts as a safeguard against the motivations of self-interested politicians. The current system gives us great independence, but does not allow Australia to ruin itself.
However, even with this logic, republicans challenge the current system. In 1999, a referendum was held in Australia, seeking to create a republican Australia and the results were 45% for and 55% against. 55% of Australia voted no, voting to keep the constitutional monarchy, as well as every state voting no except for ACT. Australians voted for continuity and stability. The people also recognised that changing our currency and flag would be an expensive waste of time.
Since 1999, support for the monarchy has surged, particularly among young people. In a recent Fairfax Nielsen poll, 60% of people aged between 18-24 years old supported the monarchy. Young royals are reinvigorating the appeal of the monarchy with their celebrity factor – being active among the people, and supporting charitable causes through philanthropy. Any notion that the system of constitutional monarchy will die when Queen Elizabeth II does is completely misguided, because the monarchy has always stood for the people, and for the interests of the people.