When Prince Charles and Camilla touched down on the first leg of their Antipodean tour on Wednesday, their first event—a ceremonial welcome in the capital city—had to be cut short because of inclement, unseasonal weather.
Pathetic fallacies may have fallen out of vogue in literary circles in recent decades, but if one were searching for a metaphor of just how poorly the royal brand is selling itself down under of late, the driving rain and high winds in New Zealand this afternoon could scarcely have been more appropriate.
For although the future of the British monarchy may be secure in New Zealand, on Sunday Charles and Camilla will fly to Australia, and land in the midst of another storm. This one is a political and constitutional storm, and one that threatens to see Australia ditch Queen Elizabeth as head of state.
Much, therefore, depends on Charles being able to charm the populace of Australia on this tour. Prepare for some major publicity stunts to showcase Charles’s chummy side.
Speculation in Monarchist and Republican circles has reached fever pitch after the country’s new prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, a passionate Republican, made an executive decision to scrap knighthoods and damehoods this week, a decision which has been widely applauded in the country at large.
“Knights and dames are titles that are anachronistic, out of date and not appropriate, in 2015,” he said when making the announcement on Monday.
Turnbull’s dramatic decision is the final chapter in a saga that has become known as the “Sir Prince Philip thing” across Australian media, both social and traditional.
The previous prime minister, ardent Monarchist Tony Abbott, reintroduced knighthoods in a shock announcement in March 2014, without consulting his cabinet colleagues, some of whom told the media, with typical Aussie bluntness, that the move was “fucking stupid”.
Abbott then proceeded to bestow a knighthood on Prince Philip (to make things worse he did it on Australia Day, Jan. 26) this year. Abbott made the bizarre move because he learned that the Queen wanted her husband to be given an Australian honor, according to Greg Sheridan, the foreign editor of the Australian.
The award was greeted with general derision and disbelief. Twitter was convinced it was a hoax.
Given that Philip is still best known in Australia for asking an indigenous Australian on a 2002 visit, “Do you still throw spears at each other?” one shouldn’t be entirely surprised either by the reaction of chief minister of the Northern Territory, Adam Giles, who said the award made Australians look like “a bunch of tossers.”
The ‘Sir Prince Philip thing’ set in motion a chain of events which resulted in Turnbull, who was chairman of the Australian Republican Movement during the 1999 referendum campaign to scrap the monarchy, being made PM in Abbott’s place.
In his brief and victorious campaign, Turnbull criticized Abbott’s authoritarian, presidential style, and nowhere did this style displease his party more than in the disastrous and completely unnecessary awarding of the knighthood—about which Abbott allegedly consulted no-one—to Prince Philip.
Although Turnbull said after his inauguration that there were “much more immediate issues facing me and the government than the republic”, there are many who believe Turnbull’s abolishment of Knights and Dames this week marks the beginning of a new assault on the status of the Monarch in Australia.
Graham Smith, chief executive of the anti-Monarchy organization Republic, told The Daily Beast, “The monarch has only survived this long as head of state in Australia because for the last 11 years they have had monarchist Prime Ministers. Abbott will be the last time Australia has a monarchist Prime Minister. The scene is set for something to happen. There is an election coming up next year, and it is very possible that Turnbull will make a referendum in the next term part of his manifesto.
“The opposition leader is also a Republican.”
Smith says that there is an increasing appetite to make the change now rather than waiting for the Queen to die and doing it then. It might make more sense—and be less ghoulish—to make a move in advance of her death, he says.
“The Queen will be 90 next year and that is starting to focus people’s minds that the time is coming.”
If Australia goes, it seems inevitable that a number of other realms—Jamaica and Barbados would be hot favorites—would also dump the Crown as head of state.
The Australians are about as keen on the prospect of King Charles III as everyone else in the world who uses money with the Queen’s head on it.
Charles will no doubt be aware that one wrong move or ill-thought word in the next 12 days could accelerate events dramatically.
One can’t help feeling the Queen should have sent Prince George instead.