A state visit to a British realm has always had one, great, overarching purpose—to shore up support for the Monarch.
Monarchists in Australia might therefore be reflecting that it is unfortunate that Her Majesty is no longer able to withstand the rigors of long-haul travel.
They might think it doubly unfortunate that rather than send one of her grandsons—preferably the cheeky bearded one—to her farthest-flung dominion, Australia, she sent her little-loved son Charles and his wife, Camilla, who is widely disliked in Australia, where the cult of Diana is still a powerful force.
Despite some good-natured mugging for the cameras, for example when Camilla brandished a large knife at Charles (grateful headline writers sprung into ‘Call that a knife?’ mode), Charles’s visit has so far been a failure, with political leaders on both sides unwilling to give the future King Charles III of Australia even the most meager crumb of comfort that he will one day rule Down Under.
As The Daily Beast reported last week, Monarchists face major challenges in the always-challenging fight to keep Australia in the fold after the ruling Conservative party elected a new leader (who is now Prime Minister by default) Malcolm Turnbull, an arch-Republican who replaced arch-monarchist Tony Abbott.
One of the new Prime Minister’s first moves was a deeply symbolic decision to scrap knighthoods and damehoods, saying, “Knights and dames are titles that are anachronistic, out of date and not appropriate, in 2015.”
This was a very clear shot across the bows of the royal armada, and it was fired just a week before Prince Charles arrived in the country for his charm offensive that does not, so far, appear to be working.
Indeed, if anything, Charles’s presence in Australia seems to have galvanized the Republican movement, which is now claiming 51 percent of the population favors scrapping the status quo.
The leader of the opposition, Bill Shorten, made clear his opinions in an unambiguous article in national newspaper The Age, this week, describing Australia as a country which should be proudly independent instead of “borrowing a monarch from another country on the other side of the world.”
Shorten went on, “Our constitution came into being as an act of the British parliament—114 years later, our nation has changed, our place in the world has changed, and our constitution should change with it.”
To be fair, the Labor party in Australia—of which Shorten is leader—has always made republicanism a central plank of its policy, and Shorten’s vociferous argument is unlikely to worry the man who may yet one day be King Charles III of Australia.
However, the contempt in which the monarchy is held by the new Conservative Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, who once described Charles as an ‘unashamed adulterer’ is a bigger issue.
Turnbull was asked point blank by reporters where he stood on the debate on Wednesday right before meeting Charles and Camilla, and pointedly declined to endorse Charles, instead reminding voters, “If the Queen’s reign comes to an end and the constitution is in the form it is today, Prince Charles will become our head of state.”
A journalist asked him, “Are you happy about that?”
Turnbull grinned a grin that spoke volumes but diplomatically replied, “I am a happy person. There has never been a better time to be an Australian. The opportunities for the country are enormous. The opportunities for constitutional change are somewhat more challenging than the opportunities for strong economic growth.”
Part of the reason that Turnbull dodged an explicit statement on the issue has to do with the cleverly-timed date of the Prince’s visit.
The emotional centerpiece of Charles’s visit was the ceremonies of Remembrance Day, Nov. 11. Charles laid a poppy wreath at the Australian War Memorial marking the war dead.
With such a somber occasion dominating events, and reminding voters of the close historic ties between the two countries, it was politic of Turnbull to bite his tongue. Remembrance Day is not the day to be debating the future of the monarchy in Australia.
However, zooming out to the bigger picture, it is all starting to look very much like a gigantic political softening up campaign for a referendum on the monarchy.
Support for such a measure could conceivably now be included on both the Conservative and Labor party manifestos when the country goes to the polls next year.
Politically, it probably wouldn’t hurt—Turnbull’s poll numbers shot up after he got rid of knights and dames—and there is a clear political incentive for him to make some kind of pledge on a road map to republicanism.
Shorten has already planted the Labor party’s flag in the sand, saying, “Australia has leaders on both sides of politics who believe Australia is confident and imaginative enough to restart this stalled national project. I have made clear that if Labor is elected at the next election, we will aim to make the next decade Australia’s first with a head of state who is one of us.”
A new poll conducted for the Australian Republican Movement (ARM) has suggested that support for change is reaching a tipping point, with 51 percent saying they would now prefer an Australian head of state to a King Charles.
The survey of 1,008 voters conducted this month asked: “When Prince Charles becomes King of Australia, will you support or oppose replacing the British monarch with an Australian citizen as Australia’s head of state?”
ARM chairman Peter FitzSimons told the Sydney Morning Herald that Republicans welcomed Charles and Camilla to Australia as individuals, but added: “We look forward to the day when members of the royal family make the trip as our equals and not Australia’s current and future rulers.”
Charles, needless to say, does not.