There are now another 156 reasons for keeping our constitutional monarchy, for that is the number of leading barristers who took the step last week of having themselves appointed as Queens Counsel when they had the opportunity of assuming the anodyne and pedestrian mantle of Senior Counsel, but rejected it. Some of them were newly minted and many were already SCs, but all made the change as a clear preference. In contrast, the reaction of republicans to the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their son, Prince George, has been one of uncontrollable rage at the very idea that people, especially the young, should actually be rejoicing in a royal visit and voting in opinion polls to keep the monarchy. But their argument seems to have shifted, albeit subtly; it is now not so much a purely pro-republic one, but that the defect in the present system is that the Queen and her heirs are foreigners. It is a nonsense argument, but it is time to float my own proposal: the way around this quandary and certainly the best way of cutting the ground from under the republicans’ feet, is to pass a simple Act of Parliament that says the Queen and her heirs are automatically Australian citizens. Our head of state will thus always be the monarch and will always be Australian.
The anti-British tone that the debate has developed is sad, especially being promoted as it is by so many of our intelligentsia and because it denigrates our history as much as our present. Any country that does not respect its institutions and acknowledge where they came from and why we have them, let alone their strengths, will not have as firm a foundation to build on as it could.
The strength of these historic links and how they enrich our life as modern Australians was in my mind over Easter when I went to Bendigo to see the exhibition of paintings from the Royal Academy, certainly one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the world, founded by Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1768. And what a prestigious exhibition it is, with the seminal influences of Reynolds, Constable, Gainsborough, Turner, Sickert, Sargent and the other British greats on full display and matched with works by Australians who have exhibited at the Academy. Running until 9 June, it will not be shown at any other gallery in Australia, but, in a modern link with Asia where our future lies, will be seen at four galleries in Japan.
Leaving the gallery I saw again how so many strands of culture make up the modern Australia, with the essentially multicultural Easter parade, culminating in the longest Chinese dragon in the world and certainly the noisiest. The parade wound its way through Bendigo which has one of the finest collections of substantial, graceful, Victorian public and private buildings in the Commonwealth, all built under British protection and influence and with an overwhelming sense of confidence and trust in the future. My point is not that we worship that part of our heritage that is essentially British, to the exclusion of our rich strands of Aboriginal, multicultural, Asian and international influences, but simply that we recognise it as the basis for our constitutional framework that has brought such stability and prosperity for over 200 years. Philip Ayres has given the title Fortunate Voyager to his biography of Sir Ninian Stephen. What a fortunate voyage we have all had and what good fortune that we have been given such a delicate balance of democratic government; how unfortunate we would be to discard it.
But one of our institutions is being undermined. The parliament, state and federal, is a noble institution and one of its great strengths was that it kept discipline over its members. Nowadays, that function seems contracted out to anti-corruption commissions that are fast becoming a law unto themselves. There is a case for special prosecutors and royal commissions for specific inquiries and fixed periods of time. But the permanent bodies are now following a disturbing pattern: building empires, demanding more money and power, and, as seen by the sad and tragic resignation of Barry O’Farrell, salivating over destroying ministers and collecting scalps as they trade on human failings, demanding instant recollection better than the inquisitors themselves.
I cannot believe that anyone connected with the United Nations could consider supporting the rumoured appointment of Kevin Rudd as its secretary-general. The organisation has had some ups and downs, but surely it does not deserve this. Its agenda will become a mass of hare-brained schemes, discarded after the first photo opportunity, with plans to insulate every house from Kathmandu to Timbuktu and extend broadband to the entire planet. I can hear the cringe-making moralising as he leaves the Vatican, the unique revelations on foreign affairs at the White House, the abuse of the most humble clerk who has forgotten a hairdryer or delayed the imperial progress of the Great Narcissus around the globe. Is this what the world has come to, that it cannot produce one man or woman to take this post? Surely there is a statesman in Mongolia, a professor in Guatemala, a ticket inspector in Anatolia, someone, somewhere, anyone, other than Rudd, who will save the United Nations from this ultimate act of folly.
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