Flat White

Republicans: time to accept the truth of the matter

15 July 2020

12:05 PM

15 July 2020

12:05 PM

With all the focus republican lobbyists have placed on the Palace Letters – a move that has backfired considerably – it’s no doubt they’ll continue to pounce on any royal inconsistency – real or perceived – to advance their cause.

In 1953, according to other recently released documents, ‘Queen Elizabeth’ was implicated in bringing about the fall of Iran’s Mohammed Mossadegh and installing the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi as absolute ruler of Iran.

This, of course, is not true. It only appears true if you read historical documents without context.

Queen Elizabeth’s supposed involvement emerged because of a message she sent to the Shah, telling him to ‘stay put’ as unrest was unfolding across Iran in 1953. “Knowing how much the Shah had sought a formal alliance with the British monarchy,” writes journalist Borzou Daragahi, “the US ambassador in Tehran passed on the note to the royal court.”


The message, in fact, was from British Prime Minister Anthony Eden, who was aboard the RMS Queen Elizabeth ocean liner at the time.

It is an amusing instance, worth recalling in the same breath as the recently released and much over-hyped Palace Letters.

The 211 letters, containing exchanges between the Queen and the Governor-General Sir John Kerr around Gough Whitlam’s dismissal in 1975, weren’t meant to be released until later this decade.

Republican lobbyists made significant claims of their value, noting it would “create even more public demand for an Australian republic”, and echoing The Age’s tag line that the letters will have ‘volcanic repercussions’.

Yet what did the letters actually reveal?

  • What we already knew — that Kerr acted alone and Her Majesty had no involvement.
  • Kerr had alluded to the above in his memoirs, never wanting the letters to stay confidential but released under their appropriate time horizon.
  • Serious Whitlam missteps — caused by the ‘loans affair’ and a failure to call a full Senate election — created the government impasse, not Her Majesty or the Palace.
  • The entire exercise has come at considerable cost, estimated in the millions, diverting High Court and National Archival resources (the fact that the High Court had overruled two existing court rulings should arouse republican lobbyist consistent concerns over accountability and transparency).
  • Australia’s current arrangements remain optimal for dealing with our most significant political crisis since federation.

Despite this, the Australian Republican Movement will continue to leap on any royal inconsistency, along with appeals to the themes of transparency, openness and accountability, to advance their cause and install an Australian president. This would not enhance our democracy but only offer less political stability.

Combined with a need to properly appreciate events on the ground, as is the case with reading through many historical documents, or over-anticipating their revelations, republican lobbyists should not leap to sensationalism but arrive soberingly at future approaches to this highly important debate.

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