In 1952, Elizabeth II became Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as well as the head of the Commonwealth of Nations, the 54 members of which include Australia. On June 2, 2022, large-scale celebrations dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the coronation of Elizabeth II were held in the UK. And Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese paid his obeisance to the Queen by renaming the Griffin island on Lake Burley, located in Canberra, to Queen Elizabeth II Island.
However, Australia’s relations with the British crown cannot be called ideal. There are a large number of political forces in the country that advocate the abolition of the monarchy. Public opinion is also ambiguous concerning the monarchical form of government. According to polls, slightly more than half of Australians approve of the idea of a republican form of government. In 1999, a referendum was held in Australia, where only 55% of the country’s residents supported the preservation of the monarchy. In light of the current situation, it is very important to take into account that a significant part of the people who advocate the continuation of royal rule do not have a positive attitude towards the institution of the monarchy. A considerable part of Australians have great respect for Elizabeth II and do not want to see Charles or any other member of the British royal family as the ruler of the country.
In May 2022, as a result of the federal parliamentary elections in Australia, the aforementioned Anthony Albanese, who is the head of the Labor Party, became Prime Minister. The position of “Assistant minister for the republic” has appeared in the new Cabinet of Ministers. This post went to the Member of Parliament from Sydney, Matt Thistlethwaite. This turn of events can be regarded as the first step towards abandoning the monarchical form of government in Australia.
On June 9, 2022, Thistlethwaite declared that Australia is a sovereign state that has its own culture and history. In the opinion of the Australian politician, the country should be governed by an Australian, not a foreign monarch. Thistlethwaite is convinced that the 70th anniversary of the Queen’s reign is an occasion to think about the future of the institution of the monarchy, because Australia is no longer a British “colony”. The Australian politician believes that the end of the reign of Elizabeth II will mark the beginning of a heated debate about the preservation of the monarchy in the country.
The Assistant minister for the republic stated that his primary task is educating Australians: he needs to convey to every Australian that the British monarch should not be the head of state.
However, Thistlethwaite believes that a new referendum on the abolition of the monarchy will not take place soon.
It is important to remember that at the moment Australia is in a difficult geopolitical situation. First of all, this is due to the fact that the country is trying to preserve its influence in a strategically important region – Oceania, where 11 independent states are located. In 2021, the AUKUS trilateral defense alliance was created, which included Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. The purpose of creating this organization is to strengthen the control of Washington and its allies in the Pacific and to deter China. If Australia renounces the monarchy, it may be regarded as an unfriendly gesture towards its ally, the United Kingdom. Perhaps when the situation in Oceania becomes less tense, the prospect of holding a referendum will be more realistic.
Australia is not the only country where Republican sentiments exist. The idea of abolishing the monarchy is popular in many countries of the Commonwealth of Nations. According to public opinion polls, 51% of Canadians wish to change the form of government. Republican sentiments are also strong in Jamaica: in March 2022, reports began to appear in the media that the authorities of that small island state would proclaim the republic on August 6, 2022, Independence Day.
Earlier, on November 30, 2021, Barbados, a small island country located in the Caribbean, abolished royal rule and became a parliamentary republic. It is important to emphasize that the declaration of independence was peaceful, and Prince Charles himself was present at the inauguration ceremony of the first President of Barbados.
In March 2021, Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle gave an interview to the famous American TV presenter Oprah Winfrey, where they spoke in sufficient detail about their difficult life in the royal family. This interview has taken a very hard hit on the authority of the British monarchy. The #AbolishTheMonarchy hashtag began to gain popularity in social networks. Many public figures from different countries began to recall the brutality that existed in the times of colonialism. Also, unpleasant facts about the royal family began to circulate online. An impressive number of Britons have a negative attitude to the monarchy due to the fact that significant funds are spent from the budget to ensure a luxurious life for members of the royal family. Besides, we not forget about Princess Diana, whose memory is still alive not only in the Commonwealth countries, but all over the world. With her statements, she caused tangible damage to the reputation of her ex-husband and heir to the British throne, Prince Charles. Divorce from Diana is one of the main reasons for Charles’ low popularity not only in Britain, but also far beyond its borders.
In March 2021, the then-Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnbull said that the country should abandon the monarchy and become a republic. However, in his opinion, this event should occur only when the reign of Elizabeth II ends. In 2016, when Turnbull was in charge of the country, seven of the eight heads of regions of Australia signed a petition demanding a change in the form of government. The only one who did not put his signature was the premier of the state of Western Australia, Colin Barnett, who felt that it was too early to turn Australia into a republic.
On the other hand, the Premier of South Australia Jay Weatherill said that the monarchy should be abolished during the lifetime of Elizabeth II. In his opinion, such a decision would be an expression of respect for the Queen. The politician is convinced that the abolition of the monarchy should not be connected with the fact of the death of Elizabeth II.
However, the probability that Weatherill’s wishes will come true is low. Elizabeth II is too principled about her status and honors centuries-old traditions: she will not agree to publicly give up her symbolic power over one of the largest former colonies – Australia.
Yet in the long term, the monarchy in Australia is unlikely to persist. The United Kingdom is no longer the great power that it used to be, and the heirs to the throne will not cause the same deep respect in Australian society that Elizabeth II has earned. Nevertheless, in the short term, the plans of the British Queen do not include the abdication of power over Australia, and the current circumstances are not fertile ground for a referendum on the matter.
Petr Konovalov, a political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.