Sarah Gall is a political data scientist and membership secretary for the UK’s Conservative Friends of Australia. She previously headed up political and policy research for the Prime Minister of Australia.
In his first interview as Australia’s new High Commissioner to the UK, Stephen Smith offered up his personal view that it was “inevitable” that Australia would become a republic and remove King Charles as its Head of State.
Smith further stated that most British people would be “indifferent” to the move and insisted that it would not damage the relationship between the two countries. A more seasoned diplomat advised:
“We have to avoid becoming part of the story. There is no such thing as a ‘personal opinion’”.
For Smith, a former Labor politician and staunch republican, this was one lesson which he did not heed. Instead, he has begun his tenure by prognosticating the length of reign of His Majesty, which has certainly raised some eyebrows.
Australia becoming a republic is not a new issue, nor is it an immediate priority for the centre-left government. In the role of High Commissioner, it is therefore curious as to why Smith felt the need to highlight what divides us rather than focusing on what ties us together – our shared history, common values, or even the cricket.
The blatant disregard for traditional institutions and finger-wagging, patronising, and often tone-deaf stance has become increasingly commonplace on the left. Two recent examples spring to mind.
The first is Penny Wong, Foreign Minister, using a speech in London earlier this year to lecture Britons, urging the UK to confront its colonial past. The second is Adam Bandt, the Australian Greens’ leader, thinking five hours after the Queen’s death would be an appropriate time to advocate for a republic.
While both of these examples were rightly condemned by many, it puts Smith’s views in context and evidences the left’s hope to bulldoze ahead with a republic as though a vote has already taken place. This is despite opinion polls showing that support for a republic has not changed significantly since the 1999 Republic Referendum.
Instead, the proportion of those who are against or uncommitted to establishing a republic tends to fluctuate depending on events, such as the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton and more recently, the death of Elizabeth II.
In fact, these two events showed a surge in support for the monarchy, demonstrating the great affection that most Australians have for the royal family.
Regardless of this evidence however, the republican movement describe themselves as the ever-increasing majority of Australians. They also incorrectly remember the 1999 referendum as a close result, and believe they would have won had a different model been presented to the Australian people.
But here lies the problem for the republicans: while there is only one model for the status quo (a constitutional monarchy), there are several models of a republic that could be voted on.
This means that any referendum question proposing a particular model will split republican voters, with some supporting it and others voting with the status quo against it.
Making the task yet more formidable is the difficulty of achieving the two requirements for a referendum to be successful: a national majority and a majority in the majority of states. The 1999 referendum achieved neither of these requirements (see graphic), despite opinion polls showing that the majority supported it.
This indicates that while there are the aforementioned issues, there is also a proportion of voters who like the idea of a republic in theory, but when shown the practical consequences of a model during a campaign, prefer the status quo.
The Labor Government knows this. But instead of accepting the reality, they have begun laying the groundwork for a second referendum on a republic to occur in their second term, which Labor has stated is the “next natural progression” if the referendum on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament is successful.
With Labor in government, the broader republican movement is able to capitalise on the benefits of being in office (e.g. using taxpayers’ dollars for the necessary research on a model and setting the narrative thanks to having more media coverage than the Opposition).
So far this has meant that they have been able to announce that the monarch will no longer appear on any of Australia’s banknotes; permit civil servants to work on January 26 if they do not wish to observe Australia Day; and appoint Australia’s first Assistant Minister for the Republic, tasked with “undertaking initial work on an Australian republic as a constitutional reform”.
The government is seizing every opportunity it has to aggressively pursue its so-called decolonisation agenda. It is doing this by gradually removing any ties Australia has to Britain, while having zero regard for opposing views. This is typical of the left who govern by division, particularly when it comes to traditional institutions.