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The monarchy will win Australia’s Voice referendum

Charles III hosts Anthony Albanese at Buckingham Palace earlier this year. Credit: Getty

October 13, 2023 - 6:10pm

This weekend, Australians are set to reject Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s plan to alter the constitution and create a new federal advisory body with the somewhat clunky title of “the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice”. If the result is as expected, they will have voted against the notion that one ethnic group, however historically oppressed, should be afforded special constitutional status.

Yet alongside the obvious potential losers from the referendum result — Albanese, his Labor Party, the wider “Yes” campaign — there’s a longer-term victim: the Australian republican movement.

A year ago, following the death of the Queen, speculation was rife that the country would finally sever its links with the British monarchy. Should Albanese fail in his attempt at constitutional reform with the Voice referendum, that prospect will likely be extinguished for a generation at least.

Perhaps because the Queen was still alive when he entered office in May last year, Albanese chose to make the Voice referendum, not the monarchy, his first constitutional priority. By the autumn of 2022, things had changed. King Charles III had replaced his mother as Australia’s head of state, and the polls suggested Albanese and the “Yes” campaign would easily win the Voice referendum. A subsequent vote on becoming a republic, perhaps in Albanese’s second term, seemed likely. 

How times change. For many in both Australia and New Zealand, apathy counts for more than republicanism, and they’re unlikely to take kindly to their national debate being dominated by another constitutional question that feels removed from the realities of daily life. New Zealand’s Labor Prime Minister, Chris Hipkins, summed up this attitude earlier this year when he described himself as a republican, but made clear that he wouldn’t be pushing for the constitutional change. The mood isn’t dissimilar to how most Britons think of the House of Lords: there’s an acceptance that it’s outdated and needs reform, but nobody cares enough to bother getting round to scrapping it. 

What’s more, Albanese himself won’t want to waste his remaining political capital on such a risky bet, as Australian politics is infamous for its divisive leadership spills. His two Labor predecessors as PM, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, were both ruthlessly deposed by dissatisfied colleagues. Were Albanese to call a second constitutional referendum and lose, he’d be toast. 

This leaves aspirations for an Australian republic in limbo. If a Left-wing Labor leader such as Albanese won’t legislate for a referendum, who will? While there are republican voices within the centre-right Liberal Party, there remain many trenchant monarchists, notably former prime ministers Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott. It seems highly doubtful a future Liberal premier would make it a priority, and the same applies to whoever succeeds Albanese as Labor leader. However much they view the monarchy as an anachronism, they’ll be wary of letting another constitutional referendum backfire. 

And so, just a year after Australia’s transition to a republic seemed inevitable, the monarchy now looks set to survive for another generation at least. One day, Australia will make the change: it is self-evidently odd that its head of state is an English royal. But this won’t come about any time soon. Indeed, after the Voice referendum, it almost certainly won’t be in the lifetime of Charles III. The ultimate irony is that it’s Albanese, the self-professed republican with an eye for constitutional reform, who has unintentionally advanced the monarchist cause.


James Hanson is an award-winning broadcaster and journalist, as heard on Times Radio.

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Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
8 months ago

“One day, Australia will make the change: it is self-evidently odd that its head of state is an English royal.”
It doesn’t seem that odd to me. Australia was established and settled by the British; it speaks English; its civil and political and cultural norms are descended from and closely related to those of the British. There are family ties, artistic ties, business ties, etc. It’s not like there was an Australian War of Independence, “throwing off the oppressive yoke of Britain” – there was a sort of mutual unshackling, ‘you get more authority, I get less responsibility.’ Why change something that serves its purpose well? Is it just the fact that Charles III lives in London?
PS. I expect many will question the monarchy’s “purpose” in a modern democratic state. But every country has and needs national figures to serve as common characters in our national narratives. While Charles and Camilla aren’t perfect, they’re better than Kanye and Kim.

Last edited 8 months ago by Kirk Susong
Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
8 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

Shouldn’t that be Kath and Kim?

Geoff Wilkes
Geoff Wilkes
8 months ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

Yes. They have better taste than Kanye and Kim.

William Shaw
William Shaw
8 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

A benign monarchy is a lot less dangerous than a republican president.
It’s a fact that republicans try to ignore.

Maurice Austin
Maurice Austin
8 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

Kirk, just from the way you write it seems you are a fellow Aussie. I agree completely that while the writer may find it “self-evidently odd”, I don’t think being odd is a reason to get rid of something that is self-evidently useful.
I have sometimes wondered whether, being surrounded as they are by the monarchy and all its attributes, the British sort of forget its benefits – sort of like the way a fish doesn’t notice water, but would do fairly badly if it went away.
For the benefit of UK readers, in our Constitution literally the ONLY role the monarch plays in Australian life is the formal appointment of the Governor-General, except when he or she is actually present on Australian soil, in which case, for a short time, under the Royal Powers Act, our monarch performs the functions of a – well – monarch.

Kat L
Kat L
8 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

Curtis Yarvin makes the case for monarchy as well. It’s an interesting point.

Matt M
Matt M
8 months ago

When they are the right age the Royal family should pack the little princes and princess off to Oz, Canada and NZ for university or military service. If Prince George were to make an Aussie girl his princess the monarchy would be secure for another generation or two.

I still think our 4 countries should join forces more formally. We could easily have a 4-way FTA (as we are all CPTPP members and have bilaterals in place). We could negotiate as a group with third countries on future trade arrangements.

Our visas are becoming more relaxed all the time – I read news the other day that a 5 year working visa for Brits and Aussies under 50 was in the offing! We could have free movement between all 4 countries without any fear of overwhelming any country.

AUKUS might well become CAUKUS after the next Canadian election and all three countries are building the Type 26 frigate. Interoperability is already second nature between the 4 Royal Navies. Obviously we are the USA’s closest allies and form the 5Eyes with them.

I could well imagine all 4 countries sharing Britain’s seat on the UN Security Council. We are collaborating on joint space projects.

I can’t imagine an annual meeting of the prime ministers and some permanent civil servants is too hard to organise. I think CANZUK (to use the clumsy acronym) is an idea whose time might come.

Last edited 8 months ago by Matt M
Geoff Wilkes
Geoff Wilkes
8 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

The bit about Prince George marrying an Australian girl is (a) patronising and (b) in light of the non-flourishing of Australian-Danish relations following the marriage of the former Mary Donaldson, unlikely to matter should it ever happen.
Still, if would be fun to watch George marry a girl from, say, Bondi whose family originated, say, in Lebanon or at Uluru.

Matt M
Matt M
8 months ago
Reply to  Geoff Wilkes

Why shouldn’t the future king marry an Aussie regardless of whether her father is from Beirut or Ayers Rock?

Geoff Wilkes
Geoff Wilkes
8 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Why not, indeed?
I was just wondering how the monarchists would take such a development, particularly after recent experiences with Ms Markle (whom I despise, for reasons other than her origins).

Neil Cheshire
Neil Cheshire
8 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

“We could have free movement between all 4 countries without any fear of overwhelming any country.”
In your dreams.
Border control in the United Kingdom is a shambles with the country already overwhelmed by legal and illegal migration that no political party or Government agency has the intestinal fortitude to remedy.
Australia has high immigration but retains control of arrivals and their suitability. The country has efficient border control and would never agree to free movement with the UK.

Matt M
Matt M
8 months ago
Reply to  Neil Cheshire

You’re right! That needs to get sorted first, no doubt.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
8 months ago
Reply to  Neil Cheshire

The weak link for Australia is NZ, used by many as a short-stay backdoor.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
8 months ago

The case for the monarchy is similar to Churchill’s case for democracy. After all, there are precious few examples from around the world of elected heads of state that would make Australians think they’re missing out.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
8 months ago

There’s never been anything inevitable about Australia becoming a republic.
The huge number of immigrants, many from republics, chose to come to a constitutional monarchy. Maybe they appreciate it more than jaded generational Australians think.

Geoff Wilkes
Geoff Wilkes
8 months ago

The republican debate here sometimes descends to dreary exchanges along the lines of: “It was the Weimar Republic which led to Hitler!” — “Yes, but Hitler admired the Hohenzollerns!” But it’s all piffle.
To respond to your second point, in more than 60 years of living in Australia I have never heard even one immigrant from a republic say that they came here because we have a lovely monarchy.
The only argument is about whether it’s a good idea to have a Head of State who is a citizen of another country. As far as I can tell, most people (including me), don’t care very much, or at least they won’t vote to change it until they know precisely what’s going to replace it – or perhaps until some dramatic event like King Charles going mad, or Ms Truss proclaiming herself empress, or something like that.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
8 months ago
Reply to  Geoff Wilkes

I didn’t mean that’s specifically why they chose to come. But they obviously thought Australia as it is or was, was a better bet than where they came from, and they voted with their feet. And part of what Australia is , is a constitutional monarchy. But you’re right that most people, including me, don’t care that much.
However I’m innately suspicious of those who do care that much – for what reason? Who want to change what ain’t broke – for what reason? What problem do they expect to fix by, in effect, making Australia less like Canada and more like the USA? Who , apart from themselves, will benefit?

Last edited 8 months ago by nadnadnerb
Geoff Wilkes
Geoff Wilkes
8 months ago

Some of the republicans refer to the dismissal of PM Gough Whitlam in 1975. Some pride themselves on being anti-Colonial. Some are patriotic to the extent that they want to dissociate themselves from everywhere, even the UK.
A lot of the more vocal monarchists seem to be lost in the 18th century, a la your Mr Rees-Mogg, and make my skin crawl. They’re fully entitled to their opinion, of course.
But again, nobody really cares. I’d be very surprised if any organised group on either side could rustle up more than 10,000 members. And (as I suggested in another post) the quality of debate between them is frequently puerile.

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
8 months ago
Reply to  Geoff Wilkes

“The only argument is about whether it’s a good idea to have a Head of State who is a citizen of another country.”
Honestly it never occurred to me that the King is a citizen of the UK. I don’t think he is.

Geoff Wilkes
Geoff Wilkes
8 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

Silly debating point. If he’s not a citizen of the UK, what is he? One of the much-despised, unpatriotic “anywheres”? The same question applied to Elizabeth II of course.
More importantly, if he’s not a citizen of Australia, why is he our Head of State?

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
8 months ago
Reply to  Geoff Wilkes

Because that’s the Australian tradition, enshrined in the Constitution? It’s not just a matter of complacency in accepting the status quo.. The majority of Australians now are descended from people who migrated since federation. They chose to settle in Australia, knowing that the titular head of state was not a citizen.
As you’ve pointed out, they don’t care.

Geoff Wilkes
Geoff Wilkes
8 months ago

Not buying the “descendants of monarchist immigrants” line. It doesn’t matter what the dead thought, it matters what the living think.
But again, most of the latter don’t feely strongly either way, so perhaps we can now close this correspondence with reciprocal expressions of esteem.

Josh Allan
Josh Allan
8 months ago

In Canada, polling suggests immigrants are the demographic most in favour of keeping the monarchy.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
8 months ago

Who cares if Australia is a republic or monarch? I live in Canada, and I don’t care either way. Hell, many Brits probably don’t care either way. If your political leaders are passionate about this issue either way, that’s a real problem IMO. This kind of thing is a distraction.

Ian McKinney
Ian McKinney
8 months ago

If I was the King I’d be tempted to do a ‘Brazil’ and move there.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Ian McKinney

Given his ‘woke’ behaviour, ‘we’ would be well rid of him.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
8 months ago

Provocation? It will be interesting to see how many rise to the bait. Forty years ago, a comment like this would have produced uproar. Today? We will see but I suspect it will provoke little beyond a weary apathy even in a right leaning website like UnHerd. In reality, I suspect the monarchy should be more concerned with its position in Britain than in Australia, since the latter is a lost cause in the long run. It needs to acquire an acknowledged purpose or role in British society beyond mere self preservation and the excuse for some tourist pleasing pageantry.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

You are correct!
Dismal failure. One can but try!

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
8 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

“It needs to acquire an acknowledged purpose or role in British society beyond mere self preservation and the excuse for some tourist pleasing pageantry.”
Agreed – the monarchy should reassert its constitutional role. In the same way that (I think) it is plainly obvious that constitutional changes to disempower the Lords have not resulted in better legislation, the same could be said for the Queen’s one-time role in forming governments, etc.

Last edited 8 months ago by Kirk Susong
William Amos
William Amos
8 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

Can I suggest that you are correcting, rather than agreeing, with the previous poster. You rightly emphasise that the Crown needs to reassert it’s constitutional role rather than, as the Mr Carnegie put it, ‘acquire a purpose’.
A subtle but crucial distinction in my opinion.
The Crown in Parliament is the life and breath of our commonwealth. It is the vessel of our history, the seal of legitimacy, the witness of time, the font of honour, the context of our common understanding for over a thousand years.
The question is whether such ideas as these still have relevance. If they do the Crown will endure.

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
8 months ago

Suggestion for the article picture:
Both – “I won’t be seeing you again!”

0 0
0 0
8 months ago

If given a choice between a absentee, hereditary head of state and elected one that corrupt and moral compromised politician for such a role, I chose the first over the second.