Sunday, June 09, 2013

Sunday Essay - the continuing allure of monarchy

A blogging colleague, a lawyer, was very upset at the way that Queensland barristers opted to return to the Queen's Counsel (QC) from Senior Counsel (SC) when given the choice. Apparently, only three opted to stay with SC. I'm not sure why he should have been surprised. The decision to replace QC with SC was imposed politically. Given a choice, people revert to the liked and familiar.

In retrospect, the best chance that the republicans had of abolishing the monarchy was during the Keating period. It is also clear, I think, that Mr Keating's determination to take away the familiar royal designations played  a major role in ultimately dooming the republican push.

As a practical example, when the Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists merged with the New Zealand equivalent, the College wanted to change its name to the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmology. Canberra told it that it could add New Zealand, but only if it dropped the Royal. That wasn't going to happen. Why should the College give up the Royal title? The merger went ahead, the name stayed the same, and was then changed later as the political winds shifted to allow it to retain Royal in the new title.

If Mr Keating and his fellow republicans had been more flexible, more accommodating, they might have had a chance of getting the substantive change through. Their problem was, I think, that the desire to achieve a republic was of itself as much about symbolism as substance. They fought and lost on the symbols. 

I mention this now in part because there is a new push by some in Australia for a republic. Yet at the same time, looking at both the mainstream and social media there is a continuing fascination with monarch. In Canada, the historian Christopher Moore is a dedicated republican. He struggles to understand why such an anachronism as the monarchy should stay in place, why there is so little desire to replace it.

I think that part of the answer is that monarchy is actually interesting. Only in the US where the president has become the monarch does presidency exercise a similar fascination. There, too, you have all the trappings of monarchy played out across screens in every household. I think, too, that part of the answer lies in the need for continuity, a desire to link present and past.

Here in Australia, prominent opposition leader and leading republican Malcolm Turnbull says that a republic won't come until the Queen dies. I thought that too, but that was at the height of the anti-Charles feeling. That has died down now, while the young royals have established a new bridge that extends beyond Charles. I can't see how the Queen's death will affect things. If anything, the consequent surge of emotion is likely to entrench the status quo.

I may be wrong, of course. I have been many times before! But I find it hard to see how the often pedestrian vision of a Australian republic might overcome the constantly changing allure of the alternative. 


Interesting piece in today's Financial Review (14 June 2013) on the change back to QC in Queensland.

The factual lead on the front page says in part:

The Queensland Attorney-General Jarrodd Bleijie, said the change would help barristers in Asia. Some Queenslanders believe SC is being confused with the law  firm role "special counsel" and that clients in Asia view QCs as more prestigious given their history of briefing silks from Britain.

Now I would have thought that this may be right or wrong, but it is testable. So, for example, the term senior counsel has indeed come to acquire wide usage in law firms for, for example, retired partners or other senior people not in standard roles.

Now when you go to the story itself (p33) all this drops away. The story itself has no analysis, just a stream of opinions.  


Scott Hastings said...

I see it the same as with the politicians- if you want change give me someone better than our incumbent.

Whom among today's crop of politicians would carry out the role of President-Monarch of Australia with half as much grace and dignity as Her Majesty?

Not sure why we need to pay for a Governor for each state though. Surely a GG is enough nod to the old ways?

Jim Belshaw said...

Not sure that the Governors cost much in the scheme of things, Scott. But each state is a separate jurisdiction under the crown.

Evan said...

I think the monarchy will fade as the anglo-celts make up a smaller proportion of our population. And how ridiculous Australia looks to other, younger, countries to be only sort of half self-ruled.

I want the discussion about monarchy to be a long one. I value parliament and westminster. I don't see an elected monarch as much of an improvement on an hereditary one. These kinds of discussion I don't think have even begun to surface let alone be intelligently discussed.

Jim Belshaw said...

MMM, Evan. Are you suffering from a cringe? The rest of the world doesn't really care. Still, you are right that we have barely begun to talk about the issues. But is anyone listening to the conversation?

Neil said...

The older I get the more I am drawn to what we -- and Canada and NZ and so on -- have.

Evan said...

I didn't say the rest of the world cared. They just think it amusing or a little sad perhaps.

Is anyone listening? I doubt it. It's just being presented as 'lets change the queen to a president'. I'd like to see it presented in a much more thoughtful way.

Jim Belshaw said...

Neil, I have read your changing views with interest over recent years. Maybe we are too old?

Actually, Evan, I don't think that they care one way or another! I agree with you on the more thoughtful discussion.