Harry and Meghan interview stirs debate about Australia becoming a republic

Royce Kurmelovs
·5 min read
<span>Photograph: Chris Jackson/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The tell-all interview given by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex hasn’t just rocked Buckingham Palace it has also reignited talk of Australian independence.

The former prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said it was time for Australians to consider breaking away from the commonwealth.

“Our head of state should be an Australian citizen, should be one of us, not the Queen or King of the United Kingdom,” Turnbull told ABC TV on Tuesday.

“We should be so proud of our country and our fellow countrymen and women that we should say only an Australian should be eligible to be our head of state. Only an Australian is eligible to be our prime minister, so why should it be any different?”

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The former prime minister discussed how the 1999 campaign for a republic went awry, but also said that while today many – including himself – were fans of Queen Elizabeth, few actually supported the monarchy.

“My view in 1999 was that if we voted no to the republic, we wouldn’t come back to the issue until after the end of the Queen’s reign,” Turnbull said.

“She’s been an extraordinary head of state, and I think, frankly, in Australia, there are more Elizabethans than there are monarchists.

“After the end of the Queen’s reign, that is the time for us to say – OK, we’ve passed that watershed and do we really want to have whoever happens to be head of state, the King or Queen of the UK, automatically our head of state?”

Monash University Prof Jenny Hocking, who wrote Gough Whitlam’s biography and The Palace Letters, said the “extraordinary” interview was one of several recent revelations about the inner workings of Buckingham Palace.

“It’s one of several instances recently where the veil of royal secrecy has been lifted and what you see there is not altogether pleasant,” Hocking told Guardian Australia.

“We have here a series of revelations in this interview with Meghan and Harry about activities within the palace, but there have been others lately, such as the Queen’s interference with legislation to ensure it does not negatively influence the Queen’s financial interests before it gets to parliament.

“One thing that comes out clearly is how much the royal family is a firm. It’s a family firm that keeps things in-house.”

Hocking said the interview, along with the revelations of the Queen’s veto option over proposed legislation and the High Court battle to release the palace papers, rightly raised questions about the future of the monarchy in Australia.

“What is the role of an inherited constitutional monarchy – an inherited role – in a modern democracy?” Hocking said.

“We have to address that question in terms of a hereditary head of state. Meghan made a really very poignant comment, in a very different context, but one that is relevant. That is about the need to be represented and to feel like you could achieve any position in society. She said ‘The one thing I teach Archie is that if you can see it you can be it’. This is applicable to us within Australia.

“[The monarchy] is neither representative of us, nor a position we can aspire to, because it comes from the hereditary blood.”

Philip Benwell, the national chair of the Australian Monarchist League, was quick to hose down any suggestion of independence, saying the Sussexes’ interview was “ill-advised” and “changed nothing” for Australians.

“If Malcolm Turnbull was such an ardent republican, why didn’t he push the issue while he was prime minister?” Benwell said.

Benwell said he did not believe the interview would translate into support for the republican movement.

“Talk on the republic will come and go,” the monarchist said. “Right now there is no interest in a republic out in the community. People are happy with the way things are. They’re only too happy we don’t have a rampant virus spreading everywhere. Their thoughts are on the safety of themselves and their family, and the economy, not on whether we should become a republic or not.

“The only way a formal move towards a republic will happen is when the people itself want it to, not when politicians like Malcolm Turnbull, or show-people and journalists like Peter FitzSimons say it will happen.”

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The monarchists may yet be in for a fight, according to Sandy Biar, the national director of Australia’s republican movement, who said the movement had seen the highest level of participation since 1999, with particular interest growing with the release of the palace papers.

Biar said he only expected those numbers to grow after the Oprah Winfrey interview highlighted the need for change.

“The interview really shows a family in crisis,” Biar said.

“A family in many respects that is out of touch with everyday Australians. We saw a sense of entitlement from Harry and Meghan and we saw a British monarchy not in step with modern Australia.

“Our head of state should be chosen on merit and their ability to do the best job for Australia rather than who their parents were. There’s no reason why Australia shouldn’t become a republic right now.”

Biar said his organisation had been working on a nationwide consultation process and hoped to announce the results in the second half of this year.