9 September 2022
I cannot say I ever met the Queen, or that she had a clue who I was, so if you are looking for that, read no further.
I was at the Coronation amazingly enough, as my father went to England to study surgery and I was taken to the parade and was apparently old enough to wave a flag, but not old enough to remember doing so. (No sums please).
A friend from school, whose father was a parson and who was a very decent fellow went to London for life experience and got a lowly place at a respected PR firm. It turned out that the PR firm did the PR for the Queen and he was attached to the small unit that did it. His major boss was promoted to head the whole organisation and the next boss left suddenly and he, at a relatively young age became the Queen’s personal PR agent.
He was there for some years then came back to Australia, as he wanted his kids to grow up as Aussies. He was much admired for his work there and was naturally quizzed at some length about how things worked. He said that the Queen was very hard working and always very thoroughly briefed about everyone she was meeting, both their personal background the political or social issues that they were interested in. He said she was astute, conscientious, kind and decent. But she was not a Pollyanna. She was realistic about people. If they were silly, she would tacitly acknowledge this as she sought a strategy to deal with the situation. He was very discrete about specifics and did not mention that he was rushed back to London to deal with the Royal fallout from Diana’s famous TV interview, but he did let one significant issue slip. He was asked about the Queen’s attitude to Australia becoming a Republic.
You may recall that a majority of Australians wanted Australia to be a Republic but they were split over whether the President should be a figurehead like a Governor-General or Queen, or whether he/she should have executive powers as in the USA. John Howard therefore arranged that Electors were asked on 6 November 1999 whether they approved of:
A proposed law: To alter the Constitution to establish the Commonwealth of Australia as a republic with the Queen and Governor-General being replaced by a President appointed by a two-thirds majority of the members of the Commonwealth Parliament.
This naturally split those who wanted a Republic into those who wanted a President appointed by Parliament and those who wanted an elected President. This carefully crafted split allowed the No vote to win.
The Queen apparently felt that it was inevitable that Australia should become a Republic and that it should stop silly-shallying with it and get on with it as Canada had done. Naturally she did not say so, and my friend, who has since died would roll over in his grave if he knew that I was taking the role of a gossip columnist in writing this.
But I believe this story to be true, significant and a tribute to the Queen’s realism.
My view is that we should have a President who is non-executive, and we need major constitutional change as to how Parliament works at the same time. The latter half may be a hard ask.
But there is no doubt that the Republican debate is coming soon.