Peter FitzSimons republic Aussies aren’t ‘waiting like a pack of ghouls’ for the Queen’s death


The one question that captured Australia’s attention 23 years ago is back on the agenda – to the joy of avid republicans and the horror of passionate monarchists.

Coinciding with Queen Elizabeth’s 70th anniversary of being in the top job, the Albanese Government has appointed a minister for the republic, and it’s only a matter of time before Australians are going to be asked if they want to dump the royal family for good. 

It’s always been a fiery debate, with one prominent Australian monarchist accusing republicans of ‘waiting like a pack of ghouls’ for the Queen’s death.

Matt Thistlethwaite, the newly minted Assistant Minister for the Republic, said while a change is not a first term priority, it is ‘part of Labor’s long term vision for where we want to take Australia’.

With long drawn lines in the sand being reinforced, the support for a republic depends on which side you ask or, controversially, how the poll question is phrased. 

Even the term ‘head of state’ and who that title applies to has become a loaded one.

Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth at her Platinum Jubilee celebrations. Australian monarchists believe Charles won’t initially have the same support as his mother, but perceptions of him ‘will improve as people see that he behaves properly as King’

Charles and Camilla, the future King and Queen of England, pictured with Kate and William's youngest son, Louis, at the Platinum Jubilee celebrations.  The Australian Republic Movement (ARM) is led by journalist and author Peter FitzSimons who says 'If I had a dollar for every time somebody said to me or emailed me or came up to me on the street and said "I'm with you, but not until the Queen dies or abdicates", I'd be a thousand dollars to the good'

Charles and Camilla, the future King and Queen of England, pictured with Kate and William’s youngest son, Louis, at the Platinum Jubilee celebrations.  The Australian Republic Movement (ARM) is led by journalist and author Peter FitzSimons who says ‘If I had a dollar for every time somebody said to me or emailed me or came up to me on the street and said “I’m with you, but not until the Queen dies or abdicates”, I’d be a thousand dollars to the good’

There are two main monarchist groups in Australia, Australians for Constitutional Monarchy (ACM) and the Australian Monarchist League (AML).

Though they have the same aim – keeping the British royal family’s role in Australia – they differ over the nature of the positions of the Governor-General and the Queen.

In the republic corner, the heavy hitter is the Australian Republic Movement (ARM), led by journalist and author Peter FitzSimons. 

David Flint, national convenor of ACM since 1998, told Daily Mail Australia that ‘republicans are waiting like a pack of ghouls or vampires for the Queen to pass away, then they think they’re going to strike. That will not happen.’ 

FitzSimons, however, rejects the idea of republicans waiting around for the Queen to die so Australia can have a president. 

‘We at the ARM wish the Queen well. What an amazing thing, to have been on the throne for 70 years,’ he said.  

‘It feels like it was a celebration, but it also feels like these times won’t come again. I don’t think anybody thinks there will be a 75th (anniversary) like that.’ 

He said the focus on the Queen’s 70th anniversary will lead people to focus on her successor in waiting, Prince Charles. 

David Flint, national convenor of the Australians for Constitutional Monarchy (ACM) said after the Queen passes away 'there will be more fascination about the new Prince of Wales (William) and the children of the Prince of Wales. I don't think there will be any interest in Australia becoming a republic'. The Cambridges (above) are pictured at Platinum Jubilee celebrations

David Flint, national convenor of the Australians for Constitutional Monarchy (ACM) said after the Queen passes away ‘there will be more fascination about the new Prince of Wales (William) and the children of the Prince of Wales. I don’t think there will be any interest in Australia becoming a republic’. The Cambridges (above) are pictured at Platinum Jubilee celebrations

William and Kate on Manly Beach during their visit to Australia in 2014

William and Kate on Manly Beach during their visit to Australia in 2014 

‘I’ve been chair for seven years, and if I had a dollar for every time somebody said to me or emailed me or came up to me on the street and said “I’m with you, but not until the Queen dies or abdicates”, I’d be a thousand dollars to the good. 

‘My point it there is no doubt that we will get a surge once Australia leans in close and looks at King Charles.’

Poll

Should Australia ditch the royal family and become a republic?

  • Yes 99 votes
  • No 335 votes
  • Unsure 23 votes

Mr Flint acknowledges that Charles would not, initially at least, have the same support as his mother, but think that ‘will improve as people see that he behaves properly as King’. 

He said the royals’ line of succession and love of ceremony will help them endure as an official part of Australian life.

‘When the Queens passes away there will probably be the biggest retrospective ever in the world’s media, it will be enormous, and people will be fascinated by that,’ Mr Flint said.

‘Then will come the coronation (of King Charles) and people will be equally fascinated by this extraordinary ceremony. I think only two countries have coronations … Britain and Tonga.

‘There will be more fascination about the new Prince of Wales (William) and the children of the Prince of Wales. I don’t think there will be any interest in Australia becoming a republic.’

David Flint (pictured) said a referendum on Australia becoming a republic would be lost as it was in 1999

Rachel Bailes (pictured), became an ardent monarchist after doing a school project on Princess Diana

ACM convenor David Flint (left) said a referendum on Australia becoming a republic would be lost as it was in 1999. Rachel Bailes (right) became an ardent monarchist after doing a school project on Princess Diana, and believes the Albanese Government has overreached in appointing a republic minister

Lisa Wilkinson (left) is pictured with her husband Peter FitzSimons, who is the chair of the Australian Republic Movement

Lisa Wilkinson (left) is pictured with her husband Peter FitzSimons, who is the chair of the Australian Republic Movement

Rachel Bailes, who is on the AML’s national council, was aged six in 1999 when Australia last voted on whether or not to become a republic. 

Her parents both voted yes, but 55 per cent of Australians voted no and the proposal was soundly defeated, with the ACT being the only state or territory to back a republic. 

After doing a school project on Charles’ first wife Princess Diana, Ms Bailes became interested in the history of the monarchy in Australia and the royal family.

‘It was that raw, human compassion that in recent times the monarchy has embodied, with William and Harry passing on that legacy of Princess Diana,’ she said.  

Queen Elizabeth II is pictured after her coronation 70 years ago. She recently celebrated her Platinum Jubilee

Queen Elizabeth II is pictured after her coronation 70 years ago. She recently celebrated her Platinum Jubilee

Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh on the day of her coronation, Buckingham Palace, 1953

Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh on the day of her coronation, Buckingham Palace, 1953

Ms Bailes thinks Labor has overreached in appointing a republic minister. 

‘I’m not sure how much of a mandate there is for this politicised office,’ she said. 

‘This wasn’t front and centre (in the election). People weren’t thinking we might have this wholesale watershed moment with a change to a republic if we vote in one side or the other, because it was kept extremely quiet.’

But Mr Thistlethwaite said this is not the case. ‘I’ve been in this role for five years now. I was the shadow assistant minister for a republic. 

‘It’s been in (our) platform for well over a decade now that Labor supports Australia becoming a republic and if we’re elected to government that we would consult the Australian people and move towards holding a referendum in the future. 

‘It’s not a first term priority. In terms of constitutional reform the first term priority will be the (Indigenous) voice to parliament.’ 

FitzSimons said Mr Thistlethwaite’s appointment made him ‘exuberant to a level I cannot begin to describe.

‘This time it feels like everything is going our way. To have a minister for the crown devoted to removing the crown … there’s a confluence of factors going our way. 

‘We have the Queen completing 70 years, a strong sense that her era is drawing to a close – she’s in the deep twilight of her reign. 

Rachel Bailes said young Australians are inspired by the younger members of the royal family. 'You're seeing a lot of people who find figures such as William and Kate and even Meghan (above) and Harry quite refreshing, (with) the face of the monarchy modernising

Rachel Bailes said young Australians are inspired by the younger members of the royal family. ‘You’re seeing a lot of people who find figures such as William and Kate and even Meghan (above) and Harry quite refreshing, (with) the face of the monarchy modernising

William and Kate pictured with their children George and Charlotte. The Cambridges are central to ensuring the royal family's continued popularity

William and Kate pictured with their children George and Charlotte. The Cambridges are central to ensuring the royal family’s continued popularity  

Kate and William pictured with George and Charlotte

Kate and William pictured with George and Charlotte 

‘We wish her well and we wish her a long life. But 96 is old. She may be able to send herself a telegram (for turning 100), I hope she can.’

Public support for a republic is difficult to gauge as it is rarely polled, and when it is it can lead to vastly different results and arguments over how the question is phrased.

The most recent poll, published in the Sydney Morning Herald in January, found 54 per cent favoured a republic, 36 per cent were against and 10 per cent were undecided. 

An Essential poll in March 2021 found 48 per cent in favour and 28 per cent against, but an Ipsos poll two months earlier found just 34 per cent in favour and 40 per cent against. 

Mr Flint believes Essential ‘taints the question’.

‘They taint it by not just asking are you in favour of Australia becoming a republic, they add the words “with an Australian head of state”.’

Assistant Minister for a Republic Matt Thistlethwaite (left) shakes hands with Australian Governor-General David Hurley (right) during a swearing-in ceremony at Government House in Canberra, June 1, 2022

Assistant Minister for a Republic Matt Thistlethwaite (left) shakes hands with Australian Governor-General David Hurley (right) during a swearing-in ceremony at Government House in Canberra, June 1, 2022

It is one of the most contentious issues at the heart of the debate; whether or not Australia’s Governor-General – currently General David Hurley – is the head of state.  

Mr Flint is dismissive of the notion of head of state, saying ‘it’s such an obscure thing, only known to international lawyers and diplomats’.

But he adds that ‘the republicans have no other reason now (other than saying) we need an Australian as head of state. 

‘We say, we’ve already got that, the Governor-General is the head of state.’

FitzSimons sees it very differently. ‘When former US vice-president Mike Pence came out to Australia in 2018 he put out a tweet saying he’d had a wonderful afternoon with Queen Elizabeth II’s (then) representative to Australia, Sir Peter Cosgrove, Governor-General.

US vice-president Mike Pence (right) is pictured with his wife Karen (left). In 2018 Mr Pence referred to then Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove as Queen Elizabeth II's representative to Australia

US vice-president Mike Pence (right) is pictured with his wife Karen (left). In 2018 Mr Pence referred to then Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove as Queen Elizabeth II’s representative to Australia

‘It was absolutely correct in every particular. That is what goes out to the world. The American vice-president sits down with an Australian who is Queen Elizabeth II’s representative to us.’

Mr Thistlethwaite said it’s ‘not true’ that the Governor-General is Australia’s head of state.

‘The evidence of that is the fact that the Governor-General swears allegiance to the Queen. If you’re the head of state, you don’t swear allegiance to anyone … people swear allegiance to you. 

‘This means that (the Governor-General) is the Queen’s proxy here in Australia and she is our head of state.’

Ms Bailes said young Australians are inspired by the younger members of the royal family.  

‘You’re seeing a lot of people who find figures such as William and Kate and even Meghan and Harry quite refreshing, (with) the face of the monarchy modernising.

‘We’ve had a lot of uncertainty with the global pandemic, we’ve had a revolving door of prime ministers, and having that steady anchor in Queen Elizabeth II is a strong counterpoint for young people, a sense of stability and reliability.’ 

She said young people relating to the the monarchy is nothing to do with celebrity worship. ‘They’re the opposite of a celebrity.

‘With a celebrity it’s all about the hype, it’s all about appearance, it’s about maintaining relevance, being trendy.

Rachel Bailes, who is on the AML's national council, said the royal family bring a sense of 'stability and dignity'.  Prince Charles and his wife Camilla pictured at their wedding

Rachel Bailes, who is on the AML’s national council, said the royal family bring a sense of ‘stability and dignity’.  Prince Charles and his wife Camilla pictured at their wedding

‘Whereas with the royal family, there’s a sense of stability, dignity and that it’s a deeper service than just being trendy or fashionable.’

Ms Bailes recalled being on the streets of Sydney suburb Manly when William and Kate visited in 2014.

‘I remember thinking it was just going to be wild cheers and hysteria, but there was almost a sense of reverence and a sense that these people were here because they have a connection to us and they serve us. 

‘They’re not here because they’re celebrities or fashionable, it’s because they actually have a role to play in our country and they have a generational link to us through the ages because of the line of succession,’ she said.  

Another referendum on Australia becoming a republic is at least four years away, by which time it will be 27 years on from the 1999 referendum. 

Mr Flint is not impressed with the idea. ‘It’s silly of the (Labor) party to be considering a second referendum, but that’s their business if they want to. They will lose, there’s no doubt about that.’

Another referendum on Australia becoming a republic is at least four years away, by which time it will be 27 years on from the 1999 referendum. Pictured: The royal family at recent Platinum Jubilee celebrations

Another referendum on Australia becoming a republic is at least four years away, by which time it will be 27 years on from the 1999 referendum. Pictured: The royal family at recent Platinum Jubilee celebrations

Mr Thistlethwaite’s job is to prove him wrong. ‘The last time this was on the agenda was the late 1990s, so (it will be) close to 30 years. 

‘There’s a whole generation of Australians that aren’t aware of this issue and aren’t well versed in the arguments about it, a whole group of newly arrive migrants who weren’t around for the 1999 referendum. 

‘These are the people that we need to inform about our current constitutional arrangements and then discuss the fact that we can have an Australian as our head of state, the alternatives of how we do that and then hopefully a successful referendum.’

FitzSimons said he has refined his message over the last seven years and one that resonates is a character called Esmerelda he uses to illustrate his point.

‘Particularly with older Australians who are often monarchists, I say to them look to your granddaughter, Esmerelda.

‘She is one of the most extraordinary young Australians that ever was. She can aspire to do anything right now, bar one thing. 

The Queen is admired across the world for her unwavering dedication to the monarchy

The Queen is admired across the world for her unwavering dedication to the monarchy

‘She can aspire to cure cancer by the age of 27, win an Oscar by the age of 30, peace in the Middle East by 32 and rid us of Pauline Hanson by 35. 

‘But there is one thing this young Australian cannot aspire to be. She cannot aspire to be the head of state of Australia. 

‘Why? Because the Australian constitution, paragraph three, second page, specifically says you little Australians need not apply to be the head of state of this country. 

‘That’s reserved for the English royal family who have much bluer blood than you’ll ever dream of.’

Time will tell if he and Mr Thistlethwaite are right that change is on the way, or if Mr Flint and Ms Bailes are correct in thinking Australians are happy with the way things are.  

What will happen if Australia becomes a republic?

One of the main issues to be decided before a referendum is held will be what type of republic is on offer. 

This was a very divisive issue in the 1999 referendum, with many republicans voting no because the choice on offer – a president appointed by parliament – was not the one they favoured. 

Republic minister Matt Thistlethwaite will consult with all stakeholders, including monarchists, before deciding on what model is offered. It will be vital to find the model with the best chance of passing. 

The Australian Choice Model, proposed by the Australian Republic Movement (ARM), would allow every state and territory parliament to nominate one candidate for election to be Australia’s head of state. The federal parliament would be able to nominate up to three. 

There would then be a national election for Australians to decide which candidate should be head of state. 

The role, which has not as yet been given a title, would be ceremonial in nature, with limited powers to safeguard and maintain the constitutional order and resolve political gridlock. 

The head of state’s term would be five years with the possibility of one five-year extension. The election would be separate from federal elections to the House of Representatives and Senate. 

Another group, Real Republic Australia, supports a republic with a head of state elected directly by Australians, but not from a list decided on by politicians.

Sarah Brasch, the national convenor of a third group, Women for an Australian Republic, has criticised several aspects of the ARM model, including that it ‘says nothing about how campaigning is to be conducted and the extent to which campaigns would/should be publicly funded – or, alternatively, how much money candidates would be able to raise or fund themselves.’

Ms Brasch also said the ARM model implied that Australia ‘would become a federal republic with six state governors’  who are ‘representatives of the British monarch’. 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk