The Knight of Oz knocks the Abbott of Oz for a Spill

Prince Philip, the 93 year-old Prince Consort of the Queen of England is hardly in need of another title and yet Tony Abbott, Australia’s Liberal prime minister and ardent monarchist, thinks he is and knighted him last year, along with an Australian airman and a brace of Dames. Australians don’t agree and it nearly cost him his job.

Australia’s constitutional arrangements, the benefits of a presidential system versus a parliamentary one and vice versa, have a relevance for many countries beyond Australia. They include not only Canada and New Zealand but 52 other Commonwealth countries qualifying as either democratic constitutional monarchies or republics. Thus, in Australia’s case, the Queen of England is not Queen of Australia but Elizabeth of Windsor is. She is represented there by a Governor General appointed by the prime minister of Australia every 5 years or so. All the Commonwealth states parliamentary or presidential are 100 percent sovereign and for the most part democratic, with their own flag and national trappings.

Tony Abbott is clearly not a fool nor a political simpleton, but he seems to have let his enthusiasms and the premiership go to his head rather. In this case, not only did he let his monarchist views nearly destroy his job as PM and damage his party but it could well prove a disservice to the royal cause he holds so dear. Earlier this month Abbott narrowly survived a ‘spill’ motion, the Australian term for a vote ousting an unwanted leader in the Liberal Party who, unlike the Labour Party, don’t as a rule go in for public political assassination preferring to do the dirty work in private.

Fortunately the House of Windsor is in reasonably good odour in Australia at the moment and the PM’s excess of ardour is likely to rebound on him, not them.

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Tony “I can take a joke” Abbott Australia’s PM mugs for the press The referendum of 1999 astutely managed by an earlier and much cannier Liberal prime minister with monarchist leanings, indicated that the majority of Australians were narrowly in favour of becoming a republic but not, if by doing so, they added another layer of bare-knuckle power politics to an already combustible mix. Since then the Windsors as a tribe have generally behaved themselves and the majority of Australians probably favour the status quo, at least until the death or abdication of Queen Elizabeth; certainly not before parliament can come up with a more popular republican model that’s not just more jobs for the boys. If the 1999 the referendum had asked Australians if they wanted to elect their own Head of State by direct popular vote, just as they do in the U.S., as opposed to being in the gift of the prime minister of the day, then it’s entirely possible Australia would be a republic today.

The traditional affection for the British connection and the British royal family with the traditional trappings, to the extent that it exists today, is largely felt by Australians over 50. New and younger Australians, in the main, feel such ties of kith and kin less strongly and are pretty much evenly divided between preserving the monarchy or becoming a republic, swinging either way depending upon how well the monarch and family behave, against how well their politicians are performing. To them, debate as to whether the Union Jack should figure on the national flag and just when and where “God Save the Queen” should be played and where the Queen’s portrait should hang in public, are pretty much non-issues. Even dubbing notable Australians Sirs and Dames might be okay but re-introducing a discarded honours system appears a retro step to most and as for knighting Prince Philip, with his 135 word-long title, that seems a bum-cringing step way too far. In any event the Canadians, who have their own quota of ardent republicans, not to mention the French and the indigenous, seem to be happy enough to rub along with Elizabeth of Windsor as their very own Queen of Canada.

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The rather chocolate-boxy semi-official portrait of the Queen that Tony Abbott and most Australians over 50 grew up with, painted by Australian artist Sir William Dargie in 1954 to commemorate the Royal Tour of Australia. So too, I suspect are the majority of Australians, for the time being at least, despite Abbott’s own goal. The Scots, independent or not, the Northern Irish, the Welsh and even the English themselves, are unlikely to dump the monarchy for a republic anytime soon, though that could well change were the Windsors to go bad on us en masse or come to be seen as a vulgar joke. It can happen, and nearly did, and not so long ago either.

The Queen herself is generally well liked and respected; same goes pretty much for Prince Philip with his characteristic non-PC mal mots. So what with the “Will & Kate, plus infant” road show playing well down under, until something better is devised it would seem the majority of her subjects, wherever they live, would rather remain as they are, with their own parliament as Sovereign, represented in the person of an apolitical monarch, and not run the risk of having a politician as Head of State. They can, after all, still vote the monarchy out. Good instinct, I’d say, at least for now. If he really wants to help, the Abbott of Oz should leave the monarchy game to the pros.

As for Prince Philip, a twice-born prince long before he became a Prince Consort, it is a less known fact that there was a time in his life, having set aside Greece and Denmark, when he had no titles at all and, having shucked off continental encumbrances in 1947 to marry Princess Elizabeth, he was simply a junior working sailor known as Lt. Philip Mountbatten, RN. It lasted just a day.