Paul Bongiorno: King Charles’ coronation is a last hurrah for Australian monarchy

10 News First – Disclaimer

When Anthony Albanese arrives in London on Tuesday to attend the coronation of King Charles III, he does so as an Australian Prime Minister with an official agenda to sever what has become an outdated and demeaning constitutional link.

Just how outdated the British monarchy has become will be on display in the magnificent 900-year-old pageantry in Westminster Abbey this weekend.

At the heart of the ceremony will be the out-of-sight anointing of the King as God’s chosen, a medieval remnant of the Divine Right of Kings.

What won’t be beamed around the world is Australia’s inability to assert our status as a truly contemporary, independent sovereign nation owing “humble affection” and “obedience” not to the heir to the former colonial power but to the people of Australia.

National embarrassment

Mr Albanese is acutely aware of the embarrassment of leading a nation that depends on the parliament of another country to determine who its head of state is and whose representative in Australia has the power to deceptively dismiss a democratically elected government.

There is nothing to stop another deeply flawed individual trashing decency and convention like Sir John Kerr in 1975.

The publication of The Palace Letters revealed the extent of the palace’s connivance in Sir John Kerr’s treachery, and Prince Charles’ praise for the viceroy’s actions.

Such a government dismissal is something the monarch in London would never dare aware that, unlike in Canberra, Britain can abolish the Crown by an act of parliament and there is historic precedent for it.

In many ways the coronation of Charles is a crossroads moment for a very different Australia to the one that came into existence in 1901 and the one that passed up the opportunity for self-respect and constitutional maturity in 1999.

If the Prime Minister has his way, it will be something of a last hurrah for the “King of Australia”.

This is a view strongly supported by Indigenous Australian Olympian and former senator Nova Peris.

Ms Peris says Saturday “should be marked as the last time a monarch is crowned as king or queen of Australia”.

“Australians are now well and truly ready to embark on a more equal future where all Australians are treated equally under our Constitution,” Ms Peris said.

Support falls for monarchy

A new poll commissioned by the Australian Republican Movement found only 40 per cent of Australians supported the monarchy of King Charles.

Rather, 60 per cent of respondents said they wanted an Australian head of state chosen by Australians, a figure that rose to 69 per cent for those aged between 18 and 35.

Mr Albanese has appointed an assistant minister for the republic and nominated a second term to progress the project that is critical to the way Australians will think of themselves for the rest of the 21st century.

The comments of Robert French in 2008 before he became Chief Justice of the High Court sum up the dreadful reality of the current situation.

Sir John Kerr

Sir John Kerr, the governor-general, sacked Gough Whitlam in 1975. Photo: AAP

Robert French said: “It is unacceptable in contemporary Australia that the legal head of the Australian state, under present constitutional arrangements, can never be chosen by the people or their representatives, cannot be other than a member of the Anglican Church, can never be other than British and can never be an Indigenous person.”

‘Essentially nostalgic’

Barry Jones, who was deputy chair of the 1998 Constitutional Convention before the republic referendum, sees the success of the Voice referendum as a precursor to another republican attempt.

Writing in The Saturday Paper shortly after the death of Queen Elizabeth, he said: “Aboriginal reconciliation and the republic are inextricably linked. The monarchist cause is essentially the last expression of White Australia: Its rhetoric, culture, ceremonials, politics and the habit of deference. It is a static, essentially nostalgic position in a society that, although dynamic in some ways, is uncertain how to express itself.”

It is no accident that those who are opposed to an Australian republic, like John Howard, Tony Abbott and Peter Dutton, are also dead against the sort of constitutional recognition that gives First Nations’ people any sort of dignified say that cannot be extinguished at whim – the essence of the Voice.

Mr Howard’s abolition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission in 2005 did irreparable damage in remote communities, as Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson recently reminded us.

It is no surprise that whitefella paternalism still beats strongly in many hard hearts.

It’s also instructive that the Prime Minister’s official release ahead of the visit spent two paragraphs noting his attendance to represent Australia “at the Coronation of His Majesty The King and Her Majesty The Queen Consort” and seven paragraphs talking of trade and defence agreements between our two nations.

Very proper, of course, but also a very appropriate reality check.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with more than 45 years’ experience covering Australian politics

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