Why knighting Prince Philip may encourage Australia to embrace Republicanism

As a Pom currently residing Down Under, I’ve been asked by a few Aussies what my thoughts are on the perplexing news that Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott yesterday chose to honour Prince Philip with a Knighthood.

Yes, the Queen’s loyal hubby can now add ‘Knight of the Order of Australia’ to his numerous titles, leaving ordinary Australians shaking their heads in disbelief at this grand gesture towards the old colonial master.

That Abbott chose to bestow this honour upon a foreign royal on Australia Day, the nation’s national day of celebration of all things Australian (except Aboriginal culture, but that’s a whole other blog), has not been lost on many Australians. Upon realising it isn’t a joke, the majority of Australians have reacted with outrage, disbelief and/or anger that no Australian was judged to be worthy of the esteemed title.

I, on the other hand, have watched with a detached bemusement as the increasingly unpopular Prime Minister of Australia seems to dig himself deeper in to a ‘won’t be re-elected’ shaped hole. For those who are unfamiliar with Australia’s current Prime Minister, think conservative and royalist. (He’s also increasingly gaffe-prone which may be why he feels such an affinity with Prince Philip. But I digress…)

Abbott’s popularity is sliding in the polls, and the media here are widely predicting that his Liberal National Party is on course to be a one-term parliament, due to their inability to connect with the ordinary Australian. So awarding a Knighthood, on Australia Day, to Prince Philip, is, at best, surprising; at worst, political suicide.

Today, Australia is, once again, a nation embarrassed by its Prime Minister.

The interesting part of this story, however, is that it reignites the monarchy vs republic debate. Being a Brit, most Aussies expect me to be wholly in support of keeping the monarchy in Australia. In fact, I think the opposite. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-monarchy. I love the Queen, Kate and Wills, and spent a great deal of time last year cooing over photographs of Prince George. The monarchy defines what I love (and miss) about Britishness and I for one hope they stick around in Britain forever.

But Australia isn’t Britain. It is, in fact, a curious place, one which is still figuring out its identity. Britishness is a part of this, but I’d argue that its influence is waning. When I arrived on these sunny shores over a decade ago, I, in my ignorance, expected Australia to be Britain in the sunshine (an attitude many Brits still think to be the case). I was wrong. If you’re looking for comparisons, Australia is actually significantly more Americanised than it is British, with a heavy Asian influence. But more than that, Australia is Australian. It is unique. And, language similarities aside, it simply isn’t that British. So isn’t it time to lose the British monarchy?

And yet. The media reporting here on the Royal family is frenzied in comparison to the UK. Kate appears on every magazine; Harry’s antics are routinely scrutinised and every TV channel proudly crosses to their ‘Royal Correspondent in London’ at the merest whiff of a story. But I, as a Brit, one who loves everything British, often sit there and wonder, ‘why do Australians care about these people?’

The truth is, apart from sporting rivalries and Neighbours, the Brits don’t give two hoots about Australia. I’ve scoured the British press today and there’s scant mention of this story. In fact, again, apart from sport, Australia barely gets mentioned by Britain – ever. The relationship between the two countries is heavily skewed – Australia the minion looking up in awe at its nonchalant master. And as a Pom, married to an Aussie, and raising my children to be half British, half Australian, I have to say that Australia deserves better than to be seen as an insignificant cast off of the Old Country. Australia should be standing firm with its own identity and breaking these links with its colonial past. It certainly should not be rewarding a British royal (and a widely mocked one, at that) with a knighthood.

Britain is a proud part of Australia’s history, but it has little impact upon modern Australia. The backlash against Abbott’s actions yesterday suggests that Australians are starting to think that way too.

It seems that, by bestowing a Knighthood on Prince Philip, Abbott may have inadvertently steered Australia on to the course for Republicanism.

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Oh Tony Abbott. Not again.

I haven’t posted here about Tony Abbott’s comments yesterday yet, mainly because I was a bit lost for words.

I was lost for words, but I wasn’t surprised.

Is it a bad thing when you aren’t surprised that the Prime Minister of the country you are living in inadvertently says something demeaning about women again?

I think it probably is.

Sigh.

I’m so tired of reading about these regular faux pas that I haven’t even read any of the internet backlash yet. I suspect it is fierce.

So, let’s recap. As well as being the current Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott is the self- appointed ‘Minister for Women’. Many an eyebrow was raised when he announced this appointment due to his chequered history of making somewhat careless remarks about women and their role in society (I could list these, but this web page sums it up pretty well).

Yesterday, Lisa Wilkinson, the very successful journalist and TV presenter, asked Tony Abbott what he had done for women in his first 100 days since becoming Minster for Women.

His reply?

He got rid of the carbon tax, which was good for women, because, and I quote, “as many of us know, women are particularly focused on the household budget.”

Oh Tony.

Do we really have to go here again?

Really?

Look. We can see that Tony’s comment was off the cuff. He wasn’t expecting the question, and this was a particularly terrible answer to give. But the problem is he keeps saying this stuff. Over and over. And it is a bit offensive. I heard this latest comment, and my first thought was ‘Does he really think the family budget is the most important issue to women in Australia? He’s a f@*king idiot.’

I don’t want to think that the leader of the country where I am raising my children is a f@*king idiot.

And this is what annoys me about Tony Abbott. He’s NOT an idiot. He’s a Rhodes Scholar, for goodness sake. I am acquainted with a Rhodes Scholar who works for the United Nations. This guy is currently working on a border dispute in South America. SERIOUS INTELLECTUAL STUFF.

I also still hold out hope that Abbott, the father of two daughters, isn’t actually sexist (although you’re really not helping me here, Tony).

Part of Abbott’s problem is a wider issue with Australian politics–that politicians feel that they need to talk down to the public if they want to stand any chance of getting voted in. God forbid that they’d appear out of touch, so instead they go out of their way to relate every comment back to ‘ordinary Australians’.

Add to this that the news here is reported in such a manner that only one sentence from a political speech makes an edited bulletin, and politicians also become addicted to soundbites, trying to explain a complex policy in just three words so ‘ordinary Australians’ can understand it (‘Stop the boats’ anyone?). The assumption is that the bulk of the population is ignorant.

This is the way Abbott has learnt to speak as Prime Minister – by over generalising, soundbiting and stereotyping – so we can’t be surprised when he comes out and unintentionally says things that patronising. In fact, no one is surprised. I assume most people reading his comments thought, “Oh no, what’s he said this time?” (He’s a bit like the Australian version of Prince Phillip, only not as funny).

God, I wish he’d stop the sweeping statements and the overgeneralisations. Every time he tries to talk down to us average Joes, it’s embarrassing in a dad-dancing-at-a-wedding kind of way, because he’s obviously not very good at it. So please Tony, just stop it. You’d never hear Obama talking about ‘the housewives of America doing the ironing’, would you? If Obama can communicate his ideas clearly and eloquently, surely Tony’s media team and speechwriters could pick up a few tips?

However, I would argue that this lazy stereotyping isn’t even the most disappointing thing about this entire debacle.

For me, it that fact that Tony Abbott couldn’t think of another achievement that his government, and he, as Minister for Women, has achieved for the women of Australia. Doesn’t that, in itself, speak volumes?

And THAT’s the issue. THAT’s what women across Australia should be angry about. Frankly, we deserve better.

For the record, as a mum who, yes, manages the family budget, (yes! I am one of Tony’s dream demographic!) and I can tell you that I don’t give a stuff about the government getting rid of the carbon tax. I think most mothers would actually forfeit the extra $50 a month if it means their children and grandchildren could grow up in a world that isn’t choking to death on its own toxic atmosphere.

What I’d really like is the Minister for Women to be making a difference to issues that really affect women – the gender paygap; the woeful lack of convictions in rape cases; the oversexualisation of young women in the media; a generation of women who left the workforce to take on caring responsibilities who are now living in poverty in retirement; childcare options that allow women to return to work without having to sacrifice over half their salary (as I have to) to do so. And that’s just off the top of my head, Tony.

So Prime Minister – let’s be honest, you’ve got a country to run. I think it’s time to hand over the Minister for Women baton to someone who knows about women’s stuff and has the time and dedication to tackle issues that affect women every day.

Maybe, even, a woman, perhaps?