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.