The visit Down Under by the infant Prince George, accompanied by his parents, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, was a great success. Leading republican campaigners in Australia are conceding that the monarchy is safe there for years to come, as Australians reveled in the pomp of the royal tour, the 50th in the history of the "Lucky Country."
The debate to replace the British monarch with a homegrown head of state has been raging here for several years, although a referendum in 1999 clearly backed the current constitutional arrangements. For those in favor of turning Australia into a republic, the argument is often presented in terms of simply wanting an Australian to be able to occupy the highest position in the country rather than a foreign import. Unfortunately, this view fails to reflect the widespread affection that many Australians feel toward Queen Elizabeth II and, increasingly, the junior members of the royal family.
Prince William endeared himself to many Australians when he remarked last week that both he and his brother, Prince Harry, would be attending the centenary of the Gallipoli landings, an important event in Australian history when Australian soldiers attempted to seize the Dardanelles and take the Ottoman Empire out of World War I. Meanwhile, Duchess Kate resonated with many Australian mothers when she made reference to George's noticeable plumpness and let it be known that the 9-month-old was a grumpy flier.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott made clear his own personal belief in the long-term security of the monarchy when he remarked that Prince George would one day return to Australia as king.
The 19-day trip to Australia and New Zealand demonstrated the importance that Buckingham Palace places on the continued success of the monarchy as a global force. Given the rocketing popularity of William and Kate since their wedding, putting them and their newborn son front and center appears to have been an excellent tactical move. The arguments for an Australian republic, which were growing in number and volume in the 1990s, appear now to be a thing of the past, relegated well down the list of priorities for any future government in Canberra.
Underlying the debate over whether to replace the monarchy, however, is a deeper and subtler question about how important Australia's past is to its future. The symbols and traditions that link it to Britain reflect hundreds of years of evolving relations between the former colony and its founding nation. Establishing a republic is only one aspect of this historical reality. For example, the question of whether to "update" the Australian flag, which prominently features a Union Jack, is voiced occasionally. In recent weeks, the statement by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key that his country should change its "post-colonial" flag has resonated among some Australians disgruntled at any remaining connections to Britain.
The question, of course, then becomes what to replace the current Australian flag with. One suggestion in serious discussions by opponents of the Union Jack is a picture of a kangaroo. Nice!
Interestingly, the majority of New Zealanders oppose any change to their flag. Prime Minister Key faces the voters again in September and has said that regardless of the opposition, he intends to address the question of the flag if he wins re-election. There is precedent for such a change. In 1965, Canada switched from its own post-colonial flag to the current one with the iconic maple leaf.
For Australians dreaming of a royalty-free republic, their country seems to be drifting in a completely different direction. Just last month, Abbott, who was born in London, announced that the awarding of knights and dames would be reinstated after 28 years, further reinforcing the country's ties to Britain. The first two were awarded to the outgoing governor general and the incoming governor general, who acts as Queen Elizabeth's personal representative in the country. All honors are to be approved by the queen upon her receiving recommendations from the Australian prime minister.
It is somewhat surprising, actually, given the highly dubious track records of "republics" in the 19th and 20th centuries, that informed and considerate people should reflexively think that a republic is a clear improvement over a constitutional monarchy. Putting the United States to one side, are the numerous republics of Latin America and Africa really a bastion of human rights and compassionate governance when compared with Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands?
The real issue here is the importance of genuine historical context and connectivity during a time when globalization and commercialism are homogenizing the world around us more and more each year. Australia has had its own unique journey through the past two centuries. This authentic history shouldn't be discarded in favor of one currently thought to be trendier or more fashionable.
Timothy Spangler is a writer and commentator who divides his time between Los Angeles and London. His radio show, "The Bigger Picture with Timothy Spangler," airs every Sunday night from 10 p.m. to midnight Pacific time on KRLA AM 870. To find out more about Timothy Spangler and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.