The Politics    Friday, June 3, 2022

The twilight of her reign

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese lighting the beacon for celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee in Canberra, June 2, 2022. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese lights the beacon for celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II’s platinum jubilee in Canberra, June 2, 2022. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

The Queen, Mabo and the impending culture war

The culture war over a republic has officially been reignited, with monarchists today hitting back at Labor’s decision to appoint an assistant minister for the republic, just as Queen Elizabeth II’s platinum jubilee begins. Opposition Leader Peter Dutton took a shot at Deputy PM Richard Marles on The Today Show this morning. “For Richard to give her praise and then elbow her off the stage – that is rough,” Dutton said. (Marles had said today was not the day to talk about a republic, and paid tribute to the monarch.) Nationals MP Michelle Landry has also made her displeasure known, suggesting that Labor wanted to change Australia’s “way of life”, noting our Westminster system is based on “the British model of responsible government”. (That doesn’t particularly gel with some of the parliamentary behaviour she has previously defended.) The timing of Matt Thistlethwaite’s appointment is slightly awkward for those in the government wanting to show respect to the 96-year-old as she celebrates 70 years on the throne, although there are no plans for a split anytime soon. But there is likely no timing that would have pleased the Australian Monarchist League, with chair Philip Benwell complaining this morning about the “undemocratic” appointment – a curious description, as journalist Max Opray noted, for a move to end the divine right to rule.

With all that in mind, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had an interesting line to walk last night at a jubilee celebration in Canberra, having just appointed a monarchy removalist. But he did it with grace, paying tribute to Queen Elizabeth II as a “rare constant”, while asserting Labor’s republican agenda and acknowledging that the relationship between the nations had changed. (Or, as News Corp’s youth outlet The Oz put it, “our ‘meh’ Jubilee message”.) “No longer parent and young upstart, we stand as equals,” Albanese said. “More importantly, we stand as friends.” Even while asserting his government’s desire for independence, he still somehow managed to be more respectful and personal than certain Liberal MPs, who posted cookie-cutter tributes on Twitter. Albanese also used the moment to commit to advancing reconciliation with First Nations peoples, a far higher priority than a republic for this government, as Thistlethwaite has explained, and a far more important tribute considering that today is also Mabo Day, and the 30th anniversary of the Mabo decision.

The intersection of the anniversary of the decision that overturned terra nullius and the Queen’s jubilee is another awkward one. Many people have in the past expressed discomfort when more attention is placed on celebrating the British monarch than on the profound moment that overturned the lie at the heart of our nation (one inherently tied up in the British monarchy). But there was no shortage of tributes to Eddie Mabo and his High Court victory today. (There were also many tributes to former chief justice Sir Gerard Brennan, who wrote the lead judgement in the case, and who died yesterday.) Greens senator Lidia Thorpe tweeted some of Mabo’s other achievements, including founding the Townsville Aboriginal legal service and demanding service at venues where First Nations people were banned, while country singer Troy Cassar-Daley added: “Mabo is a constant reminder that connection to country is real.” Michael Lavarch, the attorney-general in the Keating Labor government, writes that Labor didn’t go far enough in its support back then, arguing that the Uluru Statement from the Heart campaign can draw inspiration from Mabo. The ABC, meanwhile, reports that a group of Ngunnawal traditional owners have used the 30th anniversary to announce their intention to lodge a native title claim over the entire ACT and parts of NSW.

Becoming a republic has, for some time now, been seen as the less-urgent element of Australia’s journey towards reconciliation, with Labor repeatedly confirming that a voice to parliament is the priority. But that won’t stop conservatives from launching a rabid, pre-emptive defence of the Queen, warning that ditching the monarchy would tear apart the threads of the nation. Today’s anniversary – of the Mabo decision, not QEII’s reign – is a clear reminder of the importance of tearing certain threads apart.

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.

@rachelrwithers

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