To be fair to the Hon. Dame Quentin Bryce AD, CVO, no Labor politician has been allowed to be a monarchist since 1991, with Joe Bullock being the exception that proves the rule. (Sen. Bullock is the exception that proves many a rule in the Labor Party.) So perhaps she thought that, if someone has to be Governor-General, it may as well be someone who can spend five years with her tongue planted firmly in her cheek. I get that.
Coming out loudly as a republican during her lame duck General-Governorship, however, was tacky at best. All the sadder because, until then, she’d executed her vice-regal position with exceptional taste—and not only because she might’ve taken her wardrobe from a Buckingham Palace Salvos drop.
But these things happen. Apparently. We can place Dame Quentin along with Colin Firth in the Monarchist Impersonators Hall of Fame.
The real loss of credibility came when she (in Tony Abbott’s words) ‘carefully considered and was happy to accept’ the first Australian Damehood since 1986. As it was to be customary for G-Gs to be knighted, Mr Abbott was obliged to make the offer. But after publicly decrying the office of G-G and Australia’s monarchy, she mightn’t have been so obliged to accept yet another royal honour.
Say what you want about Prince Phillip; at least we can be relatively sure he’s a monarchist. Sure, being a professed monarchist probably isn’t sufficient for deserving a knighthood, but maybe it should be necessary. Anyone can be more Catholic than the Pope if the Pope isn’t Catholic.
But in fact, Dame Quentin belongs to a proud tradition of Aussie republicans who’ve been completely seduced by the trappings of royalty.
On January 26th Rupert Murdoch AC, KCSG tweeted, ‘Abbott knighthood a joke and embarrassment. Time to scrap all honours everywhere, including UK.’ That apparently includes neither his Companion of the Order of Australia, conferred by Her Majesty, nor his Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory the Great, awarded by the (presumably Catholic) Pope.
The latest offender is Mike Baird. At the beginning of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first visit to Australia, the newly-minted NSW Premier went completely out of his way to tell reporters, ‘Ultimately I do hold a long-term republic view.’ Which is rather like waiting at the airport gate with a sign that reads, ‘Go through customs like the rest of the limeys.’ Yet when Their Royal Highnesses finally touched down, Mr Baird gushed to the Sydney Morning Herald: ‘This afternoon I’ll have [the opportunity] to actually meet the royals. It’s something I never thought I’d do… I love the young royals, because they represent hope. We love to hear a story about a prince marrying a princess and that’s happened in this case.’
Spoken like a true fanboy.
And was anyone surprised at this point to see Mr Baird ever at Prince Harry’s heels during his recent public appearances? Captain Wales is a big boy with a big entourage. Surely Mr Baird wasn’t needed, and probably he wouldn’t have been missed.
By the by, you won’t find many ardent monarchists at a royal visit. Mostly we can’t be arsed to stand in a restless crowd of thousands for three hours just to catch a fleeting glimpse of a princely ear. Maybe that’s wrong; maybe we should be first in line to pay our respects to the visiting royal. But most monarchists have well gotten over the monarchy’s fairy-tale allure. We have a strong partition in our brains between storybook Cinderella tales and the grueling day-to-day duties of the Windsors.
You’re far more likely to find card-carrying republicans like Mr Baird, who just can’t resist the trappings of the monarchy they so oppose on paper. We’ve yet to meet one who doesn’t melt into a pool of obsequious purple goo at the first sight of some Royal Highness.
The next time Malcolm Turnbull starts fidgeting on the front bench, the Prime Minister should offer him a knighthood ‘for tireless service to the republican cause’. I’ll break the bank wagering he’d accept it without the faintest inkling of irony.