17.08.2022 Author: Petr Konovalov

The Authority of the British Monarchy in Australia Continues to Fall


On August 2, 2022, a scandal occurred in the Senate of Australia – the upper house of parliament. One of its members, a representative of the Green Party Lidia Thorpe during her taking the oath of office as a senator called the British Queen Elizabeth II, who is the formal head of Australia, a colonizer. President of the Senate Sue Lines demanded that Thorpe read the oath again, without adding extra words to the official text. After a short pause, Lidia Thorpe fulfilled the requirement of the President of the Senate, taking the oath again without her own additions. This incident demonstrated the increase of the negative attitude of a considerable proportion of Australian society towards the British monarchy.

It is important to note that Lidia Thorpe was the first representative of the aboriginal (indigenous) population of Australia in the history of the country who received the status of senator. Preserving memories of the hard times of colonialism, as well as honoring the memory of past generations of Aboriginal Australians who suffered during the colonization of the fifth continent by the British, Thorpe has a negative attitude to the role of the British monarchy in modern Australia. According to her, the current coat of arms and flag of the country symbolize colonization and do not represent all the peoples who live in Australia. Consequently, the state symbols should be changed. And Thorpe considers the abolition of the monarchy to be her primary task as a senator.

Many indigenous Australians have a negative opinion of the British crown at the head of their state, since for them it is a reminder of their oppression in the past. For several centuries, until the middle of the XX century, the Aboriginal Australians were seriously restricted in their rights, and the Australian leadership, consisting exclusively of persons of European origin, pursued a nationalist policy and made openly racist statements against the indigenous population. For example, John Bleakley, who served as director of the Department of Indigenous Affairs from 1914 to 1942, stated that the main purpose of his organization was not only to protect “savages” from arbitrariness on the part of white Australians, but also to help protect the white race from the danger posed by “backward nationalities”. At the end of the 19th century, indigenous Australians were used as extremely cheap labor necessary for the development of new lands. The working conditions of the Australian Aborigines could only be compared with those of slaves. If at the beginning of the XIX century there were about 100 thousand indigenous Australians living in Australia, then according to the results of the population census in 1901, the number of representatives of indigenous peoples amounted to 26.5 thousand people with 3.8 million total inhabitants of Australia.

White Australians, who have now radically rethought the history of their country, are no less skeptical about the institution of the monarchy, as they have come to understand that royal rule is a reminder of historical injustice. Today, more than half of Australians support the idea of introducing a republican form of government in the country. Back in 1999, a referendum was held in Australia, where only 55% of residents supported the preservation of the monarchy.

As you know, for centuries Britain has been one of Russia’s main geopolitical rivals. London did everything possible to limit the spread of Russian influence in the world. But rethinking their own history is gradually leading to a reassessment of the history of other countries, without relying on the opinion of London. Thus, the Australian society is gradually ceasing to consider Russia as a force that poses a danger to Australia. A considerable contribution to the increase in the growth of consciousness of the population is made by the Union of Cossacks of Australia, whose main activity is aimed at spreading reliable information about Russia’s foreign policy. Also, a large Russian-speaking community, formed mainly from immigrants from the former USSR countries who moved to Australia in the 1990s, has a tangible impact on Australian public sentiment.

Many Australians revere the exploits of the Soviet people who suffered heavy losses and made a decisive contribution to the victory over Nazism in 1945. For example, on May 9, 2021 in Sydney, the Australian MP for New South Wales, Marjorie O’Neill, took part in the celebrations to mark the Soviet victory in World War II and laid flowers at the Soviet Soldiers Memorial, wearing St George’s Ribbon.

However, the current realities do not allow Australia to abandon the monarchy in the near future, as the country is currently in a rather difficult geopolitical situation. First of all, this is due to the fact that Australia is trying to maintain its influence in a strategically important region – Oceania, where there are 11 sovereign small island states that can turn away from Australia at any moment and adopt a pro-Chinese position. The containment of China, including in the South Pacific, has become one of the key goals of the creation in 2021 of the AUKUS trilateral defense alliance consisting of Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. The consequence of the appearance of this organization was the strengthening of the control of the United States and its allies in the Pacific Ocean. Despite the anti–monarchical public sentiment in Australia, the country’s leadership understands that the introduction of a republican form of government may be perceived as an unfriendly gesture towards one of the closest allies in AUKUS – the United Kingdom. In this regard, the prospect of the abolition of the monarchy in Australia will become more real only if the situation in Oceania becomes less tense.

In accordance with the charter of the Commonwealth of Nations headed by the British monarch, which includes Australia, the United Kingdom, as well as most of its former colonies, the refusal of the participating country from royal rule implies an automatic withdrawal from this international organization. Nevertheless, a state that has become a republic has the right to appeal to the member countries of the Commonwealth of Nations with a request to remain in this international association. If Australia decides to change its state system, it will most likely retain its membership in the Commonwealth of Nations, as Canberra maintains close trade and economic ties with many member states of this organization, including India, New Zealand and the small island countries of Oceania.

So, in the foreseeable future, Australia is likely to abandon the monarchy and switch to a republican form of government. The Australian public is psychologically ready for the big changes. There is one little thing left: to hold a new referendum on the abolition of royal rule. However, this is unlikely to be possible in the very near future, given the difficult circumstances associated with the current world situation.

Petr Konovalov, a political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.