The doubts over Prince Harry’s paternity have persisted, given that flame-red shock of hair that’s embarrassingly reminiscent of James Hewitt’s, but Prince William sure seems to be a chip off the old block. And I’m not just referring to his simpering chin and unfortunately premature baldness. According to recent news reports, he’s tried to repeat his father’s attempts to become Governor-General, which were so sensibly rebuffed by the Hawke Government in the 1980s. Which shows, if nothing else, that Prince Phillip’s aristocratic gaffe genes are expressing themselves in the third generation.
Sure, I can see the appeal from the princes’ perspective. If I had to grow up with the hounding of the British press, the restrictions imposed by a control freak queen and her out-of-touch consort, and worst of all, that weather, I’d have loved to head south to do a cushy stint in Yarralumla as well. In fact, if I were made king – and my lineage is English, so I’m probably legitimately 32,654,823nd in line to the throne – I’d permanently relocate Buckingham Palace to Australia. Not only would it kill the most potent republican argument, but my British subjects’ enthusiasm would remain undiminished – they’d follow my mundane Antipodean exploits just as avidly as they devour Neighbours and Home & Away.
But what an utterly misguided request to make. Charles was apparently offended by being turned down. One had offered to help, and one had had one’s offer thrown back in one’s face by that uncouth Australian prime minister. How wonderfully monarchical of him merely to assume that anyone would be happy to have a snotty-nosed toff turning up to open our flower shows. Well okay, so we generally get that anyway, given the kind of people who’re tapped for Governor-General – Peter Hollingworth, certainly. But a snotty-nosed English toff, though, would be too much to bear.
Wills, however, can almost be forgiven for reviving the idea, because our nation cast a vote eight years ago that emphatically endorsed governance by snotty-nosed English toffs. Why shouldn’t one come and do the job directly, instead of appointing a local subordinate to do it? From one perspective, it’s an admirable piece of personal service by an institution that doesn’t usually bother to leave its extensive collection of palaces for more than a few days at a time.
And thus we have the strange contradiction that emerges when John Howard steps forward to gently decline Wills’ offer. “Although I remain a supporter of our current constitutional arrangements, I do think the practice of having a person who is an Australian in every way and a long-term and permanent resident of this country is a practice I would not like to see altered,” he said. We like one of our own filling in for the gig, and shudder when the Crown itself offers to fulfil its constitutional role because it seems grossly inappropriate. But then we wouldn’t dream of giving an Aussie the role permanently. It really is a twisted piece of reasoning.
When John Howard has finally left the stage, there will doubtlessly be another referendum. All of his likely Liberal replacements are Republicans, and that will give us a bipartisan consensus that should enable us to avoid having our referendum hijacked by scaremongering over the model. The sheer inappropriateness of Prince William becoming Governor-General, though, should give all monarchists serious pause for thought. If we won’t let him do his job in person, because we want someone who has contributed to our society in the gig, what are we so afraid of when it comes to making the existing de facto arrangement permanent?