Her Majesty the Queen versus Steve Irwin

The Queen has just left my home town, and my veins are singing with royal joy.

My copy of What Crown Jewel Is That? remains on the passenger seat. My monarch-watching trousers are still hung over the balustrade. I can’t quite bring myself to wash them yet, retaining as they do the faint odour of a divine mandate to rule.

And they may yet get another run – I’ve heard a rumour that she might be back for Cup Day. I’ve heard a rumour that she’s part-gecko. I’ve heard a rumour that she might be riding Americain. I’m looking forward to having a fiver on her.

Sometimes, in writing articles, I say things like, “Hey, wouldn’t it be nice if cops didn’t punch people in the head for standing in the street?” And then other people say “WHY DON’T YOU JUST HAND OUR COUNTRY OVER TO STALIN AND BOB BROWN YOU ANARCHO-CHAMPION OF THE LEFT.”

I don’t like being called left-wing, basically because most people who call themselves left-wing are wicked annoying. As are most who call themselves right-wing. Unless they are birds discussing methods of penmanship. (Penbirdship? No, that’s the editor of The Punch.)

So if you thought I wanted to tear down all of our traditional societal structures and replace them with IVF clinics for Afghan whales, I’m going to have to disappoint. See, I quite like the Queen. In fact I’m all for her.

The last few days, we’ve been harvesting frames from the beehive at my house. It’s had me thinking. In many ways, Queen Elizabeth II is like the queen bees in our hives. I mean, she lays up to 2,000 eggs a day. A grille called a ‘queen excluder’ keeps her from the harvestable combs. When a rival queen emerges she will lead a swarm of followers to start a new hive in our next-door-neighbour’s plum tree.

And yet republicans in Australia don’t like her. They’re a weird bunch. They come out once in a while and try to get everyone stirred up, and fail, and leave in a cloud of disgruntled muttering. Imagine that at your next house party, half a dozen people suddenly proposed that you all join a passionate campaign to bring back Young Talent Time, hosted by some Australian Idol wash-up.

Well, sure, you say. You… could do that. It could even be achieved. But why the hell would you bother?

Australian republicans don’t realise that they are purely ornamental. Like rubber vine leaves in your water feature (why not just have a real vine?). Like pointless zips on pretend pockets in your stupid jeans (why not just have real pockets?). Like Australian republicanism (why not have a real issue?).

Royal visits are the times when journalists are most likely to try and source republicans for comment, but it’s also exactly the time when most of those republicans get awfully shy and polite about it.

“Um,” they say, “well, just me personally, I think perhaps it’s time we moved on, politically…and…”

And why are they so shy and polite? Because the Queen is around and they don’t want to upset her. Because by their very nature they can’t help showing deference. It’s almost like she was born to reign over you or something, you snivelling serfs. Now harvest some grain.

You would think that this monarchist view would enrage the leftoid pinko bilby-chakra audience, even though they probably won’t notice because they’re busy Occupying everything from Green’s Head to Deniliquin Bakery.

But even they, friends. Even they. When Her Madge came to Melbourne, the Occupy movement welcomed her, and declined to protest. The Queen, they said, she goes alright. She’s a nice old bird. Don’t be rude. Somebody tuck those bloody shirts in.

The logical snag I’ve always hit with the republican campaign (though calling it a campaign is like throwing wet Scotch Fingers at a wall and calling it an artillery barrage) is that there is actually no good reason for seeing it through.

Why have a republic, we ask? And the answer is always an Arnott’s Assorted of generalisations and aphorisms. Own two feet, they say. Tied to apron strings. Young nation. Forging own identity. At the end of the day. Takes one to know one. Seven brides for seven brothers.

Then there’s some emotive rhetoric about moving on and grasping our future and evolution, as though the British monarchy is totally holding us back from our dreams, and making us stay home on Saturday nights, and saying we have to wear a bike helmet even though it totally messes up our hair and Jason Franks isn’t going to think we’re hot.

In fact the British monarchy couldn’t be doing a better job of leaving us alone, and has no real power over Australia in any case.

Getting rid of it would just be a hassle. We’d have to change the money and the stamps and the flag and the national anthem. (On second thought, please change the national anthem. The Wiggles. Khe Sanh. Anything.) There’d be interminable bitch-fights about every replacement. They’d throw it open to public voting. The new flag would be a picture of Alan Jones giving a thumbs-up while rooting a Four N Twenty pie.

And those are just the bare practicalities. See, unlike the republican arguments, the arguments against a republic are specific and real.

Like this one. If you don’t have a Queen, you don’t have a prime minister. If you don’t have a prime minister, you have to have a president. And if you have a president, do you know what you’re going to get?

Jeff Kennett. Or Eddie McGuire. Or Steve Irwin. I know he’s dead, but it’s our country now. Keep your rules, England, we’ll do whatever we want!

You’re going to get whoever is the cockiest and most ruthless bastard in the climb to the top, because then there’d be a chance they actually get to be the boss.

A constitutional monarchy is an excellent system of government. You have the Prime Minister and the Parliament who hold the power to propose and enact legislation, and to make executive decisions. Above them, you have the symbolic power of the monarch.

The monarch holds no actual executive power. Yet the government is appointed by and responsible to the monarch. There is a crucial psychological barrier there. Even the prime minister is still only the most senior servant of the Queen.

Presidents, on the other hand, have no-one above them. Where prime ministers can never quite treat the country as their personal possession, presidents can. Ironically, it’s the presence of the monarch that stops Australia being treated like a kingdom.

There’s just no reason to get rid of the Queen. She’s not hurting anyone. To the contrary, Queens are awesome. And old. You already know what we do with old things. We restore them. We maintain them.

There’s always a period of historical contempt for whichever era currently sits at medium distance. When buildings are 50 years old, everyone hurries to knock down. When they near 100, we have community protests to protect them, and wear out the word ‘quaint’.

The monarchy is a historical building. It must be kept, and it must be maintained, because it’s fascinating. It’s inextricably part of our history, and of world history. The institution costs some money to maintain, sure, but far less than the value it creates. How many people visit Buckingham Palace? How much cash flowed from the crowd at Fed Square? How many Wills-and-Kate commemorative colonoscopy pipes were sold?

Just as sometimes, at Christmas, even people who don’t buy into the whole God-made-me-pregnant excuse (and props to that chick for quick thinking) still quite enjoy going into a church and waving some incense about or singing some songs.

Why? Because ritual is nice. Tradition is nice. It’s comforting. You know how it’s supposed to go, and it goes that way. As your life seems to be constantly morphing like it were a cutesy animate French-Canadian blob of plasticine, here is something that more or less stands still. Something that makes you feel like you’re a part of something bigger.

On the wall of my house is a brittle, yellowed Leunig cartoon. It has been there since the republic referendum in 1999.

“Australia relax,” he says, “Have you forgotten how to enjoy Queens and Kings? Their beautiful golden carriages, their great castles and colourful flags? Their guards with swords?

“What’s the problem with that? Come on – your lips are all tight and pursed. Don’t be so mean and grim.

“If she waves, wave back. Try bowing if you please. It’s fun. Oh Australia, you’re all hyped up. Too much television and abstraction and caffeine. I double dare you to relax and have some Queen.”

And that, I’m afraid, seems to be the problem. Pursed lips, abstraction.

There are more than enough crapnesses going on in our world. Our cops are beating on people and denying it cold. Our Prime Minister couldn’t sell a cheeky foil to Keith Richards. Our Opposition Leader would send back Willy Wonka’s golden ticket with an angry letter.

You know who’s pretty sweet, though? The Queen. She’s nice to people. She pulls rocking crowds for an 85-year-old. She makes those people happy. There are a lot of them.

She represents dignity, she represents decency, and she represents history. She does all those things better than some president would do. And come on. Two thousand eggs a day. That’s impressive. So just relax. I’ll bring the bacon.




This piece was originally published on The Drum.

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31 Responses to Her Majesty the Queen versus Steve Irwin

  1. Mitch says:

    “Like this one. If you don’t have a Queen, you don’t have a prime minister. If you don’t have a prime minister, you have to have a president.”

    Not true. Plenty of countries (Ireland, for one) have both. Also not true that we would have to replace the flag; Fiji retained their old flag when they became a republic, and Canada retained the monarchy when they changed the flag.

    You’re right that we should retain and preserve our old things, but the British monarchy is not our old thing, is it? I’m pro-republic not because I have an issue with the system of constitution monarchy, but because I don’t want a citizen of another country who lives on the other side of the world to be our monarch.

    • geoff lemon says:

      And my response to the concern about a citizen of another country being our monarch is the same as intimated above. Namely: meh. It just doesn’t matter.

      Re your rebuttal, I think you’re deliberately missing the point. Under our system, the highest executive officer and the head of state are two different people. Under a presidential system, they are one and the same. That’s the issue. (As for the flag, tell me Aus republicans would keep the Union Jack.)

      • Brett says:

        Geoff, why do we need a presedential system if we remove the constitutional monarchy and replace with a head of state? Isn’t the queen a glorified head of state? Your argument seems to be that someone here couldn’t be as “nice” as the queen, so can we have this debate again when the wingnut takes over?
        Somebody has to have the power to give the final say, the final command to disband it all and try again – we need this check if we cannot form a working government and your argument that this person MUST be a little old lady accross the water just doesn’t hold up. I tend to agree that it is a lot of bother for no net benefit, but in time I believe we need this for our national identity.
        Also, your argument that “Tradition is nice. It’s comforting. You know how it’s supposed to go, and it goes that way.”- I think that was Barnaby and Bob’s argument against gay marriage. Just sayin’.

        • That is a thoughtless one liner there about gay marriage. I think I we all know Mr Scripture’s stand on issues like that. He’d be the first to attack a tradition if it was plain bad or getting in the way of genuine progress. Whereas the monarchy ain’t either.

          • Brett says:

            That’s interesting – so an argument is valid if the cause is righteous, but invalid if it is trivial. And here I was thinking the merits of an argument should be able to stand for themselves. My point isn’t about the end result – I support everyone’s right to have an opinion – but the fact that Geoff is basically saying “tradition is nice, except for the bits that aren’t”, which harms the whole thrust of his argument.
            I actually put a lot of thought into that statement and I stand by it; you cannot take a line of argument on one topic that you have already rejected on another, regardless of the topic itself.

      • Schtumpy says:

        I’d love to change it.
        I agree whole heartedly with the Barmy Army at the Gabba when they chant, “Get those fucking stars off our flag.”
        They’re right.
        It’s their flag.
        And a perfectly nice one.
        Maybe we could get our own. Like the Canadians did. But with less Maple.

        • melissakp says:

          Agreed, Schtumpy.

          Having lived in the UK and having seen the Jack emblazoned on everything from cut-off trousers to sofa cushions to blinged up handbags to the ‘Blighty’ TV channel, all I see when I look at it, is Britain. It doesn’t belong on our flag.

          Also having lived in Ireland, I am aware of the many things that have been done under the representation of that flag, and whilst I appreciate that the Queen did finally visit the Republic of Ireland this year, did very-nearly-almost apologise for the gross atrocities committed against the Irish people by the British, and did speak in Irish… that flag represents things that I don’t want associated with my country.

          Lizzie may seem nice in her old age, and perhaps she is. But she has stood as reigning monarch in Britain while some terrible things have been done in its name. She has also given military honours to soldiers who shot unarmed citizens (who had been on a march for civil rights) in the back when they were running away (in Derry, Northern Ireland, during the Troubles). Last year, the British PM accepted an enquiry report that found that the 13 people shot and killed on that day in 1972 were innocent and that the paratroopers knowingly murdered innocent people, and that it was “unjustified and unjustifiable”. The honours bestowed upon those same paratroopers by the Queen remain in place, and the soldiers have not been made accountable in any way for their actions. So you may say that the Queen is “represents dignity,… decency, and… history”, but she is not infallible, and some parts of (recent) history are not something I wish to be associated with.

          You can also complain about our police beating up on citizens marching in the street… whilst British soldiers have been decorated by the Queen after having shot and killed people for doing the same. I love love love your writing, Geoff, but this one I am not buying. We have to also remember that the Queen is in her twilight years. She may kick on for another 10-15 years, who knows. But she’s not permanent.

          We managed to choose a new anthem by referendum… we can do it again. We have our own currency already, and we have had various waves of change with our notes and coins in the past, we can do it again. We’ll have to do it anyway when Lizzie rolls a seven. And then we can do it with the flag.

    • Ben says:

      I’m all for changing the flag.
      ”a picture of Alan Jones giving a thumbs-up while rooting a Four N Twenty pie.” sounds awesome.

    • Jesse says:

      Whether or not you agree with the the Queen as an appropriate symbol for Australia, you have to admit that the actual system of government that Australia uses is more important than symbolism. And what we have now, the Westminster system, is the best system of government in the world. Really. We could become a republic and keep the Westminster system, and we could become a republic and keep a governor general as a head of Australia above the Prime Minister, but that’s not going to happen, because in a referendum on the issue, people would most likely choose the simplest option – become like America; have a president.

      And besides, the Queen represents our history as much as England’s. We do come from British origins.

      • Schtumpy says:

        Actually, most of us don’t come from English origins.
        And there’s plenty of things in our history of which we should be whole heartedly ashamed.
        We can learn from our past, embrace who we are because of it. But that never precludes us from casting aside any vestiges of that history which have become antiquated or irrelevant.

  2. kenbird says:

    Our Prime Minister couldn’t sell a cheeky foil to Keith Richards. Oh dear it is that bad…isn’t it.

  3. Richard says:

    Geoff, how do you manage to keep saying exactly what I am thinking, just better?

    Marvellous stuff.

  4. kenbird says:

    All the life that I remember, the Queen has been the number 1 celebrity. She has always been part of some major occasion to take our minds of our otherwise ordinary lives. Your Leunig quote sums it up nicely,
    “Have you forgotten how to enjoy Queens and Kings?
    Their beautiful golden carriages,
    Their great castles and colourful flags?
    Their guards with swords?”
    It’s a pity that it comes with it, all those insipid little commentators.

    The irony of the Occupy Melbourne movement calling a cease protest, during the Queens visit, is that the most common slogan of the Occupy movement, is something like the 99% against the 1%. The Queen is most probably somewhere near the top of that 1%,…but never mind, she is different. I don’t think the Royal household is the sort of ‘Corporate’ people had in mind, when thinking of the 1%.

    She also represents another world, almost a fiction, but not that gecko, tin foil hat type, that is following her entourage. More like a real life fairy tail.

    We need fairy tails, even expensive ones like the House of Windsor.

    I believe the Occupy Movement was correct in disbanding while she was here. They would have tarnished their image beyond restoration, if they had protested at the Queen, during her visit.

    With all the divisiveness in our political landscape, the royal tour is a welcome diversion and I hope I remember this article next time there is a republican referendum, in 20 years time.

  5. the trav says:

    Isn’t it the queens man who’s stopping me from buying R rated computer games?

    More than enough reason in my book!

  6. pimento says:

    The only way that I’d support becoming a republic is if we had all but the same system we have now, only the PM is called the Pres. A system like the US has (he who has the most money rules) is utterly ruinous and is part of the reason the last referendum failed – the monarchists made sure that the vote was between retaining the status quo and the crap rebublic methodology, and then ran ads saying that we [quite rightly] don’t want that system so we should vote for status quo. On the subject of a national anthem Status Quo might be a candidate for writing one, but I think Icehouse’s Great Southern Land would be hard to pass up. Perhaps Gangajang’s Hundreds of Languages could be on the ballot too. Either way I think we’re covered for good anthem options, monarchy or otherwise. In the end it doesn’t really matter because the only good republican methodology is a mirror of what we have now, only someone is holding a ‘HI MUM’ sign up in front of The Queen.

  7. Beautiful article, Geoff.

    If you’ve not read it, I highly recommend John Armstrong’s “In Search of Civilization”, which several of your points reminded me of.

  8. Mrs Dr The Monarch says:

    Thanks Geoff. Very readable. Let’s get our focus on some meaningful issues.

  9. Schtumpy says:

    I’ll give you this particular Monarch’s singular impressiveness.
    2000 eggs a day – awesome.
    But because we currently have a nice lady born to rule over us instead of the countless colostomy bags who have littered the Empire’s history is no reason to try and ignore the smell.
    The concept reinforces an ancient and vile idea that one is superior to another by reason of birth.
    And it’s 2011 and it’s only just now that there are moves afoot to remove the similar idea that you can be superior to another by virtue of having external genitals, rather than internal.
    And, sorry, she’s not Australian. Doesn’t mean we can’t line up to wave and smile when she visits. The Americans have a great time when she pops in.
    You’re right. Our system works fine.
    We should keep it going just as it is.
    Just make the GG Head of State in her own right instead of beholden to the Head of Some Other State.

    • melissakp says:

      Or make the GG President like in Ireland, as was mentioned above. Keep the PM, keep the systems, change that top representative role. She’ll be apples.

  10. Maree says:

    You are really nice! From fucking cuntery to liking the queen – i get it!!! I really get it.

    I love that you know how to say it.

  11. Michael says:

    I love our current system.
    Honestly I think if i ever had to call our Prime Minister a President I would move to Canada.
    Anything to distances myself from America a bit more.

  12. John Jacobs says:

    I’d like the Queen to do her bloody job and dissolve both houses of Parliment.

  13. Evan Evans says:

    Geoff I hadn’t really analysed my reasons for voting against the republican referendum except that I didn’t like the only model proposed, but I think you have put into words my thoughts on the issue. Summed up it really comes down to “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

  14. Wes says:

    Hiya Geoff, nice work (again), my point I think you would agree with is that we retain the power to change the system if and when it stops suiting us. It’s not like Queenie (or future Kingie) is going to launch ships at us if and when we finally decide to go it alone. Therefore, it is our system, and it works. We are miles ahead of so many countries.

  15. mezz says:

    ”a picture of Alan Jones giving a thumbs-up while rooting a Four N Twenty pie.”
    I’m still laughing at that. But I have to disagree with you for once. Go the republic. I don’t want Charles , the tampon, as my damn King.

  16. James says:

    The 2004 US presidential elections cost $4,000,000,000, and the 2008 elections cost $5,300,000,000. This is all money we don’t need to waste on electing a head of state because we already have one, that is paid for by another country! Do we really want to waste a lot of money listening to two pricks trying to tell us why we should hate the other one more than them? (yes I know that our country is smaller than the US so we won’t spend that much)
    The queen is awesome.

  17. Rod says:

    Why do we also need the GG and State governors? I could see they would be useful if they were required to hold the gov’t to account for its promises and lies. And if they were elected. At present they seem like useless parasites parading fashionable clothes for the elderly.

  18. Sean says:

    Hmmm, strange little piece, Geoff. Not enough ball-tearing jokes as usual and strangely benign. I guess that comes with not having strong enough feelings about the issue. As for the idea that the dear old Queen is too nice to ditch in favour of an as-yet-undecided structure involving a president or such: I can understand your nostalgic attachment, but really, isn’t it time we just grew the fuck up? After all, Warney would will cut a fine figure as President, and as far as the flag goes, the Boxing Kangaroo already evokes ample sentiment – assinine, yes, juvenile, agreed, but that’s about as sophisticated as expressions of emotion seem to get to for many of our countrymen&women. Unfortunately…

  19. “(On second thought, please change the national anthem.”

    I thought we already changed the Anthem – it USED to be God save the queen” but not since we aquired that instrumental (sic) Advance Australia Fair.

    “There’d be interminable bitch-fights about every replacement. They’d throw it open to public voting. The new flag would be a picture of Alan Jones giving a thumbs-up while rooting a Four N Twenty pie”

    Precisely – I think this speaks to the whinge about being born to office too: – Because we dont elect her, we dont have to deal with posturing, lies and smarmy campaigns, factional underhandedness, (Plantagenets aside) short-termism, or the cheap ugly populism of Alan Jones et al. I dont trust my fellow Australians enough to leave it to a vote, nor to an appointment by an elected vote-slut either. Being in for the long haul the Windsors have time to spend on becoming informed and holding values. Nice.

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