I am a tepid sort of republican, and an even more tepid monarchist. That aspect of our governance is not at all high on my priorities. When the referendum was held, on 6 November 1999, just over thirteen years ago, I was overseas, and freed from the requirement to vote, which suited me. I disliked the way the Howard Government had hijacked the issue, and disliked the alternatives offered to the electorate.
On the whole, I felt that Australia did well out of the constitutional monarchy, benefiting from the monarch’s benign indifference to what went on here, and from not having to pay for her upkeep. I think an elected President would a ghastly addition to our present system. All in all, then, I am glad that interest in an Australian republic has died away.
At the time of referendum it was said by some that while they would not support a republic now, given that the Queen had done and was doing an excellent job, things would be different after she went. Well, that was well more than ten years ago, the Queen is still exhibiting the same kind of exemplary devotion to duty, and we have had a brisk visit from the Heir Apparent and his lady.
So one question must be: how many Australians would go over to republicanism rather than endure the reign of King Charles III? I have no idea, but have come to a view about that prospect, closer now than it was in 1999. I have heard Prince Charles speak, in 1975 and more recently at a dinner in Wales in 1994. On both occasions he was articulate but not wholly persuasive, at least with me. But academics are notoriously hard to persuade at any time.
The older I get the more sympathetic I have become for all the royals, and for Prince Charles in particular. He has had to wait in the wings for a long time. As I understand it, he was not allowed to marry his own choice as wife, until recently. And, a bit like the Vice-President of the USA, who at least has the formal function of presiding over the Senate, he has no real job. He can only deputise for Her Majesty when it suits her, and then for ceremonial occasions.
In comparative terms he has behaved pretty well, unlike both of his immediate predecessors, who were to become Edward VII and Edward VIII. Queen Victoria lasted a long time, and shut out the Heir Apparent from any involvement in affairs of state until close to the end of her reign. He was 60 when he became king, and his reign was only nine years long; his mum’s lasted for 63 years and seven months. Prince Charles will be 64 in a couple of days (14 November) and his mum’s reign has already lasted 60 years, as we know. I don’t know the extent to which he is privy to affairs of state.
On the face of it, with interest in an Australian republic lukewarm at best, and a tour by Prince Charles that was pleasant and untoward, my guess is that he will follow his mother in due course. He might be 70 by then, with a shortish reign at best. There are those who think he should abdicate in favour of William. I can’t myself see any reason why he should, or would.
My other guess is that he will do a decent job.