Quentin Bryce Is No Ally Of The Republic


In her final Boyer Lecture, Governor-General Quentin Bryce mused on the republic, saying that she hopes “one day, one young girl or boy may even grow up to be our nation's first head of state".

Hang on — the Governor-General is a republican? Then you can call me Peter Lalor. If Bryce were really behind the cause of the republic, she never would never have acceded to the office of Governor-General in the first place.

A Governor-General must live for the awful rituals and ribbon cutting. They must long for the chance to knock off a lefty prime minister with the reserve powers. In other words, they have to be a Tory, which is why John Howard would be a perfect Governor-General. He would relish the duties of the position, whereas Bryce seems uncomfortable performing them. (The look on her face while she read out Tony Abbott's priorities for government was priceless.)

We should remember that Bryce took her office by choice, not by election, and not because she was forced into the regal seat. So why did she bother if she’s a republican? Because she enjoys the status and trappings of the office of Governor-General, even though she would rather not have to perform its duties.

That's not a sign of good character, but a hallmark of cowardice. So is her use of a colonial office to call for a republic. After all, power that is comfortable with itself needs no justification. It just goes on operating. Her statements demonstrate a deep anxiety about the role and status of the Governor-General.

For Bryce to say that "one day" a republic might arrive has nothing to do with her desire for it to actually happen. Rather, at the end of her term, she is trying to convince the public that she was different from the Tory old boys who have always been happy to be the ceremonial colonial whip-cracker.

That she would speak out at this late stage is neither subversive nor commendable. Why did Bryce not use her entire term to advocate for the republic if she truly cared for it? No, the only real effect her comments will have is to make the left comfortable with the office of the Governor-General, and to have nice feelings about its current inhabitant. These are not republican sentiments.

As I've written here before, most Australian "republicans" no longer really care either way. The Australian Republican Movement has never been more asinine, which is why they applauded her comments.

"The Queen represents British unity and Britain's values very well. We've outgrown that dependence on Britain and want to be equals," said David Morris, head of the ARM, in response to Bryce's words. In one sentence he showed that he doesn't understand that, at this late stage, the republic is about breaking the legal and cultural remnants of colonial power we have accrued to ourselves and been taught to love — not the actual tangible link with the UK, which hasn't existed for years.

One of those remaining colonial remnants is the office of Governor-General, regardless of whether we like its occupant. That Bryce was prepared to retrospectively baptise her time in that office with republican sentiments is shameful, and a betrayal of every Australian who genuinely believes in and looks to a day when we can freely govern ourselves.

Bryce should resign, and not for the reasons howled all weekend by the right. The Liberal Party and their cronies think she is disgracing the office. In an alternative universe where people still cared about democracy, Bryce would resign for disgracing herself.

She has adorned herself with public praise for saying nice things, using an office she did not win through the ballot box. That is a Tory tendency, not the behaviour of someone who is committed to democracy. The Sydney Morning Herald was fine with that. “Quentin Bryce’s legacy is her words of wisdom on the monarchy,” beamed the paper’s editorial. If you can build a legacy in one sentence it’s not a legacy, it’s a branding exercise, and the Herald got conned.

The interesting thing about Bryce's choice of words is the qualifier: "one day". As every smoker knows, that's when we'll quit — one day. The republic is the same. As long as it remains a "one day”, a "conversation", a search for "maturity" from British parental authority, then it'll never happen. Instead we start to love the fantasy that it will occur "one day", instead of agitating for the real thing. This keeps the current arrangements ticking over quite nicely.

If Quentin Bryce truly wants a republic, if it's a burning issue for her, she should do it now. No more fantasies, Governor-General. There's no time to lose!

Get on the phone, call the heads of the Federal Police and Defence Force, Chief Justice French, Clive Palmer and Cardinal Pell to Yarralumla. Get Julian Assange on the blower via Skype. Tell them you are declaring the country a republic and demand they swear fealty to the new constitution, which you will have already had drafted.

Anyone who won't swear loyalty to the Southern Cross becomes an enemy of the republic. As a good republican, you know what to do next: send your republican guardsmen out to arrest Tony Abbott, Gerard Henderson, David Flint and John Howard and have them locked up for treason (throw Malcolm Turnbull in the clink too while we're at it, as a fifth columnist and collaborator with the former regime).

But what then? I would imagine that like the best tradition of "republics" called for by unelected figureheads, Bryce could install a member of her family as President. I hear there are a couple of them floating around in public life at the moment too.

Hendo and Turnbull in Pentridge, now that's a fantasy! In any case, it's a better fantasy than "one day, one young girl or boy may even grow up to be our nation's first head of state".

Here's another fantasy: that the republic will be basically what we've got now, but a bit better, because we won't have a Tory telling us what to do. But every republican who celebrated Bryce's comments has a blind spot, because they just applauded a Tory telling them what to do — her name is Quentin Bryce, and she is the Governor-General of Australia, not one of us.

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