The reign of Queen Elizabeth saw the complete disintegration of the British empire, the mighty Royal Navy reduced to a handful of ships, Scotland on the verge of leaving the United Kingdom and London’s financial center moving to the continent. Only the collapse of the Soviet Union rivals it in great power failure. Yet the monarchy continues in pomp like it still rules half the globe. People fete her like these past seventy years have been a royal triumph. Imagine trying to explain this to Queen Victoria. Two fifths of the world, willingly or very unwillingly, was under her rule. Elizabeth has a fractious Britain, a chunk of Ireland, a smattering of mostly tiny islands about the globe, and Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders who just can’t seem to part with Dear Olde Mum. Glorious indeed. I don’t get it. Must be an English thing.
Here’s a fact about Australia that many Australians are loathe to admit–it is a monarchy. It really is, hip, modern, swinging Australia. It is officially The Monarchy of Australia and Queen Elizabeth is the head of state. The Queen of Australia, even. Indeed, when we deign to visit, she might say, one addresses us as The Queen of Australia, and does not address us the Queen of the United Kingdom. Then she’d wave her little queen wave and, if Australian, you’d feel honored. Honoured.
Officially she is “Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of Australia and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth”, but not as defender of the Faith which Australians, in a fit of ecumenical pique, lopped off. (If she pops over to Auckland afterward she is both Queen of New Zealand and Defender of the Faith, while in grammatically tortured Canada she is “of the United Kingdom, Canada and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen” and Defender of the Faith. That last line must go over big in Montreal.) Her royal presence permeates much of Australian officialdom. In court cases where in this country we say the People vs so and so, in Australia they say the Queen vs so and so (and the prosecutors are “the Crown”, though I don’t believe they wear those ridiculous wigs, if the court scene in The Last Wave was accurate.) Government controlled lands–governmental buildings, military bases, national parks, aboriginal reservations–are crown properties. Oaths of allegiance for, say, parliament, are typically to the queen. When you became an Australian citizen you used to swear allegiance to the queen, but they changed that some time ago, and now you swear allegiance to Australia…but the Australian High Court has since ruled that as Australia is a monarchy, swearing allegiance to Australia means swearing allegiance to the queen. It’s complicated.
The queen is physically and constitutionally represented in Australia by her own appointed Governor-General, who officially is the head of state (seriously, he is), meets foreign heads of state as the head of state of Australia, and actually has some constitutional powers, most of which can prevent democratic measures–elections, appointments, bills, the parliament itself–when the monarchy finds them distasteful. There are also queen appointed governors in each of Australia’s six state governments, with even more constitutional powers under the separate state constitutions than the governor-general has under the federal constitution. The queen is represented in Australia’s territories by the Governor-General himself, which even includes the Australian Capital Territory (with the capital city Canberra) itself. Even territories as small as Norfolk Island (thirteen square miles, two thousand or so people) are governed in conjunction with the crown. One wonders just where Australian independence and sovereignty begins and that of England ends, or if such a distinction is even possible. Because is in theory each of Australia’s elected parliaments serves at the pleasure of the queen, and can, in theory, be dismissed by the queen. Democracy in Australia is, in theory at least, a quite limited concept. It’s not like the queen is some vague, titular figure far away. She is, in name and by the constitution, present in virtually everything governmental in Australia. You pay the queen’s taxes (though not for her upkeep in England). You vote for the queen’s representatives in parliament. You pet the queen’s baby kangaroos in the queen’s wildlife preserves. By definition, everything public is the domain of the queen. In day to day reality, no. No one thinks that is the queen’s baby kangaroo. And the taxes to straight to Canberra, not London. But in constitutional theory, though, as a monarchy, everything is the queen’s domain. Her website lists Australia as one of her realms.
The Australian voters share power with the monarchy, and while the monarchy can’t vote on anything, it does have veto power. It can (and does) also appoint officials and ambassadors, and create governmental departments. It can (but isn’t likely to) control Australia’s military and declare war. The monarchy uses its powers sparingly, but not always. Indeed, in 1975, the Governor-General removed the democratically elected Labour prime minister and his government and replaced him with the losing conservative candidate more to the Crown’s liking. Talk about a stink. The Australians, though, loyally consented. Irishmen they are not. Then in 1999, a referendum to dispose of the monarchy and declare Australia a parliamentary republic was decisively defeated. The Australians love their queen.
I’m only pointing this out because an Australian was up on his high horse and trashing me for being a stupid fucking American from a from a stupid, fucked up country. I didn’t disagree on the merits of his arguments–he certainly had some–all I did was point out that he, like all Her loyal Australian subjects, has to constitutionally kiss Queen Elizabeth’s ass. It was a cheap shot, sure, but I was in a corner. What does that have to do with anything, he demanded. Well, when you grow up and become a republic like the rest of us, I said, then we’ll talk. Fuck off, he said, and unfriended me.
This works with Canadians, too. With French Canadians, not so much.