Uncle Jack Charles & the King

by Ebony Bennett in Canberra Times
Originally published in Canberra Times on September 17, 2022

The spectacle that has accompanied the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second is something to behold. But the pomp and pageantry do little to conceal the faintly ridiculous aspects of being a constitutional monarchy, where leadership is conferred not by merit or means of election, but by divine right and accident of birth.

To start, the Australian Parliament was suspended for 15 days, five days longer than the British Parliament. If our Prime Minister was relying on a return Qantas flight from Canberra to get to Her Majesty’s funeral, an additional five day’s leeway would be understandable. But seeing as he is sensibly taking a Royal Australian Air Force flight, is there any real reason Parliament can’t continue even as the Prime Minister pays his respects? The necessity of the additional five days of suspension have not been explained at all, except to say that it was following ‘long established protocol’. Neither was it clear who set the protocol, or if Australia could amend it. Effectively, Parliament has been suspended for 15 days ‘just because’.

In Victoria, both houses needed a day to swear allegiance to the new monarch, King Charles III, King of Australia. After a 70-year reign, we are quite used to having a Queen, but for some reason the King of Australia sounds just a little more absurd – not that anyone asked us. Upon his mother’s passing, King Charles III became, by the Grace of God, King of Australia and His other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth. Defender of the Faith. Never mind that around 40% of Australia said they had ‘no religion’ in the Census last year.

Queen’s Counsel, or QCs, automatically became King Counsel, or KCs. New coins will be minted with the King’s visage facing left replacing the Queen who faced the right. And, of course, we’ll get a one-off public holiday to mourn the Queen next Thursday – though I’m sure many Australians will find that one day simply isn’t enough time to adequately mourn her passing and will require a four-day-mourning-long-weekend as an appropriate mark of respect. She would have wanted it that way, we’re sure.

The death of the Queen has also brought out the predictable racism that surfaces at these times. The same people who deride performative ‘virtue-signaling’ and ‘wokeness’ are the same people demanding nothing but absolute fealty to the Crown. Grief and mourning are, for some, the only publicly permissible responses to the death of the monarch. Anyone daring to examine the monarchy’s legacy of colonialism is to be publicly pilloried. It really is political correctness gone too far.

Current Monarchist and former Senator Eric Abetz on Thursday ABC’s Q and A dismissed such discussions by absolving the Queen of any personal responsibility, as if she could be meaningfully separated from her role as Sovereign.

For daring to express her views on Britain’s history of colonisation (along with her condolences) Senator Mehreen Faruqi was vilely told to “pack her bags and piss off back to Pakistan” by a certain red haired Senator from Queensland who shall remain unnamed here. (A censure motion awaits the latter when Parliament returns).

Others have called for Treaty and Truth-telling about the devastating legacy of colonialism for First Nations people. Anyone with a passing acquaintance of history knows this is the legacy of the British monarchy, here and abroad. While no one in Australia has been arrested for publicly voicing such sentiments, in the UK a number of people have been arrested and handcuffed for expressing anti-monarchist sentiments in public and heckling Prince Andrew. It’s nothing short of anti-democratic and an excellent argument for becoming a republic.

But just as following the devastating impacts of bushfires, floods and heatwaves is ‘not the right time’ to talk about climate change, monarchists insist on policing us out of a conversation about monarchy, colonialism or becoming a republic. It’s undemocratic cancel culture on a royal scale.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton could not even countenance a discussion about changing the currency, accusing government frontbencher Andrew Leigh of ‘taking advantage of the circumstances’ and the grave sin of ‘departing from convention’ for even acknowledging that we may get to choose whether King Charles III will replace Queen Elizabeth II on the $5 note.

Perhaps we could consider putting a different Charles on the five dollar note? Consider Uncle Jack Charles, who sadly passed away last week. Unlike King Charles, he overcame much adversity. He survived the Stolen Generations, homelessness, a heroin addiction and the Victorian prison system to give back to his city as a mentor for indigenous youth, a charismatic performer on stage and screen, a gay icon, and a much loved larrikin. His smile and laugh will be missed on the streets of Collingwood and Carlton by so many. Vale Uncle Jack.

But there will be no suspension of Parliament or National Day of Mourning for Uncle Jack Charles. Engaging in weeks of protocol and pageantry to mark the Queen’s 70-year reign only highlights our failure to understand and respect 65,000 years of human history here at home.

The British monarchy is not so fragile it can’t take a few public heckles or the devastation of being removed from the five dollar note.

Besides, an Australian republic is so far away. And let’s face it: it’s an indulgence. We have far more pressing things to deal with. Like telling the truth about our past. Signing the treaties. Respecting the voice of our first nations peoples. The Uluru Statement from the Heart.

To her credit, the late Queen never sought to stand in the way of such discussions in her entire 70-year reign. She respected that these were questions for us to decide for ourselves. After all, that’s what democracy is all about.

Ebony Bennett is Deputy Director of leadling public policy think-tank the Australia Institute. Twitter  

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