Chinese-Australians weigh in on whether it’s time for Australia to become a republic

The death of Queen Elizabeth II last Thursday at the age of 96 saw the ascension of King Charles III to the throne, but it has also raised questions about Australia’s future relationship with the monarchy of the United Kingdom.
The republic movement failed in its campaign for Australia to change its head of state in the last referendum in 1999, losing by almost 10 per cent in the votes. Former Prime Minister John Howard, a staunch royalist, : “I do not believe Australia will become a republic while the Queen is on the throne”.

Since the defeat, the republic movement became stagnant but there were attempts in recent years to revive public interest. From Harry and Meghan’s controversial interview with Oprah, Prince Andrew and the Epstein scandal to the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, supporters have called for the country to sever ties with the monarchy.

SBS Chinese spoke to Chinese-Australians, asking them if it’s finally time for Australia to become a republic.

‘I think it’s the wrong time’

Dr Felix Lo, president of the Asian-Australian Association of Bennelong, said a referendum was necessary to determine what Australians wanted for their future. However, he stressed it was all about timing.
“I think it’s the wrong time, at this moment, for Australia to revive any debates about becoming a republic. The Queen has just passed away and it should be a time for mourning. But in the broader sense, it’s time to move on and let the people decide,” Dr Lo said.

“However, we’ve just had a new government and I think this term of government may not be the best time. Perhaps it would be for the next government, whether it’s Liberal or Labor, as it’s a very significant event and the success rate for becoming a republic as the past has shown, has been low.”

Dr Felix Lo believes it’s the wrong time to be considering becoming a republic. Source: Supplied

Dr Lo added with interest rate hikes and the cost of living crunch, it wouldn’t be on many people’s priorities’ list to have debates about becoming a republic.

He said: “We are still in a pandemic so I think it would be prudent to pick a better timing to resume the republican debate. Becoming a republic also entails a lot of changes, for example what model of government to do we want, and it takes time for people to adjust.”

When asked if a republic Australia would change its identity and improve its image to Asian countries, Dr Lo said: “Superficially it might, but it wouldn’t make a substantial difference because it all boils down to the government’s foreign policies at the end of the day.”

‘The time to change is now’

However, some believe that there will never really be a “suitable” time and the republic debate needs to be brought up. Erin Wen Ai Chew, the co-founder and national convenor for the Asian Australian Alliance, says she believes there’s no need for a monarch as the head of state in modern Australia.
“Australia is capable enough to be independent and has been for a long time. The nostalgic connection to the monarchy is now irrelevant and as generations pass, this will become even more irrelevant, so the time to change is now,” she said.

“Australia has nothing to do with the British Empire aside from a dark history of colonialism and current diplomatic relations.

Erin Chew is the founder of the Asian Australian Alliance. Source: Supplied

“Why are we still having governors and governors-general sign off political and ministerial appointments and approve passed legislation when that step is no longer relevant but more of a symbolic gesture to the monarchy? The monarchy really has no say or influence in how Australia runs, so let’s get rid of it as an unnecessary step.

“Of course, it is sad that Queen Elizabeth II passed away and now Charles is King – so monarchists and those who sensationalise the monarchy will always say it’s not a suitable time. But now that the monarchy is in transition, it is the most opportune time to bring it up in full force.”
King Charles III, officially proclaimed King by the Accession Council on Saturday, paid and he pledged to renew his mother’s promise of “lifelong service”.

With heavy responsibilities to fulfil and the world watching closely how the new monarch continues the legacy of his mother, some have questioned whether King Charles III’s reign would continue to inspire unity amongst the Commonwealth nations as Queen Elizabeth II had done.

King Charles III ‘isn’t as popular’

Sam Wong, honorary ambassador for Canberra, ACT government, said: “In the past 20 years, Queen Elizabeth II had gained so much popularity in Australia, especially during the Platinum Jubilee celebrations, it inspired a lot of people. For as long as the Queen was about, it would be difficult for Australia to become a republic.”
Mr Wong believed many people were still not happy with King Charles III in his time as prince, mainly due to his divorce from Princess Diana which had greatly wounded his reputation.

“With King Charles III becoming the new monarch, it may have an effect on the image of the British royal family. He isn’t as popular as the Queen, but his sons and especially Prince William, are greatly admired and well-loved,” he said.

Sam Wong says some Australians may not warm to King Charles III’s reign. Credit: LinkedIn

Mr Wong said if Prince William was the one ascending the throne, he would be successful in continuing the legacy and adulation of the British monarchy in the 21st century. Otherwise, the monarchy may be in danger of losing its appeal.

Ms Chew added Australia becoming a republic could mean a step forward for the nation to define its own identity.
But the royal presence continues to affect everyday Australia, with a parliamentary government modelled under the Westminster System, royal symbols on currency and postage stamps, and the image of the Crown in the Australian Coat of Arms.
“Multicultural communities which originally had roots in countries ruled by the British Empire may have nostalgic connections to the British monarchy due to the effects of colonialism and not being able to ‘de-colonise’ their mindsets,” she said.

“Others may feel this is part of ‘assimilating’ and to ‘fit into’ Australia. Of course, many of us know this is not the way to think, but the truth is, many feel, by default, to embrace all these things like the monarchy, and not really understanding the history.”

‘Why do we have to rush to change?’

Joey Chan, a jewellery designer, said she had had the opportunity to meet Prince Edward when she was in the UK.

“I was very sad that the Queen passed away. I was brought up in Hong Kong and before 1997, the Queen’s photo was everywhere. When the Queen visited Hong Kong, we celebrated her visit. I thought she was a very calm and elegant lady and as a little girl, it gave me joy and hope,” she said.

Joey Chan has fond memories of Queen Elizabeth II. Source: Supplied

When Ms Chan travelled to the UK for further studies, she also represented the UK in the first European Chinese Singing Competition, which took place in 1991 in Rotterdam. After winning the competition, Ms Chen performed at the Duke of Edinburgh Awards in Birmingham.

“I met Prince Edward and he shook my hand. He was very calm and at that moment, I believed that dreams do come true – I met a prince! There are a lot of things to admire about the royal family, one thing that stands out for me is their stability and I think this is a positive influence and inspiration for Australians and the government.”
When asked whether she thought Australia should be a republic, she said: “Honestly why do we have to rush to change?”

“Maybe give King Charles a chance and see if he will be an inspiring and dutiful King. If he doesn’t do a good job, then perhaps consider changing. In Australia, it’s not very stable at the moment. Life is becoming tougher and I think our priorities should be sorting out the economy and the standard of living.”

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