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Charles the Speechmaker

  • September 13th, 2022
  • Posted by EU Australia

Lee Duffield looks at the media circus surrounding the royal death and succession in England, and asks what it might mean for freedom and good government.

Charles the Speechmaker has been having such a media-thon we need to ask why. Recent speeches have introduced a British patriotic theme, as with the “Mummy” speech in June, flanked by a gigantic national flag, and now, it was natural enough that Britain would come to a standstill over the change of Head of State.

Put on the pageantry Down Under!?

Was it so normal and to be expected, to stop the show here in Australia? Twenty-four hours of round-the-clock royalism on ABC television was digestible given the excellence and popularity of the poor woman who passed away, and the nominal importance of the changing of Australia’s Head of State in the same moment as Britain’s – Charles Windsor, now Charles III, taking us up as an extra title.

But, after the Queen’s death early on Friday our time, on 9 September, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) was still doing the royal panel show at 7 pm on the Saturday, national news time. Instead of our news, ‘our ABC’ put on the proclamation of the King, live; a stereotypically English affair populated mostly by chaps in suits with a platoon of Guards lined up in the courtyard just outside. Channel Seven got it in better perspective; the event at St James’s Palace in London received a good mention early on, then got replayed fully at around 11 pm. Couldn’t the ABC at least have pushed the slow proclamation event onto a secondary channel?

The days of blanket attention actually soaked up the time of the journalists at the ABC’s London bureau, its location there hailing to days of empire, not the best vantage point for watching Europe – too much pre-masticated news in English to distract unwary journalists, too much blinding cultural antagonism towards Europe in a country that refuses to be in the European Union.

Any news in Australia?

There would have been some Australian news that day, and surely some European news in addition to the royalism in the United Kingdom, such as emerging reports of a new and bigger counter-attack in Ukraine. The BBC sent some of their journalists there.

The ABC instead provided its large dose of ‘Womens Weekly-ism’, with even the ‘Weekly’s’ editor, along with one or two actual Brits on the panel.  The ABC might have used more Australian non-journalist announcers, since apart from the Queen’s death the entire show was pre-set and anticipated, hardly news. Journalists, deployed on the royal story in force,  could then have been freed to find news, even analysis of the British story a bit deeper than the plodding, if colourful narrative of the King’s succession. (See Insiders of 11 September as a good start – searching and balanced).

With all that pre-setting and pre-arrangement, if not out-and-out media management by a branch of government, the question comes up to what extent the population has been getting a dose of propaganda, and how that can happen.


There is the odd case of SBS television constantly running programs about the British royal family: their trains, what the butlers wear, security, their country houses, and so on. The network would get enough money from advertising not to be cadging such material free from the British Council or whomever — presumably. Set up initially as an ethnic network, it is now the most anglophile, maybe popular with British migrants, but otherwise, is it today delivering a slap in the face to the ethnic communities?  In a queer swap, the ABC, always associated with ‘high culture’, has taken up an ‘inclusiveness’ policy, putting many more minority interests and persons on air than ever before. So the SBS is the ABC and the ABC is SBS.

During the term of the last government some sort of advice appears to have gone out, that first reference to the head of State should be ‘Her Majesty the Queen’, now ‘King’; they all started saying it, routinely, even in current affairs interviews and the news, instead of simply starting with ‘the Queen’. The concern is not just that it sounds wordy, fawning and pompous; it is the possible ordering of it.

In 1975 all broadcast staff at the ABC received a memorandum prescribing action to take in the event of the death of the Monarch. It had to be a long period, well over 24 hours as I recall, where only sober music would be played, nothing else, hour-after-hour, (much like in the Soviet Union during a crisis like the Chernobyl nuclear accident, or during an armed coup in some poor collapsing country). There were shorter periods for lesser dignitaries such as a Governor General. With no royal health scare in evidence people suspected it was a practical joke. Presenters on the new Double-Jay service (later Triple-Jay) had great sport making up their own play-list of sombre rock music.

Dark shadow of Governor-General Kerr

The dark hand of the then Governor General, Sir John Kerr, may have been present there. He appeared to think of the ABC as an official outlet of the state, in particular of the national Establishment, where he should use his legal knowledge, as an ex-judge, to prompt the management to set out rules. In the uproar leading to his actual dismissal of the elected government of Gough Whitlam, the Liberal – National Opposition, in the Senate, was blocking the supply of money to the government. An order ‘came down’ in the ABC, to stop referring to the situation as a ‘constitutional crisis’ – it had to be called a ‘political’ crisis. Word was that it came from Kerr.

He secretly made a plan to dismiss Whitlam, colluding with the Liberal Leader Malcolm Fraser, and getting into some correspondence over the issue of his prerogatives with none other than the man of the present moment, Charles III. That issue, exactly how much Charles knew and whether he nodded, would warrant fresh attention, and when journalists get free of their duties, ‘covering’ the ceremonial gun firing, proclaiming, marching and the like, in England, they might start to do some work on this important question: Is Charles III at all prone to behind-the-scenes meddling in politics, even as a pale shade of his forbear Charles I? That seditious man proclaimed he had a right to rule as an autocrat, fighting a war against the elected parliament, himself eventually executed, in 1649. (There was a vengeful reaction; when his supporters regained power they dug up dead bodies of their enemies and hanged them; but the die was cast and electoral democracy got established).

A ’second government’

What could be at stake here? Will royal types, gone rogue, ever again seek to subvert legitimate, elected government? Just consider: The British sovereign already has direct access to the secret security services and vice versa, (as seen in James Bond movies and Austin Powers!). They are technically head of the armed forces, enough of a reality that in the Australian case, there was concern in 1975 that Kerr might try to by himself impose martial law. They have wealth and a large budget, as seen if you start to estimate the cost of the current proceedings in London, including the media effort with how many staff and media feeds provided from events. There are assumed powers, with the royal mark on public services (On His Majesty’s Service – OHMS), along with the mails, law courts, swearing-in of police. Those who listened to the proclamations on Saturday 10 September might have caught that the King could deign to issue seals, an evident assertion that Ministers in ‘his’ government could do their work —  if they used his seal. Charles III murmured, ‘agreed’, to ‘grant’ that. It culminates with the sovereign appointing Prime Ministers and Ministers, not necessarily after elections, and signing the legislation they put through parliament. They negotiated a permanent aristocrats’ ‘voice to parliament’, the House of Lords. All may be well while everybody plays the game but as was seen in 1975, there are assumed ‘reserve powers’ where they might conceivably strike against legitimate democratic government.

The assertion of power is magnified by symbols like the naming of hospitals, or city streets, and the media effort, a campaign to make it all look entirely dignified, apolitical, harmless, warm and traditional. It goes back to mediaeval kings securing power for themselves to run a national government, defeating powerful fellow aristocrats. The Commons, elected parliaments, were the next contenders for power, for kings to take on.

Alternatives? The United States model of an executive Presidency, where the Head of State and Head of Government are the same person, often as powerful as the elected legislature, can produce the disaster of a ‘mad king’ – as was seen with Donald Trump. In Ireland the President is elected and has much scaled-down powers compared to the British monarch. In Sweden the sovereign has still less authority, entitled to consultation with the government, but without the authority to sign off on legislation — that is done by Ministers. In Australia the problem might be addressed by the public electing the Governor General, but still without executive authority – that would stay with the parliamentarians. Such a model might be suitable for an Australian republic. Many prospective republican supporters in the 1999 referendum said they wanted the President chosen by popular vote; some were perhaps influenced by what they saw on American TV shows, without knowing much about it; they might have been content with a less powerful President – less Trump potential in the formula.

Two Elizabeths: examples for modelling the future?

Finally give due consideration to the fact that good and just leaders, when they come along, in any role, will be a gift to history. So with the Elizabeths in England. Elizabeth I benefited from the consolidation of royal power by her murderous and disgusting father Henry VIII, but knew state-craft, so that her long time in office saw the country and the state develop. She was courageous in war:

“I am come amongst you … being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all …”

Often enough tough and cruel, maybe seeing that as necessity, she also saw the genius of William Shakespeare and encouraged him.

Elizabeth II, who died on 8 September 2022, aged 96, has had so many words spoken about her, including ‘wise’ (said by the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau), and ‘helpful’ (President Emmanuel Macron of France). Courageous in war, at a young age, she joined up. A person who was to all appearances dutiful, honest and mature, and there for a long time, she did much for calm and civility in politics and government; a great tribute in an era of exploding change and mounting crisis worldwide. While holding on to hereditary power as she received it, so far as we may ever know, it was not abused.


This article was first published on Independent Australia.