Penny’s colonialoscopy

Features Australia

Wong is unfit to lead our diplomatic service

Mark Higgie

Cover by Sarah Dudley, illustration by Ben Davis

Mark Higgie

11 February 2023

9:00 AM

A striking feature of Labor’s tribal campaign for ‘the’ republic has long been its startling ignorance about key facts. After Paul Keating started advocating a new Australian flag, one of his senior allies, according to a well-placed source, asked him if he seriously wanted to get rid of its Cross of St Patrick. He had no idea that the Union Flag represented anywhere other than England. He never raised the subject again.

Our Foreign Minister Senator Wong clearly has a similarly wildly inaccurate understanding of the origins of Australia’s population, suggesting in a speech in London last week that no more than about ‘a third’ can trace their ancestry back to the United Kingdom. In fact the 2021 census shows 11 million Australians (43 per cent) trace their ancestry back to just England, Scotland and Wales. That figure is almost certainly understated as the census allowed nomination of only two ancestries. In addition, a further 7.7 million (30 per cent) claim Irish ancestry. Taken together, 73 per cent of the population traces its ancestry back to the British Isles. Even though that includes immigrants from post-partition Ireland, and taking into account double counting, Australia’s population of UK origin is clearly still well over 50 per cent. But Labor would apparently prefer to obscure that fact.

The job of our representatives overseas is obviously to promote our national interests. In the case of a visit to the UK, this does not include donning a black armband about your family history. Senator Wong’s public allegation that her forebears were somehow mistreated by the British colonial authorities demonstrates what a poor foreign minister she is. Her sanctimonious finger-wagging, suggesting the Brits should confront ‘uncomortable’ stories from their past and that they have somehow ‘sheltered’ themselves in ‘narrow versions’ of their history, was an embarrassment. They are entitled to feel affronted, although they’ll be too polite to make that clear. Wong’s antics were doubly inept in that she doesn’t seem to have noticed that Britain more than any other formerly imperial power spends much of its time going over the top apologising for its past. No other Western country has so many representatives of ethnic minorities in key positions of power. And the new King would share most of the views of those on the ALP Left (possibly aside from their republicanism). But Labor is trapped in an antique cartoon image of Britain as still all pith helmets, Pimms and born-to-rule swagger.

The British equivalent of Wong’s performance would be if her counterpart, James Cleverly, were to visit Australia and to urge us to reflect on the ‘uncomfortable’ fact that he and his Sierra Leone forebears wouldn’t have been welcome as migrants under the White Australia policy. The Brits have their faults, but anything so crass is inconceivable.

While the Foreign Minister has been enjoying her taxpayer-funded Pom-bashing in London, the Treasurer has been indulging in the related activity of republicanism by stealth. Jim Chalmers told a press conference that one of the reasons an image of the King wouldn’t replace the Queen on the $5 note is, ‘I would like to see Australia become a republic’. It’s notable that the governments in neither Canada or New Zealand, both to the left of Albanese, have taken such an unseemly step. How long until Labor also sets its sights on Australia’s ‘Royal’ navy and air force and ‘His Majesty’s’ Australian ships, all connecting us to our history?

Australian diplomats until the mid-1980s were issued with passports describing them as ‘a member of Her Majesty’s Australian Diplomatic Service’. Bob Hawke’s government couldn’t wait to get rid of that little touch of glamour, together with knighthoods. Moreover portraits of the monarch, hung alongside those of the prime minister and ministers, have mostly disappeared from our diplomatic missions over the past four decades – not because they were banned, but because they went against DFAT’s republican vibe. As ambassador in Brussels, I discovered the framed portrait of HM gathering dust in a drawer and returned her to the embassy entrance lobby. I’d bet a Jim Chalmers-designed $5 note that she was banished again within ten minutes of the end of my posting.

After Labor’s win, Albanese was clearly nervous about disappointing the true believers by deferring a further referendum on a republic until a second term, hence the unprecedented step of appointing a minister for ‘the’ republic – suggesting its inevitability. But when it comes to referenda, Labor doesn’t seem to have learnt the lesson of 1999 – that Australians won’t take a major constitutional leap in the dark without clarity on detail. Labor’s current refusal to do that probably will mean a ‘no’ vote on the ‘voice’ referendum due to failure to secure bipartisan support. If indeed it suffers that humiliation, it’s hard to see Labor then moving on to campaigning for a second referendum on a republic if re-elected.

The inescapable facts for republicans are that any model would involve radical change to what has been a stable and effective system of government. And it’s no good Labor trying to portray all opponents of change as claret-faced Windsor-loving fogeys. There are many Australians who aren’t particular fans of the institution of monarchy or of the British royal family but who would still choose the status quo over risky change. Other factors include our living in a dangerous part of the world where it does no harm to have a special relationship with the UK, still a significant power, underpinned by constitutional links.

Labor, unable to change its tribal ways, is also repeating another Keating-era mistake – associating republicanism with Anglophobia, not widespread outside the hard Left. The republic push is also associated in much of the public mind with broader wokeism, including efforts to change our popular flag, change colonial-era place names and generally undermine the legitimacy of the non-Aboriginal presence in Australia.

Australia’s Left will probably learn the hard way that monarchical systems are resilient and rarely disappear other than in war or revolution. Republic Minister Matt Thistlethwaite wants Australians to ‘look for inspiration’ to Barbados which ditched the monarchy for a republic last year. He’s likely to be disappointed.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Mark Higgie was formerly Australia’s ambassador to the EU. @markhiggie1

Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

One thought on “Penny’s colonialoscopy

  1. The damage these fools will do to our country will be immense. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had some sensible people in power but that isn’t going to happen any time soon as all of our political class are all just shades of the same colour. Mind you this moment in history is a classic example of not letting facts get in the way of a good story.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: