BRITISH royals Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle arrived in Sydney, Australia on Monday for their first official overseas tour as a married couple. While enthusiasm and waving flags will greet the couple along their tour, not everyone is welcoming the darlings of the royal family.
Australia is still a constitutional monarchy meaning the British monarch is still the head of state. This is a hangover from colonial times that Australian’s have in the past opted to keep. The last referendum was in 1999.
But not everyone is happy about Australia technically still being at the mercy of the Queen; in fact, the majority of people would rather this wasn’t the case.
In February, support for the monarchy hit its lowest level ever, according to a poll by Research Now.
Fifty-two percent of respondents believe Australia should be a republic, with only 22 percent disagreeing.
And the glamourous new Royals, who married in May to much international adulation, are not enough to sway the opinion. When asked if the couple’s engagement and the celebrity star-factor of Markle made any difference to their opinion, 67 percent said no.
In reality, the difference between a republic and a monarchy would be mostly symbolic as opposed to any drastic change in the governance of Australia. While possible, the Queen has never vetoed any government rulings and is exceedingly unlikely to ever do so.
But for many, that symbolism is incredibly important.
Protests by indigenous Australians tend to accompany any royal visit given the bloody history of British colonialists.
For at least a century and a half after the British invasion, Aboriginal communities experienced extreme violence and continued dispossession of land, the negative effects of which are still felt today. British-inspired wars and mass murders across the continent continued from the first east coast contact in 1770 to the Coniston massacre in 1928 and beyond.
In April, during the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, a leg of the traditional baton relay was held up as Aboriginal activists demanded Britain’s royal family members – Prince Charles and his wife Camilla – ask permission to visit “stolen” land.
During Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton’s visit in 2014, Aboriginal protestors gathered at a reception, chanting “No treaty, no peace” and “Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.”
But some in the republic movement welcome visits from the royals as it stokes debate and once again puts the call for a republic centre stage.
“Basically royal visits are good for the republic movement,” Michael Cooney, national director of the Australian Republic Movement, told The Guardian. “Royal news is republic news, it drives interest and discussion.”
“If you think about this visit, it’s actually a picture of what life would look like if Australia were a republic. Someone like Prince Harry comes here for an event like the Invictus Games … and he comes as a very welcome guest, but not as our head of state. It’s a picture of the future.”
Australia’s not the only country where the couple’s visit could ruffle some feathers. They will also stop by Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand.
— harry and meghan fan (@harryandmeghan4) October 14, 2018
With Fiji’s election coming up in November, diplomats have expressed fears their visit could influence the outcome.
“It’s not the right time,” Robin Nair, who was Fiji’s foreign affairs permanent secretary until he quit last year, told ABC News. “The perception is, of course, that the [Fijian] government will take full advantage” of the opportunity to be seen with the pair.
Despite the negative connotations and protests, it appears much of Australia is enthusiastically gearing up to give the couple a right royal welcome – in the most Australian of ways.
While in the rural town of Dubbo, New South Wales, Harry and Meghan will attend a community barbecue, where mayor Ben Shields hopes they’ll get the chance to try some classic Australian cuisine – the meat pie.