Australia proclaims accession of King Charles as leaders say republic talk must wait

A gun salute echoed off the hills of Canberra after Governor-General David Hurley proclaimed the accession of King Charles III with a formal pledge from Australia to offer “faith and obedience” to the new sovereign.

Hundreds of spectators gathered at Parliament House and some called out “God save the King” when the Governor-General swore loyalty to the new monarch, officials raised the Australian flag to full-mast and the Royal Military College band played the royal anthem.

The band of Royal Military College at Duntroon take part in the proclamation ceremony.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

But the ceremony itself was an echo of a proclamation made elsewhere when members of the Privy Council had stood before King Charles on Saturday at St James’s Palace in Westminster.

Every constitutional step taken on the forecourt of Parliament House followed the traditions set in London and, therefore, reminded every onlooker of a debate – muted for now, but inevitable in time – about whether Australia might one day break its bonds with Buckingham Palace.

“Now is not a time to talk about our system of government,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Sunday morning.

“Now is a time for us to pay tribute to the life of Queen Elizabeth, a life well lived.”

One priority for Albanese is to head to London on Thursday to attend the Queen’s funeral in Westminster Abbey on Monday, but he has also started talks with Pacific Island leaders about a possible Royal Australian Air Force jet that could take them to London as well.

A 21 gun salute during the proclamation ceremony for King Charles III in Canberra on Sunday.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton also said the debate about a republic was for “another day” when he appeared on the ABC’s Insiders program a few hours before he joined Albanese at Parliament House to hear the proclamation.

“We need a King as much as we did a Queen because we have a stability in our system that has served us well and I don’t believe in disrupting that,” he said.

The immediate outcome for Australians on Sunday was the declaration of a public holiday on Thursday, September 22, to mark a national memorial service to be held in the Great Hall of Parliament House after Albanese and Hurley and their partners have returned from the funeral.

Over the horizon, however, are certain questions about the nature of Australian statehood after the proclamation of a foreign head of state.

The unique national character of the proceedings on Sunday came from the First Australians in the Parliament House forecourt, something that would have been unthinkable to political leaders at the proclamation of Queen Elizabeth in Canberra in 1952.

Members of the public watching the proclamation ceremony for King Charles III, at Parliament House in Canberra.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Ngunnawal elder Aunty Violet Sheridan gave the Welcome to Country and songman Billy T held a smoking ceremony and sang when the Yukembruk dance group performed a traditional dance.

“No matter what your views, Queen Elizabeth lived a life of service,” said Sheridan.

While Albanese stood on the podium at the beginning and end of the proceedings to watch the Federation Guard of the Australian Defence Force present arms, the nation’s elected leader made no remarks to recognise the new head of state.

Ceremonies differed across the dominions over the weekend. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke at the proclamation in Wellington but Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a private meeting with cabinet ministers in Ottawa before an official read the proclamation. (There was no speech from British Prime Minister Liz Truss at the proclamation in St James.)

Albanese began the process on Sunday morning by arriving at Government House in Yarralumla with more than a dozen federal ministers to hold a formal meeting of the executive council with the Governor-General. The decision was to advise Hurley to issue the proclamation.

No other decision was remotely possible in a constitutional arrangement that required Australian leaders to recognise a head of state confirmed elsewhere the previous day.

This was underlined when the Governor-General ended his brief speech in Canberra by revealing he had instructed the Prime Minister to sign the proclamation.

“Signed by me as Governor-General and counter-signed by my command by the Honourable Anthony Albanese MP, Prime Minister of Australia,” he said.

Albanese, in other words, had no agency in the matter.

Support for the constitutional monarchy had a narrow majority of 54 per cent nationwide when the Resolve Political Monitor asked voters in January, but opinions are split on how to choose a head of state.

Putting the case against change on Sunday, former prime minister John Howard said there was a “keener appreciation” of the value of the monarchy in an uncertain world.

“People look around the world at the moment and the alternative governance systems on offer, even in democracies, don’t look all that flash on occasions,” he said on the ABC’s Insiders program.

“I think the strength and durability and the flexibility of the constitutional monarchy is something that more people appreciate than is imagined.

“But that’s obviously a debate that will continue to be held. It’s the sort of debate that never stops. That is fair enough. It’s a democracy. People can argue for change.”

They will not argue at full volume right now, however. The leaders of Antigua and Barbuda have just announced a referendum on a republic within three years, but Albanese will not follow suit when his priority is a referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

Advocates for a republic say the debate must wait. They believe the Australian Republic Movement is right to stay quiet. To do otherwise, said one, would be like blowing a horn outside a funeral.

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