Wilson da Silva

Science journalist, feature writer and editor.

Apr 21, 1997
5 min read
Author and Australian Republican Movement founder Tom Keneally

WILSON da SILVA in Sydney

Monarchists who argue against Australia becoming a republic are giving comfort to white racists and anti-Asian elements in Australian society, author and Australian Republican Movement founder Tom Keneally told a political gathering in Australia on the weekend.

“I think that white racism in Australia is buttressed by this institution (of the monarchy), and it’s time someone said it,” Keneally told a packed political forum on the republic in Sydney. 

“I feel that white racism in Australia is comforted by the institution because it creates certain precious myths: that we are white Australians, that the British fleet is out in the Pacific, saving us from the ‘fuzzy-wuzzies’. That the world is ‘as it ought to be’ – with the whites on top.”

The author of the Booker Prize-winning Schlindler’s Ark said that the institution of the monarchy, and groups like Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy which support retaining the Queen as Australia’s official head of state, are inadvertently aiding the cause of reactionary elements. He included among these controversial Australian independent MP Pauline Hanson, a vociferous opponent of Asian immigration and Aboriginal reconciliation.

 “I believe that the Hansons of Australia are very much comforted by the monarchy,” Keneally said. But he added that was not implying that Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy and its leading members, such as Liberal MP Tony Abbott or barrister Lloyd Waddy, “are racist or consciously cherish the monarchy for this reason. 

Keneally said that it was not just racists who are bolstered by Australia’s retention of the monarchy – it also sends a coded message to Asia that the White Australia policy is not quite dead. 

“I did find on lecture tour around Singapore that people think that our connection to the monarchy is yet another plank of the White Australia policy,” he told the audience. Asians see it “as sign that we’d really rather not be doing business with Asia, that we’d rather be moored off Kent.”

Abbott, former executive director and a founding member of Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy, accused Keneally of engaging “in an absolutely gigantic slur” against monarchists. “That is completely and utterly untrue, it’s an outrageous smear,” he said. “It’s just a low, contemptible thing to say.” 

Abbott said that just because Hanson supports Australia as a constitutional monarchy does not mean that all monarchists agree with her views. “I think that sometimes he allows his own dark fantasies to colour his perceptions of the constitutional debate,” he said.

To back his argument, Keneally cited a public debate some years ago at which a state Labour parliamentarian Franca Arena, who immigrated from Italy in 1959, argued the case for a republic. At that meeting, “a particular monarchist – in fact my local (MP), Bronwyn Bishop – said to her, ‘If you don’t want the Queen, why don’t go back to you own greasy country’,” Keneally recounted.

Bishop, now Australia’s Minister for Defence Industry in the Liberal-National coalition government of Prime Minister John Howard, yesterday denied making the comment. “Anyone who says that is absolutely and completely wrong, and I would be highly offended ... I would never stoop to that sort of language.”

However, Arena told The Post that she recalled the incident. “I can’t remember if Bronwyn used the word ‘greasy’, but she certainly said, ‘Why don’t you go back to your own country’.” She agreed with Keneally’s argument that the monarchy provided succour to racists and anti-Asian feelings in the country.