Lisa Wilkinson: Long Live Harry, Meghan And The Queen, But Australia Should Be A Republic

It’s the second most common question I have been asked all week.

After reporting from London amid a mesmerising, royal riot of news, views, headlines and finally, colourful confetti as the wedding of the decade unfolded, many on social media want to know how on earth I could even go near a royal wedding when my husband is Chair Of The Australian Republic movement?

Funny, because last time I looked, it was 2018. And the last time I sought approval from my husband on whether he thought it was OK if I reported on a story was, let me see . . . never.

I am a journalist, and my job is to cover whatever story they send me on, as impartially as possible, and ideally, to be in the middle of whatever news is being made.

The royal wedding was news. Big news. Light, happy, tabloid news, I grant you. And yet, it was also history-making for the dynamic change and modern energy that Harry and Meghan’s union brings to a steadfastly white, deeply conservative institution so firmly entrenched in centuries-old tradition.

Sure, Harry may only be sixth in line to the throne, but Meghan represents everything the royal family have long been afraid of . . . while also being everything they need to embrace, for their very relevance and survival.

Be honest now, did we ever think we would see a future mother-in-law of one so close to the throne, arriving in a Rolls Royce and a nose ring?  And don’t even get me started on the all-round fabulousness that was preacher Bishop Curry. (Did he really say mid-sermon as Her Majesty shifted uncomfortably in her seat: “Who drove here in a car?” Fantastic.)

Bishop Michael Curry. Image: Getty.

But yes, I also admit the obvious: beyond covering it professionally, it was hard not to get caught up in the myriad emotions and threads that played out and around this royal wedding.

The last time an audience of this size saw Harry, he was a young boy whose heart was utterly broken. Now we were witnessing him on the happiest day of his life. The whole Prince Harry narrative, and this turn in the tale, is nothing if not compelling -- as is the narrative of the artist who used to be known as Meghan Markle.

Here was a talented high-profile actor who was leaving her Hollywood life behind, only to join the cast of the biggest show on earth.

The recently updated Royal Family. Image: @KensingtonRoyal/Twitter

It is a union between two people whose work, above and below the radar, paint them as genuinely good souls, with passions for causes that matter.

How very refreshing. For, click bait being what it is (and human nature, sadly, being what it is), the race to the bottom these days means that scandal, reality stars, and negativity are usually what what we focus on.

Instead, this was a good news love story, pure and simple.  All with a few castles, wicked step-sisters gone rogue, tiaras and missing wedding guests thrown in for good measure.

In these troubled times, that’s got to make you smile.

And I did.  Along with the other 120,000 or so gathered outside Windsor Castle on Saturday.  As did my republican-but-romantic-at-heart husband back at home in Sydney, flicking the TV between a rare win for the Waratahs in the rugby, and the wedding.

Throughout our married life there have been many issues Pete and I don’t see eye to eye on (and as Harry and Meghan will soon learn, that is no bad thing if you want to keep things interesting), but as it happens, the idea of Australia having it’s own Head of State is not one of them.

Look, Pete may be a little more fervent in his views than me, and perhaps a little less patient for change. But to my eye, the idea that more than a century after the country of Australia came into existence through a Federation, we are somehow still not yet ready to have a trusted, respected one of our own as our true Head of State, seems, well, a little archaic.

I say “true” Head Of State because, despite what you may hear, the Governor General is not our Head Of State.  He or she is, as the Constitution clearly states, the representative of our actual Head Of State, Her Majesty the Queen.

This does not mean that I have anything less than the utmost respect and admiration for our current Monarch. She has fulfilled a difficult role across seven decades of enormous change and challenge with unwavering devotion, and deserves nothing but admiration. And even as a nonagenarian, she can effortlessly pull off a lime and purple ensemble that few others would dare to even attempt.

Her Majesty looking, well, majestic. Image: Getty.

In the not too distant future, Charles and Camilla will have the unenviable task of trying to fill those shoes.

Ultimately, though, this is not about her, or them, it’s about 24 million of us, as a people, on the other side of the planet, knowing, firstly, that we are now more than capable of independence. And can also take in pride in the fact that we have many truly great Australians who could fill the role of an independent Head of State admirably, and with Australia’s very best interests as their number one priority above all others.

Which is where having a British Monarch as our Australian Head Of State immediately becomes conflicted. Take trade missions, for example, which form an essential role in our national economic health. At the moment, when the weight of the Royal Family is put behind boosting trade, it is all but exclusively driving up British Trade, and no-one has more weight, of course, than Her Majesty.

Surely things are out of kilter when our own Head of State is pushing the cause of a country that is our trade competitor?
The Queen greets Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) at Buckingham Palace on April 19, 2018 in London, England. Image: Getty.

But we still want to be part of the Commonwealth, others say. The answer is, we can be republic and still hold onto that.  In fact, of the 52 countries that currently make up the Commonwealth Of Nations, 37 are republics.  And like them, we would still compete in the Commonwealth Games.

And what about those moments when simple national pride comes into play?

If we are in a great sporting contest directly up against England, I want to see our Head of State wearing the Green and Gold, or cheering the Baggy Greens.  William and Harry have already shown us through the jerseys they enthusiastically wear on those occasions, there is simply no competition when it comes to where their loyalties lie.

Harry and William at Twickenham, their clothes betraying their allegiance. Image: Getty.

But what of the argument that our system is not broken, so why do we need to fix it?

The short answer is that when you recognise that the whole original purpose of having the Royal Family at the top of our system of Government -- as loyalty to the Crown was the one thing that united all the colonies before Federation -- and surveys consistently show that 50 percent of Australians no longer want them in that top tier, it is broken.  And do we really still need the reigning Monarch’s approval every time a law is passed in this country as is the case right now?

I repeat, none of these desires is disrespectful to Her Majesty.

But what of those who say, “we love Kate and Wills, and now Harry and Meghan. We want more, not less of them.” We want them to come to Australia as often as possible, right?

After seeing on Saturday just how much simple happiness they can bring, I’m with you. But the truth is, nothing changes on that front.

A large part of the job of the British royal family is to drive British tourism.  And they do that job brilliantly. Americans in particular go nuts for the young royals.  Dare I say, even nuttier than we Aussies. You only have to see the tourists having their pictures taken outside Buckingham Palace (even a young Meghan Markle did it as a 15-year-old schoolgirl), to know that it works.

It goes both ways, too. Right now, Kate and Wills have made two official visits to the US since they married in 2011. And a total of one official visit to Australia.  Can you pick the preferred Commonwealth nation on those numbers?

Certainly no evidence there that Commonwealth status moves us up the list of priorities when it comes to popping over for a cuppa.

And when we do eventually become a republic, the great news is, all the glitz and harmless glamour of those fairytale royal lives, all the fashion wins and faux pas, the births, the deaths and yes, the marriages will go on.  And many of us, republicans or not, members of the Commonwealth or not, will want to sneak a peek at the theatre of it all.

And can I tell you something?  A big man in a red bandana will also be one of those. Smiling along with the rest of us. And he certainly won’t be asking my permission, or blessing, to do so.