Thursday, 12 June 2008

Can Australia afford an Emperor’s visit?
While visiting Japan Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his wife had an audience with the Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko on 11th June. According to a newspaper report "Rudd invited the Emperor and the Empress to visit Australia … and extended the invitation also to the Heir to the throne, Crown Prince Naruhito, and Crown Princess Masako.” Not a single journalist seems to have noticed that Prime Minister Rudd was not entitled to invite the Japanese Emperor. It is most likely that he handed over the invitation of the Queen of Australia's representative, the Governor-General, since a head of state can only be invited by another head of state, not by the head of government. Kevin Rudd seems to follow the bad example of his predecessor, John Howard, who continuously sidelined the Governor-General.

One can only hope that the Prime Minister had consulted his republican backbenchers before inviting the royal guests, since recent visits by members of Royal Families were not welcomed by Labor MPs. Take Labor MP Daryl Melham as an example: "I don't begrudge looking after people, but what the royals cost is a bit over the top," he said in September 2006, after a report had revealed that the Queen’s and the Duke of Edinburgh six day stay in Australia had cost “just under $1.5 million”. $662,678 was spent on travel expenses, $81,800 on accommodation, $61,460 on security and a whopping $644,300 for "other expenses'', including entertainment. The same report put George Bush’s brief stay in Sydney as a comparison at $186,000.

Of course the comparison was not done by giving the real figures. A 24 hour stay of George Bush and his entourage in Germany that same year had cost € 20 million or ($ 28 million) and Australia could host the US president at the cheap rate of $186,000? 12,000 policemen shielded him away from the German public. Were there none in Sydney? It seems, no security bill was put up, and certainly no compensation was paid to shop owners who had to close their business for security reasons. Sydney Airport must have forgotten to hand in the bill for the landing strip that was damaged by the president’s Air Force One plane.

The three day visit of the Swedish King and Queen cost double the one day trip of the Chinese dictator-president Hu Jintao to Australia. Not unreasonable, it seems. But republicans cried foul.

Who’s to blame? The Royals, of course, if you follow the critics. The anti-Monarchy reflex makes you wonder if Australian republicans want to avoid any visit of Monarchs and heirs to the throne at all because they fear this might encourage the monarchist sentiment in Australia. “Only a republican visitor is a welcome visitor”, could be the motto.

However, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako will be most welcome in Australia and for once the thrifty republicans should forget their ideological blindness and give the Imperial guests a hearty welcome, if only as a symbol of the long term reconciliation between Austalia and Japan.

Republicans should spare their angry red faces for the time when the Queen of Australia or another member of the Australian Royal Family will be on our soil.

No comments: