People Love The Royals (But They Still Want A Republic)
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's Australian tour is leading news on every media outlet, but it hasn't dampened the push for a republic.
"There's a key difference between popularity in watching their interesting lives, and popularity in wanting them as head of state for Australia," said Dr Benjamin T. Jones, of the school of history at the Australian National University.
"You can't assume having the cameras and a crowd following them equals an endorsement of them as the head of state."
Jones, who researches attitudes toward an Australian republic, said there had been an "alienation" of the monarchy in this country, and the royals -- especially the popular younger generation of Harry, Meghan, William and Kate -- were seen more as celebrity figures than heads of state.
"Rather than being someone you bow down and admire, you see them as fashion icons," he told ten daily.
Harry and Meghan's Australian tour, fuelled by the announcement of their first child, has led TV news and news websites all week.
Some, including columnist Miranda Devine, claimed the visit "has Republicans beaten" and would dampen the push for Australia to shake off the royal yoke.
But the Australian Republican Movement claimed such visits and publicity around the royal family was often a blessing for their campaign.
“The number of inquiries and new supporters coming in usually quadruples during royal visits," ARM campaign director Sandy Biar told The Australian.
"At the moment, it is going gangbusters. We get quite encouraged by royal visits. They bring in a whole bunch of new people."
The ARM said Harry and Meghan were "very welcome visitors" but that Australians were able to separate the celebrity status of the royal family from their support for the royals as head of state.
"Australians of all ages know the difference between this wonderful event and the questions of our nation's identity and future," the ARM said in a statement.
But even the republican movement has been forced to admit some Aussies are swayed by the royal family's PR machine, with recent royal events -- William and Kate's wedding and children, the wedding of Harry and Meghan, last weekend's wedding of minor royal Eugenie -- making global news.
A poll of 1000 Australians in February found nearly 11 percent of people were less likely to support a republic after Harry's engagement and Kate's pregnancy, with those aged 25-34 the most likely to have their minds changed by the news.
Conversely, those events made 22 percent of respondents more likely to support a republic.
The same poll found 52.4 percent supported an Australian republic, with a quarter unsure and another 22 percent disagreeing.
Those aged 18-24 had the lowest support for a republic, with those 25-34 and 45-54 the highest support.
"Just 15 or 20 years ago, the regard for the royal family wasn't as strong as it is now," claimed Clem Macintyre, emeritus professor in the department of politics and international studies at the University of Adelaide.
"There's a particular interest in the younger generation. William and Kate began to turn things around."
He said "renewed interest" in the younger royals, often treated as celebrity and fashion icons, would make the republic campaign "more challenging".
"The next generation of William and Harry have touched a chord with many Australians. I'm struck by the level of enthusiasm of the crowds [on Harry's visit]," Macintyre said.
"I’ve been living in the UK for a number of years and it's similar there, the interest in their wedding was extraordinary and there's a resonance between the younger royals and those under 35."
There has been a sense in Australia that a new push for a republic, after the failed 1999 referendum, would have little success until the reign of Queen Elizabeth ends.
A new book claims the palace believes an Australian republic is "inevitable" and the country should "get on with it" rather than observe a "lingering deathwatch".
"I think the idea we’re about to have a 'King of Australia' for the rest of the century, with Charles then William and George in line, doesn't sit very comfortably with people," Jones claimed.
He added the royal family's "incredibly effective PR machine" was working to combat growing republican sentiment among former and current British colonies worldwide.
"They need to build up a sense of relevance. They've had to rework their image as saying we’re every day people like you, we have kids and love our families," he said.
"The Australian media has to take some responsibility as well. I think the media has become a bit lazy, in the habit of throwing it in. I don't think there would be a backlash if the media paid them less attention."