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Royal courtesy: Australia's Labor prime minister Julia greets the Queen with a bow (not a curtsey) (Andrew Meares/AP) 

When Queen Elizabeth paid her sixteenth official visit to Australia in October, some sage at Reuters predicted that the royal tour would "reignite debate about whether the nation should become a republic". Seasoned students of Australian republicanism knew this would prove to be poppycock; and so it did. As things turned out, the Queen's visit sparked much discussion about her aqua hat, and her wattle brooch. When our prime minister bowed to her instead of curtseying, there was some talk of whether that constituted the diplomatic equivalent of a headbutt. But the only discussions of republicanism I heard concerned how little everybody was talking about republicanism.  

Australians are used to hearing predictions about a resurgence of the republican spirit. But the dog of Australian republicanism keeps failing to bark. I wonder if we need to examine the possibility that it is dead. If it isn't, it's certainly in a very bad way. A recent poll found that only 34 per cent of Australians now favour a republic. Polls should always be treated with caution, but few Australians would doubt the veracity of that one. All you need to do in order to confirm it is stick your head out the window and listen to the sound of silence. Nobody talks about the republic any more. And this is an age when people are ready to talk and tweet and blog about pretty much anything. 

Even republicans go out of their way not to discuss the subject. Australia's current prime minister, Julia Gillard, is a committed republican — or so she says. And the Labor Party, which she leads, remains officially in favour of a republic. But Gillard is on record as saying that Australians are so fond of the Queen that it would be improper to resume talking about a republic until a new monarch ascends the throne. Considering her woeful standing in the polls, Ms Gillard is distinctly unlikely to be still on the scene when that happens. This makes her a fairly typical neo-republican: she believes the right time to deal with the issue will be when she isn't around to deal with it.     

What happened to the republic? There was a time, during the 1990s, when an Australian republic seemed not just inevitable, but imminent. Back then, Australia had a Labor prime minister whose republicanism was hands on. Paul Keating is still remembered, and in some quarters reviled, for having very lightly placed his hand on the Queen's lumbar region during an official meet-and-greet. Keating wasn't afraid to kick the monarchy when it was down. His fomenting of the republican cause in the mid-Nineties coincided with a dreadful run of PR for the House of Windsor. The shenanigans of Charles and Diana didn't go unnoticed in Australia. When Fergie's toe was sucked by Stanley Tucci's doppelgänger, Australians were kept hideously in the loop. Indeed, it's conceivable that Australian republicans were the only people in the world able to view those photographs with relish.   

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