Julia Gillard backs Queen's successor as Commonwealth head

  • 27 March 2013
  • From the section UK
  • comments
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard
Image caption Julia Gillard's comments on the Commonwealth may surprise some

A quick internet search reveals how Julia Gillard has made headlines in recent days.

The Australian prime minister survived a leadership challenge; reshuffled her cabinet; and apologised to the victims of her country's policy in the past of forced adoptions.

But an answer she gave in parliament doesn't appear to have registered at all.

It was in response to a question about the Commonwealth Charter.

The organisation's attempt to set out, for the first time, its core principles is not a topic which obviously excites the minds of headline writers. But what Ms Gillard had to say was significant and potentially historic.

The key passage was delivered as the prime minister paid tribute to the "distinguished" service of the Queen as head of the Commonwealth over many decades.

She went on to say this: "The institution of the head of the Commonwealth, standing as it does above individual governments, has been an asset of the Commonwealth since its foundation, and we need not be reticent about its future.

"For Australia's part, I am sure the Queen's successor as monarch will one day serve as head of the Commonwealth with the same distinction as her Majesty has done."

This straightforward and clear statement that the Prince of Wales will one day follow in his mother's footsteps - as the symbolic head of a body which represents 30% of the world's population - is striking for a number of reasons.

Until recently, it had been the accepted view that Charles, unlike Elizabeth, would not automatically take on this role.

The heads of government of the 54 countries would have to decide what to do when the prince became king.

But that accepted view has been challenged gently in recent weeks.

As I have written before, the Commonwealth secretary-general, Kamalesh Sharma, has spoken of how Prince Charles' support for the Commonwealth had "deepened" its links to the Crown.

And, at the same event, the Queen thanked Mr Sharma for his "thoughtful" words about the "enduring value" of this bond.

Added to these remarks, we now have Ms Gillard's far from opaque or delphic comments.

Removing uncertainty?

They have added resonance because of her view of the value of maintaining Australia's link with the British crown.

She's made it clear she would favour her country becoming a republic once the Queen is no longer on the throne.

So, she clearly envisages a future where Charles would not be her king but would be head of the Commonwealth.

Her endorsement of that role is an important one for the heir to the throne.

The days and weeks after he fulfils his destiny could be tricky ones.

He has his critics, countries other than Australia could seek to remove him as their head of state, and uncertainty over whether or not he would take on the Commonwealth could prove to be destabilising.

Julia Gillard has sought to remove that uncertainty.

One has to assume that her public statement followed private soundings. The mood music, for now, is that a body born out of the collapse of the British empire appears content to have an unelected monarch as its next head.

This will bolster the reign of Britain's next sovereign.

Without fanfare or fuss, a republican named Julia has come to the aid of Charles, a future king.