ABC The Drum - After all these years: Melbourne Anzac Service made relevant

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God Save the Queen has been banished from the Melbourne Anzac Day Dawn Service, which is held to honour those who died for - and who served for - God, King and Country.

"It would be not only distasteful," says Jai Martinkovits from Young Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, "but also offensive to remove such a significant ceremonial centrepiece."

He was speaking on the Victorian RSL's decision to drop God Save The Queen from the Melbourne Anzac Day Dawn service.

"As a young person, with a Hungarian-Welsh background," he continued, "I was raised to respect those servicemen who fought to make Australia what it is today. The fact that I was not born in England does not make the Royal Anthem any less relevant to me."

Playing God Save the Queen is an old tradition in the Dawn Service, which was originally intended only for veterans. The Melbourne organising committee claims this tradition is "no longer relevant to the younger dawn service audience".

... no longer relevant ...

The Victorian RSL President Major-General David McLachlan told Melbourne's Herald Sun on April 13:

"It's been shown that the majority of people don't know it at the Dawn Service, many people say to us afterwards, "Why do you include it?"

It is not known what surveys were undertaken of people who regularly attend the Dawn Service. But just because someone asks about the relevance of something, does not mean you get rid of it.

They could equally ask about the relevance of The Last Post or the prayers.

It is a peculiar feature of our age that everything must be made "relevant" to younger people - as determined by older people. The argument is that if we get rid of the past and become very informal, young people will like that.

The opposite is true, as we see with the complete failure among the young of the campaign to shred the National Flag. If young people do not understand the place of the Royal Anthem - if that is in fact the case - this hardly constitutes grounds for its removal.

... is the Constitution relevant? ... 

Last year we learned that despite years of federally funded civics education, only 34 per cent of Year 10 students could correctly answer the elementary question "What is the Australian Constitution?" And that was in a multi-choice question - a modern teaching device which allows a student to guess the answer.

It seems that two thirds of Year 10 students do not understand what the Constitution is, although I find that difficult to believe. But if it is the case, and civics education is a complete failure, does this mean that the Constitution is not relevant?

Is the consequence then that we should follow the example of the Victorian RSL and repeal it?

... they don't know the words ... 

The fact that the majority of those attending last year - were they counting? - did not know the words of the Royal Anthem should not be a determining factor. When he was campaigning to become prime minister, John Hewson said on air he would make all children sing the National Anthem each day. When challenged to sing it himself, he could not remember the words.

As Brett Hogan, ACM's Victorian Convenor said "If people don't know the words to God Save the Queen, then put the words in an Order of Service. I think that many veterans would be disappointed that the Victorian RSL has such little respect for the views of its members. If you can't count on the RSL to respect tradition, then who can you count on?"

... there is always a reason ... 

There is always some reason for removing symbols of the Crown. When a painting was removed from the foyer of the New South Wales Parliament House to an area where the public cannot see it, the presiding officers disingenuously claimed that it was being damaged by sunlight.

The real reason is often creeping republicanism, removing the symbols of one of the institutions which provide checks and balances against the excesses of the political class. As we learned in New South Wales, that is why their Governors were thrown out of Government House.

... after all, Bob Hawke made it unlawful ...

Among the spurious reasons tendered for dropping God Save The Queen is that it is unlawful to play it in the absence of members of the Royal Family.

In explaining why the Royal Anthem was dropped from the ANZAC Shrine of Remembrance service in Melbourne in 2005, then premier Steve Bracks claimed God Save the Queen, "is only played at official and ceremonial functions in Australia attended by a member of the Royal Family."

As the Official Secretary to five Governors-General, Sir David Smith says, this is a common misunderstanding. In 1984, the Hawke government without any vote by the people turned the then National Song, Advance Australia Fair, into the National Anthem and God Save The Queen into the Royal Anthem (In the '90s, the Keating government announced the National Flag would go that decade. There was no suggestion of a referendum).

The 1984 Proclamation, as submitted to governor-general Sir Ninian Stephen, provided that the Royal Anthem be used only in the presence of The Queen or a member of the Royal Family.

Sir Ninian was no rubber stamp, as Malcolm Fraser learnt later. He pointed out this would have exposed the government to ridicule.

They could hardly ban the use of God Save The Queen when royalty was not present, even if this were the unlikely intention of the draftsman. But that is how it read. So on Sir Ninian's advice it was changed by special minister of state Mick Young striking out the word "only" during the executive council meeting.

But someone forgot to tell Bob Hawke's office . His press release included the word "only".

That erroneous press release has been treated as gospel. The wrong advice has been given out by various premiers' departments over the years, with the Royal Anthem of Australia being dropped from RSL services and from other occasions.

... a disgrace ...

Rather than dropping tradition to appear relevant, the Victorian RSL should be more concerned about the Federal Government, not known for its abstemious record, deciding to economise by not paying those serving in the Defence Force Reserves who want to march on Anzac Day. Worse, they have directed that members of the Reserve may not wear their uniforms.

That is a national disgrace.

Jai Martinkovits