“Position vacant. Generous renumeration. Male applicants preferred. Definitely no Catholics. Atheists, Jews and Muslims need not apply.”

Any reputable newspaper would refuse the above ad, if only because it violates about a zillion anti-discrimination laws. But it’s an honest summary of the succession protocols applying to the British monarchy. That’s why Bob Brown’s renewed push for a republic should be welcomed: at the moment, we select our highest post by methods you couldn’t apply to a job flipping burgers.

Even in Britain, there’s been recent talk about reforming some of the more egregious pieces of bigotry that cling to the monarchy like mould on an S bend. For instance, for the last 300 years, Catholics have been explicitly barred from marrying into our royal family, a little legacy of a time when the Papists generated the kind of hysteria reserved today for Muslims. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has also tut-tutted about how the succession automatically favours male royals over their female relatives — why, it’s almost like the monarchy is s-xist or something.

The succession explicitly depends on legitimacy, which was a principle no doubt very important in the feudal era but somewhat so less so under late capitalism. We can have (as we’ve learned over many decades) a bastard for a prime minister — why not as a king?

Then there’s the stipulation that the sovereign must be, as they say, “in communion” with the Church of England, a body to which only 18 per cent of Australians adhere. That seems to rule out Buddhists, Muslims, atheists and Jedi knights — most of the population, in fact.

The difficulty facing Brown (the UK PM, not the Greens leader) is that as soon as you open the can labelled “reform of the monarchy”, all kinds of worms crawl out. The wriggliest, of course, is the very concept of hereditary succession, the inherently and consciously anti-democratic foundation on which the whole system rests. In other words, the next king or queen of England need prove no particular intelligence or aptitude before we sign them up for a job for life, since the gig depends on where they stand in the family tree relative to the Electress Sophia of Hanover.

If you’re not David Flint, you’re probably asking what an electress is when it’s at home. In many ways, that’s the biggest problem republicanism faces — most Australians know little about the royal family and care less. The Windsors register, for the most part, as little or as much as any other clutch of B-grade celebrities. Mostly, one doesn’t think of them at all — and then, all of a sudden, they’re all over your TV, usually apologising for Prince Philip calling someone a wog or one of the boys getting photographed in Nazi regalia. Their irrelevance mostly counters their gormlessness, so that it’s hard to summon enough energy to get rid of them.

Nonetheless, a republic would still constitute a mild democratic reform and for that reason it’s worth pursuing. Leaving aside the whole issue of reserve powers (which don’t seem to matter until, as in 1975, they suddenly do), the monarchy means that the figure whom we’re also supposed to admire and respect, the personage regularly honoured at public events and ceremonies, will never be of Indigenous ancestry. Sure, on the scale of injuries suffered by Aboriginal Australians, it’s probably pretty well down the list, but, nonetheless, the point remains.

The argument against installing a more democratic system (and let’s face it: choosing a sovereign by lottery would make as much sense) consists mostly of the sentiment summed up in Belloc’s lines:

And always keep a-hold of Nurse
For fear of finding something worse.

Well, if we’re really that frightened of change, we’re not going to like the twenty-first century very much.

In that respect, the renewed push for a republic poses a test for Kevin Rudd. Reform is right. It’s also popular, both with the public and inside the Labor Party. Yes, there’s a rump of diehard reactionaries who, over any proposal, will weep and wail, Chris Crocker-style (“Leave … Elizabeth Windsor … alone!”). And, yes, their quavery old voices will be amplified a hundred-fold by the professional scaremongers of the Murdoch press.

But, hey, that’s the way the world works. And if you can’t achieve something that should be as uncontroversial as removing the last traces of feudalism, well, what’s the point of forming government at all?