Could Burmese democracy heroine Aung San Suu Kyi be the new face of the Girl Guides? After 50 years, Australia’s Guides have dropped their oath of allegiance to the Queen and to God — and they might be looking for a replacement.
According to Belinda Allen, Director of Girl Guides Australia, Suu Kyi is just one of many women besides the Queen that young girls look up to. The Burmese opposition leader is apparently looking to bring the Girl Guides movement to Burma.
So was the Queen set aside to make way for a more relevant framed picture to adorn the Guide halls’ walls?
Allen, also the Chair of the Promise and Law Review Committee, said: “There are many fascinating women in the world that can inspire our girls. We all revere the Queen. She’s a terrific woman … but that doesn’t mean she necessarily needs to be included in the oath.”
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The news that Girl Guides Australia has opted to ditch its oath to the Queen comes over 10 years after Scouts Australia amended their system of promises and pledges out beyond an oath of allegiance to the Queen. Richard Miller, national chief executive of Scouts Australia, explained its decision was based on public perception at the time.
“As far as the promise is concerned, in 2001 we introduced an alternative promise which included a commitment to Australia. We answered to the needs of our members at a time when they wanted an option,” he said.
However, Miller points out the Scouts still have a long-term promise which includes a duty to the Queen and notes the place the monarch still has in Australia today.
It’s a sentiment Allen also subscribes to, despite not including an explicit reference of allegiance to the Queen in the Girl Guides’ updated oath. Allen says if you read between the lines there is still an underlying reference to Her Majesty.
“The Queen is still inherently in the promise,” she said. “If you’re serving Australia, the Queen is still our Head of State.”
Will the Queen’s portrait still be found in the halls? “If the girls want to take the picture of the Queen down they can. That’s fine — it’s up to them,” Allen said.
And the Scouts are keeping their apron strings to the motherland. “We have over 1500 halls so I should imagine quite a lot of the halls do have a photo of the Queen displayed,” Miller said.
But this isn’t just a debate about what portrait hangs where. David Morris, national director of the Australian Republican Movement, believes it’s part of a wider issue over the nature of Australian identity. He says this shouldn’t be a “controversial news story”.
“It’s an ongoing issue … I don’t think most Australians think too much about it. It’s just common sense,” he said.
When asked if he thought Australia was close to becoming a republic, Morris said: “We’re very close … we believe that this is an issue we need to resolve soon for the nature of our Australian identity as being a sovereign nation. We’ve now had control of our own Parliament since 1986. It’s just the final question regarding our head of state.”
Not surprisingly, Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy executive director Jai Martinkovits doesn’t agree with the Girl Guides’ move to drop the Queen.
“Essentially this is something which is really out of step and out of touch with mainstream Australia,” he said, adding Australians had showed they supported the monarchy via the referendum. “In 1999 people reaffirmed that this is what they supported — there is so much support for the constitutional monarchy in Australia. The referendum was won in all states with a 73% majority.”
Martinkovits also questions whether the move by the Girl Guides is in fact a reflection of the sentiment of their grassroots members. “We put in a submission when it was announced that this was to be considered and we were told that they would be listening to their grassroots membership,” he said. “Clearly it’s an elitist proposition from their management that they’re trying to push onto their grassroots members.”
Allen rejects this suggestion, saying they spent 18 months in consultation with their members.
So will we now see a flurry of social organisations ditching their allegiance to the Queen? Morris said it’s an ever-changing field: “Indeed, sometimes we see these things moving back and forwards … take for instance the NSW Parliament which has recently restored the oath of allegiance to the Queen in England.”
Other institutions that still pledge an oath to the Queen include the Defence Force and federal MPs. Prominent constitutional monarchist David Flint adds that there are many organisations that also sing the “royal anthem” — God Save the Queen — such as the Country Womens’ Association.
“Legally we have the national anthem but we also have the royal anthem which may be sung whenever it is deemed appropriate — but certainly in the presence of members of the royal family,” Flint said.
The Anglican clergy no longer swears its allegiance to the Queen — “that’s probably why no one goes to church any more”, Flint jokes.