Australia and palace propaganda

17 02 2021

A story on last evening’s royal news was about the king and queen visiting the Australian Embassy together with Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, several Privy Councillors and cabinet ministers along with a bevy of senior officials – with not a mask in sight. The visit marked the embassy’s production of a “documentary” on the king’s several years in Australia when he struggled through some high school and then undertook military training.

Like all monarchy propaganda, it “will be aired on TV Pool until Thursday.” The first bit to be shown “highlights the visit to Australia by King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit as well as [the current king’s] early years in Australia. “

It is baffling why the Australians think it is a good idea to be complicit in palace propaganda. It seems remarkably like Cold War era efforts by the USA, Australia and other Western allies to link up with royalists and dictators in promoting the monarch.

The Australian Ambassador Allan McKinnon bubbled to the media, telling them that “the Australian embassy in Bangkok obtained footage of the King’s time in Australia from the National Archives of Australia and developed the footage into a documentary…”. The reason it did this is “to highlight the shared history between the Thai royal family and Australia…”.

The ambassador declared that the documentary and its associated photo exhibition demonstrates “the strength of the relationship between two countries, which was recently elevated to the status of a strategic partnership, signed by Gen Prayut, the Australian ambassador and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison last November.”

It does sound ever so Cold War-like. As it was then, we doubt anyone will mention the protests and snubs the dead king received in 1962 or the current king’s somewhat checkered time in Australia.

We can point out some background information. During the dead king’s visit, the Secretary of the New South Wales Labor Council “said it was vulgar to display expensive jewellery (reported to be worth 240,000 pounds, or roughly $6.5m in today’s terms) and that ‘his heart went out to the poor people of her country’.”

Before that visit, the faculty at the Australian National University refused to offer an honorary degree to the king, and another was hastily arranged at the more conservative University of Melbourne. As Paul Handley has it in a footnote:

The trips were not all perfectly smooth. In Australia several small protests greeted the royal couple, as did uncomplimentary media coverage of Sirikit’s ostentatious jewelry and clothing collection. There was also turmoil surrounding Canberra’s plan to have Australia National University award Bhumibol an honorary doctorate. The university refused because Bhumibol had never earned an undergraduate degree from a college or university. Finally the government persuaded a lesser institution, the University of Melbourne, to give the king an honorary doctorate of laws.

For an account of Vajiralongkorn’s time in Australia, with some of the warts exposed – others remain secret – read our post of an important Australian newspaper investigation. We can be sure none of this will appear in the embassy’s contribution to palace propaganda.


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