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ACM Home arrow The Commonwealth

The Commonwealth
The Commonwealth


The Commonwealth of Nations, normally referred to as the Commonwealth and formerly known as the British Commonwealth, is an intergovernmental organisation of fifty-three independent member states which grew out of the British Empire.

Only two members, Mozambique and Rwanda, were not British colonies.

The member states cooperate within a framework of common values and goals including the promotion of democracy, human rights, good governance, the rule of law, individual liberty, egalitarianism, free trade, multilateralism, and world peace.

 The Commonwealth is not a political union, but an intergovernmental organisation through which countries with diverse social, political, and economic backgrounds are regarded as equal in status.

The Commonwealth Secretariat is headed by the Secretary-General. Meetings of  Commonwealth Heads of Government are held every two years.

 Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of the Commonwealth and as such is a symbol of the members free association.  Her Majesty is also the monarch of 16 members of the Commonwealth which are referred to as Commonwealth realms. 



...history...


The first usage of the term ‘Commonwealth of Nations’ appears to be to have been in 1884 by Lord Rosebery when he was visiting Australia.  He described the changing the British Eempire  with some of its colonies becoming more independent as a Commonwealth of Nations.

Conferences of British and colonial prime ministers had occurred periodically since 1887, leading to the creation of the Imperial Conferences in 1911. The Commonwealth developed from the Imperial Conferences.

A specific proposal was presented by Jan Christian Smuts in 1917 when he coined the term "the British Commonwealth of Nations," and envisioned the "future constitutional relations and readjustments in the British Empire."  Smuts successfully argued that the Empire should be represented at the all-important Versailles Conference of 1919 by delegates from the dominions as well as Britain.

 In the Balfour Declaration at the 1926 Imperial Conference, Great Britain and its dominions agreed they were "equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations".

The members agreed that in future governors general should be appointed by the sovereign after consultation with and advice from the ministers of the respective Dominion.

These aspects to the relationship were eventually formalised by the Statute of Westminster in 1931. Australia, New Zealand, and Newfoundland delayed ratification of the statute.  Newfoundland never did as it joined Canada in 1948 . Australia and New Zealand did in 1942 and 1947 respectively.



...British Commonwealth becomes The Commonwealth....



After World War II, the British Empire was gradually dismantled to just 14 British overseas territories, still held by the United Kingdom today.

In April 1949, following the London Declaration, the word "British" was dropped from the title of the Commonwealth to reflect its changing nature.  

In addition, it was agreed that the overseas members should no longer be referred to as dominions, but rather as Commonwealth realms

Burma (also known as Myanmar, 1948), and Aden (1967) are the only states that were British colonies at the time of the war not to have joined the Commonwealth upon post-war independence.





...absent friends...




Among the former British colonies, protectorates and mandates  which have  never become members of the Commonwealth are the United States (1776)  Egypt (independent in 1922), Iraq (1932), Transjordan (1946), British Palestine (part of which became the state of Israel in 1948), Sudan (1956), British Somaliland (which became part of Somalia in 1960), Kuwait (1961), Bahrain (1971), Oman (1971), Qatar (1971), and the United Arab Emirates (1971).



...republics...

The issue of countries with constitutional structures not based on a shared Crown but that wanted to remain members of the Commonwealth, came to a head in 1948 with passage of the Republic of Ireland Act 1948, in which Ireland renounced the sovereignty of the Crown[ and thus left the Commonwealth. The Ireland Act 1949 passed by the Parliament of Westminster offered citizens of the Republic of Ireland a status similar to that of citizens of the Commonwealth in UK law.

In April 1949 at a Commonwealth prime ministers meeting in London, it was agreed that a realm could become a republic and if approved by the other members could remain within the Commonwealth.

 Under this London Declaration, India agreed that, when it became a republic, in January 1950, it would accept the British Sovereign as a "symbol of the free association of its independent member nations and as such the Head of the Commonwealth".


...until 2007, re-apply...
 

Until 2007, a realm wishing to become a republic still had to reapply for membership of the Commonwealth.  This would have to be approved by all members.  In 1999, ACM revealed that Australian republicans, including the Attorney-General had overlooked the requirements of the London declaration. 

Constitutional monarchists criticised the Republicans for not ascertaing this and ensuring that there would be no objection from other members to any change of status.  This would have required unanimous approval of other members. In practice approval seems to have been ssumed in the absence of an objection.  At that time Australia did not have the most friendly relations with the Malaysian Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir. He had vetoed our membership of another international group.

Now,  change to a republic can be effected without reapplication provided the member is observing all of the Commonwealth criteria for membership. The judgement on this is made by the other members acting unanimously.  Thus it could be argued that the 2007 decision could still raise the issue of a veto following a change of status .

Following India's precedent, other nations became republics, or constitutional monarchies with their own monarchs, while some countries retained the same monarch as the United Kingdom, but their monarchies developed differently and soon became fully independent of the British monarchy. The monarch of each Commonwealth realm, whilst the same person, is regarded as a separate legal personality for each realm.  In 1999 th 

Exhibition, Queen & Commonwealth: The Royal Tour Print E-mail
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Sunday, 28 June 2009

At Buckingham Palace this summer, from 26 July – 30 September 2009, there will be an exhibition of dresses and jewellery worn by Queen Elizabeth, and gifts presented to Her Majesty by the people of the Commonwealth. 

This exhibition, Queen & Commonwealth: The Royal Tour, marks the 60th anniversary of the modern Commonwealth and will evoke some of the most important overseas tours undertaken by QE II during her reign. (News of this came throught Harold Schmauze of the Monarchist Alliance)  

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The Commonwealth at 60: Who should be its next head? Print E-mail
Written by Sir Ronald Sanders   
Sunday, 03 May 2009

The modern Commonwealth – a voluntary group of 53 nations – celebrated sixty-years of its existence on April 28th. For all but four years, Queen Elizabeth II has been the Head of the Commonwealth. Now, as the Commonwealth looks to the future, it also has to anticipate the need for a new Head.

Sir Ronald Sanders is a business
executive and former Caribbean
diplomat who publishes widely
on small states in the global
community. Reponses to:
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The Queen turned 83 years old just seven days before the modern Commonwealth’s 60th anniversary. Her father, George VI, was the British King in 1949 when what was then an eight-nation grouping looked set to break-up over the desire by India to become a Republic. Up to that point Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan and Ceylon (later Sri Lanka) had a common Head of State – the British Crown. India, which had become independent in 1947, decided that it wished to become a Republic with its own Head of State. In what was a remarkable demonstration not only of good sense, but also a desire to keep the Commonwealth together, the Indian Government affirmed India’s desire “to continue full membership of the Commonwealth and accepted The King as the symbol of the free association of its independent member nations and as such the Head of the Commonwealth”.

On that basis, every new member of the Commonwealth since 1949 has accepted the British Crown as Head of the Commonwealth.

Read more...
 
The Queen's Commonwealth Day Message Print E-mail
Written by Her Majesty The Queen   
Thursday, 12 March 2009

This year the Commonwealth commemorates its foundation sixty years ago. The London Declaration of 1949 was the start of a new era in which our member countries committed themselves to work together, in partnership and as equals, towards a shared future.

We can rightly celebrate the fact that the founding members’ vision of the future has become a reality. The Commonwealth has evolved out of all recognition from its beginning. It has helped give birth to modern nations, and the eight original countries have become fifty-three. We are now home to nearly two billion people, a third of the world’s population. Across continents and oceans, we have come to represent all the rich diversity of humankind.

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Yet despite its size and scale, the Commonwealth to me has been sustained during all this change by the continuity of our mutual values and goals. Our beliefs in freedom, democracy and human rights; development and prosperity mean as much today as they did more than half a century ago.

These values come from a common responsibility exercised by our governments and peoples. It is this which makes the Commonwealth a family of nations and peoples, at ease with being together. As a result, I believe we are inspired to do our best to meet people’s most pressing needs, and to develop a truly global perspective. That is why the modern Commonwealth has stood the test of time.

But as we reflect upon our long association, we should recognize the challenges that lie ahead. Nearly one billion people of today’s Commonwealth are under 25 years of age. These are the people that this association must continue to serve in the future. It is they who can help shape the Commonwealth of today, and whose children will inherit the Commonwealth of tomorrow.

To help them make the best of their opportunities, our young men and women therefore need the opportunity to become active and responsible members of the communities in which they live. I am pleased that the Commonwealth recognizes this, and is determined to continue to put young people at its centre.

The call that brought the Commonwealth together in 1949 remains the same today. Then we joined together in a collective spirit – built on lasting principles, wisdom, energy and creativity – to meet the great tasks of our times. As the Commonwealth celebrates its sixtieth birthday, its governments, communities and we as individuals should welcome that achievement. Together, we should continue to work hard to deal with today’s challenges so that the young people of today’s Commonwealth can realize their aspirations. In that way, we can look to the future with confidence.

 

 
Commonwealth Day, Sydney 2009 Print E-mail
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Thursday, 12 March 2009

Commonwealth Day was celebrated across the world on Monday 9 March 2009.

In Sydney, the celebrations were coordinated by a voluntary body, the Commonwealth Day Council of New South Wales, which is chaired by Ms. Janet Stewart. (Council member David Bennett has developed a website (www.commday.org.au) on the Council’s activities.)

The day began with a debate in the beautiful Legislative Assembly chamber of the NSW Parliament, an event approved approved and greatly supported by the Speaker, the Hon Richard Torbay. The debate was between teams from the NSW Public Schools and the Combined Associated Schools and the subject was “That the Commonwealth at 60 needs a facelift.”

The Public Schools team was made up of Justin McMahon, of North Sydney Boys’ High School, Solange Handley of Smiths Hill High School and Antony Paul of Sydney Boys’ High School, all coordinated by Lloyd Cameron from the Department of Education and Training.

The Combined Associated Schools were represented by Tom Williamson of Barker College, Daillus Wilson of St. Aloysius’ College and Mark Khunnithi of Cranbrook, coordinated by Patrick Caldwell.


[ Sir Ian Turbott, Kt., AO., CMG.,CVO.]
[ Sir Ian Turbott, Kt., AO., CMG.,CVO.]

 

I had the honour and the very pleasant task of presiding over the proceedings. The debaters were formidable and entertaining the audience but no doubt made the adjudicators’ decision difficult. 

In the meantime a band from the Scots College performed in the forecourt – you could hear this coming into the chamber - while children formed a guard of honour in the foyer, each holding the flag of one of the 53 countries of the Commonwealth, an impressive display.

Her Excellency the Governor of New South Wales, Professor Marie Bashir and  Sir Nicholas Shehadie, together with the Speaker, the Hon. Richard Torbay and the President of the Legislative Council, the Hon. Peter Primrose, were piped through the flagbearers  into the Strangers Room where a large assembly of about  250 including members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps, various Commonwealth  Societies including Mr. Frank Gartrell President of the Royal; Commonwealth Society and other distinguished guests stood in their honour.

The MC for the function was the well known television personality Mr. Mike Munro, who also adjudicated the debate with Mr. Paresh Khandar from the NSW Bar chaired by the Hon Max Willis, former president of the Legislative Council.  Mr. Willis wisely delayed the announcement of the winners until after the lunch, which no doubt aided the contestants’ digestion. It was to be the Public Schools’ team.

Before the lunch the assembly was led in two verses of the National Anthem by a school boy who had a remarkably powerful voice. Mr. Peter Cavanagh the Treasurer of the Commonwelaht Day Council offered the Loyal Toast.

Her Excellency the governor then introduced and read a moving Commonwealth Day message from Her Majesty  The Queen, which was followed by lunch. ( The speech is published separately on this site)

The keynote speaker was a gentleman whose contribution to the Commonwealth was has been  remarkable, Sir Ian Turbott, Kt., AO., CMG.,CVO.

Educated in New Zealand he served in the NZ Expeditionary Force from 1940 to 1946, seeing active service in the Solomon Islands, the Middle East and Italy, for which he was decorated. He then entered the Colonial Service ultimately being made The Queen’s representative in Antigua and then Grenada, where he was Governor.  

On coming to Australia he has held various diplomatic , charitable, business and academic positrons, including that of Chancellor of the University of Western Sydney.

His address touched on aspects of his unique experience in the Commonwealth, and his understanding of the value of this body. After some medial entertainment the function ended

It was universally agreed that the function had been a great success, and that the role of the young people present was testament to the continuing success of the Commonwealth. 

There was only one flaw; there was no acknowledgement of the considerable work done by the Commonwealth Day Council of New South Wales.     

 
Commonwealth Day Print E-mail
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Monday, 02 March 2009

Commonwealth Day is celebrated throughout the Commonwealth on the second Monday in March. In Australia this normally is left to volunteer Commonwealth Day Councils.  In Sydney, there will be a luncheon at Parliament House in the presence of Her Excellency the Governor, Professor Marie Bashir AC CVO and members of the diplomatic and consular corps.

School children will parade the flags of all the 53 members of the Commonwealth, and a school band will play. The luncheon will be addressed by the chairman of the Australian Youth Trust, Sir Ian Turbott AO CMG CVO, who is prominent in business and academic circles, and who has been at different times the Governor of Antigua and the Governor of Grenada.

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Before the lunch, there will be a debate at 11:00am in the Legislative Assembly chamber between two student debating teams, one from the Combined High Schools and one from the Combined Associated Schools.

The  Commonwealth will this year celebrate the 60th anniversary of the London Declaration, when the British Commonwealth came to be known as the Commonwealth of Nations. The subject chosen for the debate is both timely and provocative: “That the Commonwealth at 60 needs a facelift.” 

The adjudicators will be the Hon. Max Willis, former President of the Legislative Council, Mr. Mike Munro, media personality, and Mr. Paresh Khandhar of the NSW Bar.

This is of course an issue which every association has to face. But the Commonwealth has been very successful in its many endeavours. It has a very small staff, and imposes high minimum standards on its members.

So in the august surroundings of the nation’s oldest Parliament House, it will be fascinating to hear how school children debate this.

(For information concerning the function email   This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it )





...and in London...


Meanwhile in London The Queen will attend an inter-denominational service in Westminster Abbey, followed by a reception hosted by the Commonwealth Secretary-General. Her Majesty will deliver her annual Commonwealth Day message.

 

In this, The Queen speaks as Head of the Commonwealth to the peoples of the Commonwealth as a whole. As with The Queen’s Christmas Day message, this is from The Queen, and is not drafted on the  advice of the ministers, British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand or of any of the Realms.  A video of her 2008 speech follows.






....the London Declaration, 1949...




As the British Empire uniquely evolved in to a community of self governing dominions closely linked to the United Kingdom, the term Commonwealth of Nations began to be used. The first recorded instance seems to be by the future British Prime Minister Lord Rosebery in 1884 while visiting Adelaide.

The central feature of British governance, at least since 1688, is that change is evolutionary, and made in the context of ensuring stable limited government with effective checks and balances against the abuse of power.

That has been Britain’s great gift not only to the English speaking countries but also to the world.

 

In the Balfour Declaration at the Imperial Conference in 1926, formal recognition was given to something which had already occurred.

This was that Britain and the dominions – Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Eire or Southern Ireland - were equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

This relationship was eventually given legal effect by the Statute of Westminster in 1931. At their request and because of their mistrust of any Federal government this was not intended to apply to the Australian States. It was not adopted at the Federal level until 1942. The position of the States was finally regularised in 1986 by the Australia Acts which involve a special arrangement unknown elsewhere in the Commonwealth. This allows the State Premiers direct access to The Queen.


Image
[ Commonwealth Conference, London, 1949 ]
 


 

In the meantime, in 1949 the eight members of the British Commonwealth - Australia, Britain, Canada, Ceylon, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, and South Africa met in London to discuss a request by India to remain in the Commonwealth as a republic.

Their final communiqué, the Declaration of London, stated that King George VI, as Head of the Commonwealth, would be recognised as the symbol of the Commonwealth association.  This was the beginning of the convention that should a Dominion, now referred to as a Realm, become a republic, its continued membership of the Commonwealth would need to be approved by a consensus among the members.

In the 1999 republic referendum campaign in Australia, it became obvious that the republicans were unaware of this rule and had taken no soundings on this. The Attorney-General had implied that continued membership was automatic.  At that time, the then Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir had shown himself to be hostile to Australian diplomatic ambitions. ACM never said that were Australia to become a republic we could not stay in the Commonwealth. We merely pointed out this convention and asked how the republicans proposed to deal with it.  

On this as on other matters, it became obvious that the Australian republicans had not undertaken a sufficiently thorough study concerning their proposal.  

In any event the Commonwealth is now a unique association of 53 independent states consulting and co-operating in the common interests of their peoples and in the promotion of international understanding. It comprises countries from all continents, rich and poor, small and large. There is a queue of countries seeking membership.

Of the nearly two billion people living in the Commonwealth, half are under 25. As the Commonwealth argues, the future belongs with these young people, and this is why the Commonwealth theme for 2009 is ‘[email protected] - serving a new generation’.

    
 
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