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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 

Ireland and The Commonwealth Print E-mail
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Sunday, 20 May 2007

ImageSeveral countries are lining up to join the Commonwealth of Nations.  As we mentioned here on 6 February,2007, these include Algeria and Rwanda, neither of which was part of the British Empire, as well as Yemen, The Sudan, Israel and the Palestinian territories. Now the Irish Government is being called on to rejoin the Commonwealth that it left in 1949 when the Irish Parliament adopted a republican constitution, according to a report in IrelandOn-line on 15 May 2007. Attending a British Islands and Mediterranean Region conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association at Stormont in Northern Ireland, the Secretary General of the Association, former Tanzanian minister Dr William Shija, said the time had come for Ireland to embrace the diversity offered by the group of 53 nations from across the world.  He said: “We look forward indeed to when not only the other part of Ireland but other parts of the world are looking at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association as an association which respects diversity and differences and multi-cultural approaches.  I look forward to an inclusive process by having more members.”

IrelandOn-Line reported that Eamon de Valera’s grandson, the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Eamon O Cuiv has backed the proposal as a way of reaching out to the Northern Ireland unionists.  The Northern Ireland First Minister Ian Paisley welcomed delgates to the conference.  He welcomed the fact that the North Ireland Assembly’s decision to enter the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association was taken without opposition from Sinn Féin.  Sinn Féin Deputy Speaker Francie Molloy said he was welcoming the delegation in his neutral capacity as a leading officer of the House.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Head of the Commonwealth Print E-mail
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Tuesday, 10 April 2007
ImageThe title Head of The Commonwealth was created at the 1949 Commonwealth Conference as part of the formula to keep India in the association when it became a republic. 

It was, as Vernon Bogdanor says, made specific to the King and was not specifically declared hereditary.  But I would say that was the clear implication.  Of course mischievous observers will try to encourage debate about this.  Not least those in Australia who hope to use the succession as a reason for becoming a republic, rather than doing the hard work of demonstrating what is wrong with the constitution and how it would be improved by any change proposed.

When King George VI died in 1952, the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, on behalf of the only Commonwealth republic at that time, sent Queen Elizabeth II a message welcoming her as Head of the Commonwealth.  Her Majesty is thus Head by common consent.

I recall a colleague from Ghana arguing decades ago that the position should rotate around Commonwealth leaders.  I was polite enough to not to point out that this could have included President Idi Amin or, later, President Mugabe.  It is inconceivable that anyone, apart from the Sovereign of most of the Realms, could be Head of the Commonwealth.

The question has been raised with the report by Mark Reynolds in the Daily Express on 6 April 2007 that Prince Charles is to join the Queen at a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Uganda later this year.  The newspaper says constitutional experts saw the move as a “highly significant” step for the Prince. 

It also points out that it is extremely rare for both the monarch and the heir to ­the throne to be in the same overseas country simultaneously on official duties.  The last time was 33 years ago for the 1974 Commonwealth Games in New Zealand.  The Duchess of Cornwall will also be travelling to Kampala with the Prince, and the Duke of Edinburgh will accompany the Queen.

 

 

 

Read more...
 
Commonwealth Day 2007 Print E-mail
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Sunday, 11 March 2007
ImageCommonwealth Day was celebrated across the world on 12 March 2007. (As we have noted on the ACM site, , the day will be celebrated on 19 March 2007 in Adelaide because of a clash with a public holiday.)  The celebrations in Sydney at Parliament house were organized by the NSW Commonwealth Day Council, chaired by Graham Drayton.  That morning, guests, as well as a large number of tourists and passersby, were entertained in the forecourt by the rousing strains of the pipers of the Scots College band.  Later, with an honour guard, they greeted Her Excellency the Governor, Professor Marie Bashir, who was then piped into the main dining room, the Strangers Room, where a large assembly had gathered, including members of the consular corps led by the Dean.  

 

 

Read more...
 
Republican view of the Commonwealth Games Print E-mail
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Sunday, 09 April 2006

The republican movement’s long announced plans to politicize the Games was a predictable failure. Australians don’t like politics intruding into their sport. Now  republican Fairfax and ABC writer Domenic Knight has revealed his deep dislike for both the Crown and the Commonwealth Games. In a piece entitled “The empire slides back” in The Sydney Morning Herald  on 15 March, 2006, page 3R, he writes:

“It seems that an anachronism such as the Games should be opened by one…The tabloid media’s intrusiveness will bring down an ancient monarchy and a good thing too.

It’s time we pulled out of the one-sided debacle that is the Commonwealth Games and let minnows such as Samoa, Namibia and England fight it out. “

 

The page on which this diatribe appeared had unfortunately caught my eye because of the attractive photograph of The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh. Mr. Knight’s piece is neither persuasive nor amusing but just abusive and out of touch. His final paragraph is coarse and insulting, and you really have to wonder at the decision to publish this.

 
The Queen wishes athletes well at the start of the XVIII Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, 15 March 2 Print E-mail
Written by ACM   
Saturday, 18 March 2006

One year and one day ago - on Commonwealth Day 2005 - I placed this message in this hi-tech baton. It has since been carried round the Commonwealth on every continent and across every ocean by many thousands of voluntary Queen's Baton Relay runners.

 

Read more...
 
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