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ACM Home arrow Anthems arrow Constitutional Essays arrow Explaining the Australian Constitutional Monarchy

Explaining the Australian Constitutional Monarchy Print E-mail
Written by Lloyd Waddy QC   
Sunday, 21 August 1994
"Count your blessings" is not bad advice on a national as well as a personal level. The Australian Republican Movement has certainly given us all the occasion to pause and consider the great benefits as well as the alleged detriments of our constitutional monarchy.
Let us all rejoice in the freedom that as loyal Australians we all enjoy to discuss such questions without rancour, bitterness, violence, persecution or prosecution.


Firstly, let us get a few facts straight.


The Constitutional Monarchy in the UK


It is important to have an accurate view of the powers and role of the Sovereign, neither too large nor too small, and of its symbolic importance.


The monarchy has evolved and is evolving itself.


In constitutional theory, all power emanates from the monarch, both in executive matters and in law as "the fountain of justice".

In constitutional reality, the Queen has no personal power at all - she must exercise her theoretical power constititutionally ONLY through agents (ministers or judges etc) who are alone able to act and alone are held accountable for all executive and legal actions.


In legislation, the Queen must assent to the will of the Houses of Parliament.


In the UK, the Sovereign's ONLY independent constitutional role is confined to summoning a person to form a government, a choice usually forced upon the Crown by the majority in the Commons.


The Sovereign has only "the right to be consulted, to encourage and the right to warn." She can offer suggestions but is totally bound by the advice she receives from her ministers.


The Queen of Australia


Under the Australian constitution, the Queen is an essential part of the legislative process, known as The Queen in Parliament. Similarly, the executive government is vested in The Queen, BUT the exercise of the executive power is entrusted (totally) to the Governor-General.


As the Queen's private secretary wrote on 17 November 1975:


The Queen has no part in the decisions which the Governor-General must take in accordance with the Constitution.


The Queen of Australia's sole executive role is to appoint (and remove) the Governor-General on the nomination of her Australian Prime Minister, which advice, after consultation, she must accept.


Independence of the Dominions and the States


In all Dominion matters, the Queen acts only on the advice of her advisers in each particular dominion. So too, in the individual affairs of each of the states of Australia, the Crown acts only on the advice of the ministers of that particular state.


The states in Australia were independent in their own affairs long before Federation, and assented to Federation only on specific terms. The states still remain sovereign in their own affairs, subject to the Commonwealth Constitution, and, for instance, state governors are appointed by the Queen, after consultation, ONLY on the advice of the respective state premiers.


For more than the last half century the Commonwealth of Australia has been, as have been Canada and New Zealand, totally independent from each other and from the UK.

No matter what it is alleged that "foreigners" might think, that is both the fact and the law.

Succession to the Crown


There is never a gap in the succession to the Crown. There is always a sovereign. And the succession is certain and assured.


Since the Statute of Westminster (1931) and the abdication of Edward VIII, constitutional convention requires that assent be obtained of each member within her Majesty's dominions in respect of any alteration in the law of succession of the United Kingdom. No change of sovereign can be foisted on any dominion, Australia included, without the prior consent of Australia.


Thus Australia is as independent as it can possibly be and has long been a fully recognised member of the United Nations in its own right.


Our Own Self Interest


As a totally independent nation, Australia is capable of becoming a republic if we so desire. But should we? What principles should guide us?


Our guide should be, as Australians first, second and third, the combined self interest of each of us as a unique part of our great Commonwealth. We should not shrink from change merely because it is change.


I believe the question is:


Are we better off as we are or is there a better way for us to be governed?


My firm conviction is that the constitutional machinery that we have is tried and true. Its greatest commendation is that it works, even in times of political stress, such as 1975. Our system is tried and true and has lasted unchanged for almost a century. No one has yet produced convincing evidence that there is any real advantage in any specific change, least of all a change to a republic.


Stability


Our present system gives us great stability - a stability that is very useful when so much of our daily life, and the international order, is undergoing change. The Queen is an excellent living symbol of that stability and continuing nationhood; a continuation of a stable past from which we have all evolved or chosen to take the benefit of by immigration.


Adaptibility


We are each the creatures of a past in which there were many good elements - we ought to cherish and adapt those elements to our joint benefit, and continue to develop them to Australia's best advantage. As the monarchy evolves in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, so can our response to it evolve appropriately.


Accessibility


Modern communication makes it possible for the Queen to visit each of her dominions regularly, and in a way never envisaged even forty years ago. By television, she can and does enter each home and family circle. Far from being "distant", the sovereign is very much more accessible today to Australians than at any time in the last 200 years.

In the nomination of Governors-General and Governors, our governments have the opportunity to appoint Australians of distinction who, if care is taken that they are perceived to be non-partisan, can unite and encourage community life in our nation, as well as discharging their constitutional roles, thus fulfilling a quasi-presidential position.

Divisive and opportunist appointments are demeaning of the nation all as well as the appointee. They should cease. But let us all remember such are the nominations not of the Queen but of our elected Australian prime ministers.


A Supra-National Link


The Queen is a personal link (but no more) not only to the United Kingdom, but to the source of 75 per cent of our population and a large part of our invested capital, and also in particular to Canada and New Zealand, of which she is also Queen.


We would do well internationally to build much more on what we have in common with those dominions which share so many similarities with us, than to chase after ephemeral popularity in other forums.


Identifiability of the System


Monarchy is well known in our area - from the Emperor of Japan to the Kings of Malaysia, of Thailand and of Tonga. It is no disadvantage to us, in our geographical area, to keep alive a symbol of our European heritage which is of commensurate age to the ancient civilisations near which we are geographically placed. Asia will not be fooled into seeing us other than as we really are.


Our nation may be young but the many multi-cultural respective and respected histories of the majority of our population (though slight in extent compared to the aborigines' 40,000 years) is yet much greater than the 200 years since 1788. Our civilisation and many of our national institutions are much older than our young nation and we should neither forget it nor pretend otherwise.


Symbolism


The Queen is in herself a paragon of a constitutional monarch, able in herself to embody the ideals and aspirations of a great majority of our people as they seek for faith, truth, mercy, justice, tolerance, peace and international understanding according to our Australian ways.

Nowhere is the sovereign better able to serve as a symbol, (in the words of Halsbury) "as the representative of the national power and dignity independently and above the changes and intrigues of party government" than when the nation is at war or under attack. Then the patriotism and loyalty of men and women to Australia inspiring them to risk their lives "for King and country" is an imperative effort to preserve our faith, freedom, decency, and our very lives.


The present alleged crisis in the Australian identity is unfathomable to me, and would be I am sure to the millions of our ex-servicemen and women and their families. In Vietnam, we fought under the Queen without any UK involvement. There was no doubt about our identity then as a nation nor was there in the Boer War, or the First or Second World Wars.


We abandon at our peril, and at great and needless hurt to a segment of our people, those who, at home and abroad, in time of war, have borne the heat and burden of the day and who offered their very lives "for King and country". It is an old rallying cry that engages the heart at times when total sacrifice is needed. We abandon it at our peril.


The Person of the Queen


In the present Queen of Australia we have a person of undoubted integrity, of unimpeachable virtue, of consummate knowledge in world affairs who has long demonstrated a genuine love of and concern for this nation. We have an ensured, effortless and totally appropriate succession. We have bonds with other dominions and Commonwealth countries and a personal entrée into Europe and the Americas at the highest level, always available to consult with the Australian Prime Minister.


Economy of the System


Our Monarchy is provided to us at NO cost to the Australian tax-payer - all we do is pay for the Queen's security when she is here, as we do for His Holiness or any other distinguished person in our midst. No other system of government could be more economical.


Into the Future


The majority of Australians of goodwill approach 2001 with the hope of closer national unity and cohesion, under an Australian monarch who is respected world-wide and with hope for the future and, I trust, a readiness, even longing, to change whatever of our institutions can be changed for the better, as and when we all so desire.


Our federal constitution, founded on the sovereignty of the Queen, and the role of the sovereign in both it and the constitutions of the states, are two valuable, useful and economical national attributes for which no sound case has so far been presented for change.


We have a system of government that is totally independent and that gives us, in the role of The Queen, stability, adaptability, accessibility, and supra-nationality, and which is readily identifiable, aptly symbolic and inspirational in peace and war. Moreover, the system costs us next to nothing and is acceptable to each state and cannot be altered without major community upheaval.


The smaller states are unlikely ever to marshal sufficient votes to elect a local candidate as President and will probably see the Sydney-based republican moves as yet another attempt at domination by the Eastern states. For nearly a century, Australians have voted "No" to even minor constitutional change - they are unlikely to vote to tear up the Federation AND the Commonwealth AND the constitution in EVERY state. The republican alternative can only be divisive if a president is elected and undemocratic if he or she is nominated.


Whilst Australians are apparently content to see ex-Governors-General take on highly political appointments in the leading political issues of the day on leaving office, and to lend the prestige of their former office to multinational bids for private companies, we ought to ask ourselves whether we would like to see former Presidents doing the same. The Queen is not involved in such things, as was previously the convention for her representatives.

Our present constitutions work admirably to prevent despotism. When we marshal the facts we can see that we are "on a good thing", and we should 'stick to it!"

 
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