Head of State: The Last Word
Written by Sir David Smith KCVO AO   
Saturday, 01 May 2010

[There is no greater authority in Australia or indeed in the world on the office of the Governor-General of Australia than Sir David Smith KCVO AO. His magisterial tome, Head of State, published in 2005 remains unanswered.

The book is reviewed
here.  It may be purchased through ACM..

At a luncheon on the 84th Birthday of Her Majesty, Sir David delivered a most important paper, ““The Head of State Revisited”. The full paper may be read here.

 

 Extracts from his comments on the principal republican argument, that only a republic can give us an Australian Head of State, follow.  The extract were selected by the editor.

In the full text, Sir David recounts some of the sillier arguments surprisingly put by prominent people to justify our adopting their politicians’ republic.

In addition, we are posting below a filmed interview wth Sir David]



...Our Constitution was unique....  



 The case for changing our system of government from a constitutional monarchy to a republic is almost invariably based on two propositions, both of which are simply not true. 

The first is that Australia must become a republic in order to become independent.

The second is that the Queen, as well as being our Monarch or Sovereign, is also our Head of State, and that an Australian republic would give us an Australian Head of State. 

This proposition is also untrue.  Furthermore, it is based on the equally untrue proposition that the Governor-General is nothing more than the Queen’s representative, and has no independent constitutional role.


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[ Sir David at the centre of events ]



To argue that the Queen is not Australia’s Head of State does not in any way diminish the important role that the Queen has in our Constitution and under our system of government as the Monarch. 

It is simply the case that she does not have, and therefore does not exercise, and never has exercised, head of state powers and functions.

Our Founding Fathers gave us a Constitution that was unique, for they gave to our Governor-General powers not previously given to any other Governor or Governor-General anywhere else in the British Empire.





...judicial pronouncements and legal opinions...


   No-one would ever have dreamt of describing Queen Victoria as “head of state”: the term was not in use in the Australian colonies prior to their forming a federation in 1901.

In the absence of a specific provision in the Constitution, it is necessary to see who actually performs the duties of head of state in order to determine who is the head of state. 

These duties are performed by the Governor-General, and by the Governor-General only.  In my book Head of State I have recorded the many judicial pronouncements and legal opinions that led me to conclude that the Governor-General is Australia’s Head of State.  

It was only after my book was published in November 2005 that Professor David Flint discovered that the High Court of Australia had come to the same conclusion in 1907. 

As that Court consisted of five judges, all of whom had been Founding Fathers and thus involved in drafting our Constitution, we may presume that they knew what they were talking about.





...two practical examples....




 

But if republicans cannot understand judicial pronouncements and legal opinions, they should be able to comprehend two very simple practical examples.

 The first is the reply which the Labor Speaker of the House of Representatives received to his letter in November 1975, asking the Queen to reinstate Whitlam as Prime Minister.  Mr. Speaker was told that the Queen could not intervene in a matter which the Australian Constitution placed in the hands of the Governor-General.

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[ ...still unanswered...]


As the power to appoint or remove a prime minister is the most important function of a head of state in a parliamentary democracy, the Palace letter surely put the matter beyond doubt.

The second example flows directly from the various republican models that have been proposed.  In every case, the republicans have said that the president should inherit all of the powers and functions of the Governor-General, without alteration. 

If a president exercising the same powers and functions as the Governor-General would be a head of state, then the Governor-General exercising those powers and functions must also be a head of state.



 
...Conclusion....




 To repeat, to argue that the Queen is not Australia’s Head of State does not in any way diminish the important role that the Queen has in our Constitution and under our system of government as the Monarch. 

It is simply the case that she does not have, and therefore does not exercise, and never has exercised, head of state powers and functions.

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