Change for the sake of change
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Sunday, 26 February 2012

ImageThis is a report in the section, Head of State, on the ACM site.


Removing the Australian Crown is one of the most significant changes we could make to our constitutional system. And the only justifiable reason to change the constiution is to improve it.


Image
[ Sir John Quick ]

The Crown is our oldest institution.  It was involved in every significant step in our development from the foundation to self government, to federation and to full independence.
The Crown remains a crucial part of the system.



...obscure, legalistic and irrelevant...



Why then seek to justify its removal by relying on obscure legal arguments?  A recent letter published in one of Australia's higher circulating newspapers, the Sun Herald, began by reprimanding another letter writer ( “Sorry x...”  ). It argued that The Queen and not the Governor-General was head of state. The Governor-General, it claimed, was merely a delegate of The Queen, performing her job when she is not physically present.


A typical republican position - obscure, legalistic and irrelevant.

The determination of these questions requires the application of constitutional and international law. 

The term head of state is diplomatic. Whether it is an appropriate description under the consttiution was surely settled by a full bench of founding fathers who in 1907, in a unanimous opinion, observed that the Governor-General is the“Constitutional Head of the Commonwealth.” 

As to the second question,it is now established beyond doubt that the Governor- General's powers come - unusually - from the Constitution and not by delegation. So much so the imperial practice of issuing Royal Instructions was long ago abandoned. 
 
But why the answer to either question is reason to change our constitutional system is certainly not obvious.  Surely the only reason to change our constitutional system is to improve it. 

Our great founders, Sir John Quick and Sir Robert Garren, explained the requirements for constitutional change as ensuring that there would be proper debate and discussion and that no change would be made until the people are agreed  that the change is "desirable, irresistible, and inevitable.”

Why then should the answer to two legal questions of little  interest or concern to the average Australian be reason to make fundamental changes to the constitution? 

Australians are far too sensible to make change merely on the answer to these two questions, or indeed, in agreeing to some blank cheque plebiscite. 

They know the only justifiable reason to change the constiution is to improve it.


 
...answer needed...

     

To return to the letter in the newspaper, an answer was clearly needed. So the Sun Herald published the following reply on 26 February 2011:

Dear editor,

Sorry, James Prior (letters February 19). Under international law, there is no doubt at all that the Governor-General is head of state - a diplomatic term. Nor does The Queen delegate her job - the Governor-General's authority comes directly from the Constitution

David Flint

The point iremains – surely we should only change our constitutional system to improve it. To change it for the sake of change – or because a small minority detest an ancient institution - is just not enough.