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BRITISH REPUBLICANS URGE REMOVAL OF THE CIVIL LIST – MONARCHISTS AGREE

Here Philip Benwell argues that The Queen is good value for money and would be far better off if the contact governing the Civil List was revoked.

The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom has compared the costs of The Queen to that of the German and Irish Presidents (27/6/08), but are not these temporary Heads of State mere leaders of a faction or political puppets? Certainly, unlike The Queen they are not symbols which unite all people. Indeed, how many of them accept hundreds of invitations to open buildings and events and how many raise millions of dollars for charity? In fact, how many Presidents have either the time or the inclination to be active Patrons of several hundred charities and associations as is the case with Her Majesty?

The value of The Queen cannot be determined by a price tag of £40 Million, for the arrangement by which The Queen is paid expenses, called the Civil list, is actually a contract under which the British taxpayer receives back, from the personal properties of the Monarch, some five times the actual cost of £1.36 per person!

Media criticism has been leveled against The Queen even for the spending of £22,000 to attend the Kentucky Derby, but the decision to include this event in the Visit programme, was not that of The Queen but of the British Government as a part of their extremely successful public relations exercise which helped to bring the people of the United States of America and Britain closer together.

Obviously the stated cost of £40 Million will be much higher when security and building maintenance of the public palaces are added, but security for The Queen is far cheaper than that provided for a visiting US President and those palaces that are maintained by the Government are public buildings.

Detractors ask, why should The Queen live in a publicly maintained building? They conveniently forgetting that the British Prime Minister lives in the publicly maintained 10 Downing Street (which itself recently cost the British taxpayer £12m) and in the publicly maintained country estate of Chequers. Likewise, in Australia, the Australian Prime Minister has as his personal residences, the Australian taxpayer maintained Canberra Lodge and Sydney harbourside Kirribilli House.

The Guardian newspaper in the same article has called for an end to the Civil List. The reason why monarchists would agree is because, the Civil List originated in an agreement between George III and the then government at the time of his accession in 1760, whereby the King handed over his private ‘Crown Estates’ in return for a ‘Civil List’ to cover his expenditure. This contract had been confirmed by all succeeding monarchs on their accession to the Throne, including The Queen.

Today, the Crown Estates bring in a revenue of around £200 million annually and should the contract be revoked, as urged by the Guardian, the Monarch, and not the Government, would receive the balance of some £160 million annually and would thereby be approximately five time better off and moreover would not be subject to spurious criticisms by the petty minded!

Not only does The Queen perform public duties politicians half her age would shy away from; the Monarchy - together with its pomp and circumstance - attracts millions of tourists annually with a resultant increase in revenue to the nation.

The Prince of Wales, who spends his whole life performing public duties and is the world’s biggest fundraiser, is not included in the Civil List as he receives the revenues from the private Duchy of Cornwall Estates. Of course, whenever the British Government require him to represent British interests, they pay associated costs, but again this is a decision of the Government, not the Prince.

However, these matters do not affect us in Australia at all. The Australian taxpayer pays absolutely nothing to The Queen, not even to cover costs of answering the thousands of letters received from people in Australia.

What does affect us, however, is the lack of understanding of the role of The Queen and the Governor-General in our system of governance.

A common criticism by Australian republicans is that The Queen, the Prince of Wales and other members of the Royal Family are sent abroad by the British Government to represent British interests, but, there is no reason whatsoever why the Australian Government could also not use The Queen in this manner if it so wishes. After all is not Her Majesty Queen of Australia both by Acts of the Australian Parliament in 1953 and 1973 and furthermore by a vote of the Australian people in 1999?

A popular misconception is that our Constitution somehow gives the British Government control over our Australian Affairs. It does not. Australia has enjoyed a sovereignty since Federation in 1901. A fact supported by the High Court of Australia which declared in 1991 that the United Kingdom was tantamount to a foreign power!

When the Australian delegates met in the several Australasian Conventions held in the latter part of the 19th century, they could well have decided that the new nation of Australia be a republic, but they did not and devised a system of governance, incorporating a Constitutional Monarchy to better protect the interests of what was to be the new federation of Australia.

Although these Australians patriots based the Constitution on the British Westminster system, they also incorporated provisions from the constitutions of the United States, Canada and Switzerland. The final draft of the Australian Constitution was put, in the form of referendums, to the Australian Colonies which all agreed and it was thus that, in May 1900, the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 was passed by the British Parliament, and was signed by Queen Victoria on 9th July 1900, and became law. Since a new nation was being created out of six British Colonies, it was necessary for the British Parliament to enact this legislation. However when Australia federated on the 1st January 1901, it became a sovereign independent State with the right to determine its own future.

The Australian Constitution was not therefore, as is erroneously claimed, a British creation, but was specially drafted by Australian Statesmen to suit the requirements of what was to become the brand new nation of Australia. It was then voted upon and accepted by the Australian electorate of the time.

Under our Constitution, by convention, the most effective person is the Prime Minister for he is the Head of Government. The Queen and once appointed, her representative, the Governor-General, work in the background, providing an integral part of the constitutional checks and balances which ensure that neither the Prime Minister nor the Parliament exceed or abuse their powers. The principle check, of course, is to make certain that the Parliament goes to the people at or before the appointed time. It should be made clear that, when we talk about The Queen’s representative, we talk about The Queen as the Institution of The Crown and, once appointed, the Governor-General assumes both the powers of the (Institution of The) Queen in Parliament as well as separate constitutional powers. He, or as will be the case in a month or so, she, does not report to The Queen but acts as the independent constitutional Head of State of Australia. The Queen plays a vital role in both the appointment and the dismissal (if necessary) of the Governor-General as this action is thereby taken out of the prerogative of the Prime Minister. This is extremely important as, although the Prime Minister is the one who nominates or requests the dismissal of the Governor-General, the formal appointment by The Queen means that the Governor-General’s allegiance is to The Crown and to the people and not to any politician who may have played a part in the nomination. Likewise the fact that the Prime Minister must petition The Queen to effect a dismissal, would expose to the public the reasons for such a request and thereby restrict the Prime Minister from removing a Governor-General on a personal whim or for the purposes of contravening the Constitution, .

Our Constitution has therefore been carefully drafted to provide sufficient checks and balances which, for over a hundred years, have ensured a constitutional and political stability few other nations of the world have enjoyed. Hatred of the British or a resentment of The Queen or misinformed criticism of a cost to the British taxpayer, should not be a reason to destabilise our own system of governance.

Should the Government proceed with its republican agenda, we believe that the Constitution deserves better than being subject to a plebiscite question which is tantamount to asking for a vote of no confidence in our existing arrangements without explaining anything about what is being proposed as an alternative.

We challenge the Government and republicans alike to state how they actually intend to change our Constitution and to explain how their proposed changes will better our system of Government.

Philip Benwell
1 July 2008

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