||MONARCHISTS AFFIRM – QUEEN IS HEAD OF STATE
It is strange that diplomatic and other officials in Canberra are reported (Telegraph UK 12/2/10) to have been taken by surprise, not by the announcement by Buckingham Palace that the Queen would be addressing the UN General Assembly in July, but that she would be doing so as the head of state of sixteen realms, including Australia.
Strange because the official position of both the Howard and Rudd Governments has always been that the Queen is regarded as constitutional head of state and the Governor-General de-facto or effective head of state. This has been advised in writing to me on several occasions by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the latest being dated July 2009.
It is obvious that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have got their wires crossed. Most constitutional authorities, together with most monarchists, other than a vocal few, accept the position that the Queen, as sovereign, is our prime head of state.
Those vocal few have responded to the republican jingoism: ‘An Australian for head of state’ by saying that we already have one in the Governor-General. It is a simplistic response to a simplistic comment and both should not be taken as being comprehensive explanations of both positions.
When determining who is head of state one must look at who exercises the ultimate power. Under our Constitution, the Governor-General, upon appointment, assumes the role of the monarch as well as other powers which directly devolve upon him/her. However, this is achieved solely as the Queen’s representative. Furthermore the power of dismissal of the Governor-General, although by convention exercised only on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, rests in the hands of the Queen
Our Constitution does not mention ‘head of state’ but a 1907 High Court Judgment of Griffith, Barton, O'Connor, Isaacs and Higgins, who, incidentally, were all involved in the formulation of the Constitution, does state: “…the officiating Constitutional Head of the Commonwealth, the Governor General”.
Therefore it can be said that the Governor-General, as the representative of the Monarch, ‘officiates’ as head of state.
The involvement of the Queen in our constitutional processes is an integral part of the checks and balances which have ensured the protection of our freedoms and democracy for over a hundred years. What republicans must do is to stop obfuscating and answer how they propose to match these checks and balances in any proposed presidential constitution.
Philip Benwell MBE
Australian Monarchist League