Monarchy Republic Debate|
Some Thoughts on the Monarchy Republic Debate Paper
by Sir David Smith at a Constitutional Law Seminar
Seminar Graduate Public Law Course, Faculty of Law The Australian National University 9th May 1994.
You have asked me to speak to you on the topic of the monarchy republic debate, and I am very glad to do so. It is a subject which the present Prime Minister has forced us to confront. and though much has been said and written on the subject by a small number of people. (this is my 30th speech, and I have written four articles and a book chapter for publication, in 41 months), there is no sign whatsoever of any grass roots interest in republicanism.
When the present push was kicked off by the Labor Party's Hobart conference in April l99l, the (Melbourne) Age commented in an editorial that republicanism seemed to be an end of century phenomenon in this country, having emerged in the 1890s and now again in the l990s.
On each occasion it first emerged in Sydney, and on each occasion it was manufactured as an issue by political and intellectual elite's who believed that those who disagreed with them were wrong.
I am not a constitutional lawyer; I am not even any other sort of lawyer; I am merely a political scientist and a former bureaucrat. However, whereas so many of our Constitutional commentators have only read about or talked about our Constitution, I spent almost my entire working life - all bar the first four years - operating under it in one way or another, and trying to help make it work properly. So if I seem a little committed to our present system of government as a constitutional monarchy, it is because I know how it works, and how well it works, and because I have seen nothing in the proposals for change that would enable that aspect of our constitutional arrangements to work as well as it does now, let alone work better, as some of the Chardonnay-drinking theorists have tried to suggest. I have used the word "debate" to describe what we are supposed to be having, but I am afraid that the republicans have given that word new meaning.
It is now used to describe a difference of opinion in which one side has decided what the end result will be, and the date on which it is to be implemented, and then demands that the other side joins in the so-called debate by agreeing. In the Foreword to a Centre for Independent Studies publication entitled Restoring The True Republic, Greg Lindsay, the Centre's Executive Director, wrote: "As a nation of free individuals, Australians can only gain from a vigorous debate about our civic institutions.
Our Constitution is very much a central feature. But change, whether minimal or more comprehensive, should only come about when 'publicness' and by implication, openness, are apparent to all. It may well be that we come to recognise and reinforce the republican features already contained in our Constitution while keeping the Queen as head of state.
Whatever the case, it is for the people to decide and the onus is on our political leaders to present the widest range of possibilities in the most open and public way, and to allow diverse opinions to flourish." The great difficulty in having a sensible debate in Australia today about proposed changes to our processes of government is that most Australians don't know enough about our present system to enable them to put into proper context any proposals for change. A national survey conducted seven years ago for the Constitutional Commission, which was set up by the Hawke Government to inquire into certain aspects of our Constitution, found that almost 50% of all Australians were unaware that we have a written Constitution, let alone knew what its provisions are, and in the 18-24 year age group the level of ignorance rose to nearly 70%. I doubt if the figures today would be very much better.
And lest you think that ignorance about our system of government is confined to those who don't even know that we have a Constitution, I can cite case of Ministers of the Crown, both State and Commonwealth, who have sat in Parliament, have sat around the Cabinet table, and have sat in Executive Council with State Governors and with Governors-General, and who still don't understand how the system works, and who have made their abysmal ignorance painfully obvious in their public speeches and writings. In 1988, following an inquiry lasting two and a half years, the Constitutional Commission reported that it was "most concerned at the widespread ignorance of the Constitution and of the major impact which it Has on life in Australia. The process of constitutional reform is ultimately determined by the electors of Australia.
They will decide whether any change is made to the Constitution. We believe that there is a real need to educate people in at least its basic scheme and provisions. Education in these matters will assist greatly in improving the general appreciation of how our system of democratic government operates. More particularly, such education would help many people understand more fully the arguments for and against specific proposals for change to the Constitution."
The Commission went on to express the hope that the State and Territory education authorities would do something to improve the position, but in the six years since that report was brought down, nothing has happened.
There were also other recommendations made by the Commission about which nothing has been done. For example, much is made, by some republicans, of the fact that our Constitution is part of an Imperial statute and that the 'covering clauses' of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act I900 are based on the assumption that Australia is a dependency of Great Britain, as it was when the Constitution was enacted.
The Constitutional Commission found that the 'covering clauses' could be omitted and recommended that this be done under section 128 of the Constitution. The Hawke and Keating Governments have taken no action In similar fashion, some republicans are concerned that the references to the Monarchy in our Constitution's preamble and covering clause 2 are references to the British Monarchy.
The Constitutional Commission recommended that the word "Australia" be substituted for the references to the United Kingdom, but again the Hawke and Keating Governments have taken no action Some republicans are also concerned that the succession to the Throne is governed by an Imperial statute, the Act of Settlement 1701. The Constitutional Commission found that no alteration of the law of Royal succession by the United Kingdom Parliament can operate in Australia; that Australia could enact its own legislation; and that Britain and Australia could even have different Monarchs. The Commission recommended "that it would be more appropriate to the status of Australia as an independent nation for the Constitution to confer on the Parliament of the Commonwealth an express power to make laws with respect to succession to the Throne, and regency, in the sovereignty of Australia", but again the Hawke and Keating Governments have taken no action.
Now that the Commission's report has been with his Government for six years the Attorney-General, Michael Lavarch, has at last woken up to the fact that the present law of succession is discriminatory. His solution is, not a new non-discriminatory law, but abolition of the Monarchy.
I hope he doesn't apply the same twisted logic to the problem of Tasmania's discriminatory homosexual legislation. I am a constitutional monarchist. All that means is that I support and believe in the constitutional principles under which this country has been governed for the last 150 years. That does not make me a lickspittle or a forelock tugger, nor a member of the blue rinse brigade, although all three terms have been used by the Prime Minister to deride Australians who believe that our present system of government as a constitutional monarchy serves this country well and ought not to be changed, that the institution of the Crown should not be removed from our Constitution and from our national life, and that the Governor-General ought not to be replaced by a President. Those of us who wish to retain the Crown in our Constitution have even been characterised as un-Australian. even disloyal. Our critics need reminding that loyalty to Australia is not the sole preserve of the republicans or the Labor Party.
As for the Labor Party's attitude that it, and it alone, is the guardian of Australia's independence, of our national identity, and of our democracy, let us not forget that, in 1975, it was Labor leader Gough Whitlam who telephoned Buckingham Palace to appeal against his dismissal, and it was the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party which had its Speaker write to The Queen to ask her to overrule the Australian Governor-General and to prevent our most crucial constitutional crisis, which Parliament had been unable to resolve, from being resolved democratically by the people at a general election for both Houses of the national Parliament. Mr. Speaker was told by Buckingham Palace that the Australian Constitution placed all constitutional matters squarely in the hands of the Governor-General in Canberra.
That, surely, put an end to all nonsense about Australia's sovereignty, independence and national identity being centred on London. It also said something about the Labor Party's commitment to real democracy and their respect for the provisions of our Constitution. I am enough of a democrat to know that, if and when a majority of Australians has come to the conclusion that our system of government ought to be changed to a republican form, then change must happen. In the meantime, the democratic process should allow those who choose to argue for the retention of the present system of government to do so without being abused.
The same democratic process also requires those who wish to argue for change to do so on the merits of their case, and without resort to abuse of their opponents or to deception and falsehood in arguing their case.
Let us be quite clear on the issue which is at stake - it is not about a distant Monarch and the Royal family. It is about major and drastic change to our Constitution. It is also about adopting a system of government which, in world wide terms, has produced more failures than successes, at least for the ordinary people if not for those in power over them, for the simple truth is that most of the world's constitutional monarchies are free and democratic societies and most of the world's republics are not.
One of Canada's leading journalists, Michael Valpy, wrote an article in March of this year in The Globe and Mail. Toronto, about Canada's politically correct republicans, and the nation's teachers whom he described as committing political subversion against the young. He went on to say. "There exists a conspiracy of adults having contact with children, most evident in the schools, not to tell the young about the symbolic intelligence and beauty of the Canadian constitutional monarchy. There exists a conspiracy not to tell the young that constitutional monarchy represents the safest structure of democratic government yet devised, a conspiracy not to tell the young what constitutional monarchy means.
If we removed the word "Canadian", those two sentences would apply equally to Australia. In this country, too, in the so called "debate" on the monarchy/republic issue, the republicans are placing a great deal of reliance on the high level of ignorance about our Constitution and how it works at present. The republicans and the media also keep asserting that the republic is inevitable, presumably on the basis that if they repeat that catch-cry often enough and loudly enough, people will come to believe it. Nothing on which the Australian people have yet to vote in a national referendum can possibly be inevitable. I was born in this country.
My parents were, in the current politically correct jargon, of non English speaking background, but I find it perplexing that, in multi-cultural Australia, there should be room for every cultural heritage except the one that established the modern nation and laid the foundations of the society in which we all live today else why the epithets "lickspittles" and "forelock tuggers", and the desire to change the flag? The British institutions which we inherited and adapted have given us our language, our law and our culture: they have also given us a system of government as a constitutional monarchy which is the envy of so many people from all parts of the world. That is why they have voted with their feet and have come here in their hundreds of thousands, from the earliest days of white settlement right up to the present day.
Those British institutions have enabled this continent of ours to become the home of one of the oldest continuous democracies in the world, even though our experience of democratic parliamentary government is scarcely 150 years old. Only five countries, Britain, the United States of America, Canada, Switzerland and Sweden, have known longer periods of democratic rule, uninterrupted by dictatorship of the left or right, or by foreign conquest and occupation. It's interesting to note that, of the six oldest continuous democratic nations in the world, four - Britain, the United States, Canada and Australia - are of British origin, and four - Britain, Canada, Sweden and Australia - are monarchies. The monarchy is an integral component of our system of government. It is also part of our history and part of our cultural heritage.
It is no less Australian just because its story began in England or because we share it with Canada or New Zealand or Papua New Guinea or the other monarchical countries within the Commonwealth. The Queen is Head of the Commonwealth to 50 countries and she is also Head of State to 17 of those countries. None of the other countries feel that this sharing in any way diminishes their sovereignty or their independence, and it is simply not true to say that it diminishes ours. To our inherited British system of responsible parliamentary government, at the time of federation we added much that we copied from the United States, yet, sadly, we have not copied their respect and affection for their important national symbols and institutions - the flag, the national anthem, the Constitution, the office of Head of State, the very history of the nation itself. I suppose that, in our case, our national indifference to our national symbols and institutions stems from the fact that, so far at least, we have not had to fight for them.
Not for us the equivalent of a French Revolution or an American Revolution or War of Independence. For us, our nationhood came slowly and gradually, so that we cannot put a precise date to it. Our independence was granted so peacefully and so willingly that there are some of us who are still unaware that we actually have it. That path to independent nationhood began when the six Australian colonies, together with New Zealand for a time, held a series of conferences and conventions through the 1880s and 1890s that led ultimately to the formation of the Commonwealth of Australia.
The Constitutional Conventions in 1891 and 1897-98 seemed to assume from the outset, and the colonial parliaments and the community generally came to agree, that we would have a federal system of government, with a specified distribution of powers between the central government and the State governments, rather than a unitary system of government with all constitutional power at the centre.
The founding fathers had the examples of two federations to guide them: the United States, where the Constitution specified the powers of the central government and gave the rest to the States; and Canada, where the Constitution specified the powers of the Provinces and gave the rest to the central government. They opted for the United States model in relation to the division of powers.
They also borrowed from the United States the legislative structure of a House of Representatives based on equal-sized electorates, and a Senate based on equal numbers of senators from each State, regardless of size. But they departed from the United States' model by retaining what was for them the very familiar British system of responsible parliamentary government, in which the Executive is not separate from the Legislature but is part of it and directly responsible to it.
And so it was that on I January 1901 the Commonwealth of Australia became the world's fifth federation, joining the United States, Switzerland, Germany and Canada. What, then, are the reasons which the republicans give for wanting to change this country's system of government? They say that we remain tied to Britain, and that our independence and our nationhood are diminished because of this.
That is not true, Australia long ago severed all legal and constitutional ties with Britain and with its Government. We have been for a long time an independent and sovereign nation, and the claim that we need to change our constitutional arrangements to become more independent is simply not true. I have already mentioned the Constitutional Commission set up by the Hawke Government in 1985. It consisted of three very distinguished constitutional lawyers - Sir Maurice Byers, former Commonwealth Solicitor-General Professor Enid Campbell. Sir Isaac Isaacs Professor of Law at Monash University; and Professor Leslie Zines, former Robert Garran Professor of Law at this University, - and two former heads of government - the Hon. Sir Rupert Hamer, a former Liberal Premier of Victoria; and the Hon. L.G. Whitlam - a former Labor Prime Minister.
One of the Commission's terms of reference required it to report on the revision of our Constitution to "adequately reflect Australia's status as an independent nation". In its final report, presented in 1988, the Commission traced the historical development of our constitutional and legislative independence, and concluded, "It is clear from these events, and recognition by the world community, that at some time between 1926 and the end of World War II Australia had achieved full independence as a sovereign state of the world. The British Government ceased to have any responsibility in relation to matters coming within the area of responsibility of the Federal Government and Parliament". As a result, the Commission reported unanimously that "The development of Australian nationhood did not require any change to the Australian Constitution". We are told that it is un-Australian to want to have a foreign Queen as our Head of State. The suggestion that our monarchy is not an Australian one is simply not true.
The necessary legislation to give the Sovereign the legal title of "Queen of Australia" was introduced into the Australian Parliament by Prime Minister Menzies 41 years ago - the Royal Style and Titles Act 1953.
Legend, as well as many political science and law text books, have it that this was done 20 years later by Prime Minister Whitlam, but that is yet another example of the misrepresentation and falsehood which seems to have become such a feature of Australian politics. Whitlam added nothing to the Royal Style and Titles by his 1973 legislation, he only deleted. With The Queen's consent he removed the words "United Kingdom" and "Defender of the Faith". He also wanted to remove the words "by the Grace of God", but The Queen would not hear of it. He was later to describe that audience with his Sovereign as the only occasion on which he was bested, but I can think of at least one other. The republicans claim that we must change our ways to meet the needs of those who have joined us as immigrants. We are told that non-British migrants cannot comprehend our system of constitutional monarchy. That is not true.
The fact is that most of those who have chosen to come and live in this country, as my family did 66 years ago, came here because, for them, life in their own country had become, or was likely to become, intolerable, and this country offered them something better. The systems of government which they chose to leave did not offer to them, as citizens, the fundamental freedoms and protections which our system of government offers to its citizens. More to the point, almost all of the countries from which they came were governed by one version or another of the republican form of government. Had they wanted to continue living under that form of government, there are already 28 republics within the Commonwealth that they might have chosen. There are also more than 100 republics outside the Commonwealth that they might have chosen.
Instead, they chose one of the 17 countries within the Commonwealth that have The Queen as their Head of State, so it is utter nonsense to suggest that their presence in this country should be used as an excuse to do away with the monarchy. My own experience of migrant communities tells me that the vast majority of our new citizens choose to come to Australia because of what it is, and not because of what it might become once they get here. They are loyal to our present Constitution. They do not want Australia to adopt a system of government from which they fled, and they resent being used as scapegoats in the republican campaign.
We may be hearing the views of certain so-called ethnic community leaders, but we certainly are not hearing the views of those whom they claim to represent and on whose behalf they presume to speak And whenever I make this point to public audiences, they come up afterwards and tell me so.
We are told that we are part of Asia, and that we must reject this country's British cultural inheritance before we can be accepted by our neighbours and identify with them This is not true, the Asia-Pacific region comprises many different countries with many diverse cultures. There are even wide cultural differences within many of these individual countries, so with which Asian country and with which Asian culture are we to identify? And the Asian monarchies of Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, and now Cambodia, would surely find it strange that we should contemplate changing our system of government to a republic in order to identify more closely with them. Recently the Governor of Hong Kong, Mr. Christopher Patten, during his visit to Australia for talks with government and business leaders, rejected claims by Australian politicians and republicans that our becoming a republic would cement our links with Asia.
Last month, former Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, during a speaking tour in Australia, told us that no Asian expected Australia to become an Asian nation. Last week, Justice Michael Kirby, President of the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal, told the Inaugural United Nations International Press Freedom Day seminar in Sydney that it would be "an act of self-deception for us to claim we are part of Asia". As for the notion that proximity makes us part of Asia, Professor John Passmore, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at this University, has reminded us that, with the exception of our far north and its proximity to Indonesia, most parts of Europe are much closer to large areas of Asia than we are to any part of Asia. Unlike us, Europeans can send goods to Asia by rail or truck - in the case of Turkey simply by crossing a bridge - yet no one suggests that their proximity makes them part of Asia.
Our proximity makes us friends and neighbours. Not part of the family. The very idea that our monarchical status is an inhibiting factor in our bilateral diplomatic, strategic or trading relationships with our Asian and Pacific neighbours is as insulting to them as it is offensive to us. That would have to be the ultimate cultural cringe. Our neighbours are rightly proud of their respective cultural inheritances and would expect us to be proud of ours. Their concern is with how we deal with them, not with how we govern ourselves or the flag we fly.
The republicans say that we should have an Australian carrying out the duties in Australia as our Head of State. The fact is that we do. Former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam has acknowledged publicly that the Sovereign's constitutional duties are limited to appointing the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister, so the case for removing her from the system of government can hardly be based on excessive interference. We frequently refer to the Governor-General as The Queen's representative, and the Constitution contains that description. We also need to remember, however, that, in carrying out his constitutional duties, the Governor-General is not acting as the Sovereign's representative or surrogate but is in fact discharging responsibilities which our Constitution places fairly and squarely with him and not with the Sovereign. As Dame Leonie Kramer has put it, The Queen is a symbol of the nature of our constitutional arrangements, while the Governor-General is actually our Head of State.
The fact is that The Queen cannot exercise any of the Governor-General's constitutional powers. Under the Royal Powers Act 1953 The Queen is authorised, whenever she is present in Australia, to exercise the powers conferred on the Governor-General by Commonwealth Acts of Parliament, but they do not include the powers conferred on the Governor-General by the Constitution. The Act does not preclude the Governor-General from continuing to exercise his powers while The Queen is in Australia, and in practice the Governor-General continues to do so.
To be sure, in the early days of Federation, the Governor-General was in reality a British civil servant. His principal duties and responsibilities were to the British Government, a situation which was understood and accepted by Australian Governments. But after the 1926 Imperial Conference the Governor General became the actual Head of State of Australia, with duties and responsibilities to the Australian Government and people, and no longer with any responsibilities to the British Government. From then on, the Governor-General had the same constitutional relationship with the Australian Government as The King had with the British Government. And after the l930˙ Imperial Conference the Governor-General was no longer recommended to the Sovereign by the British Prime Minister but by the Australian Prime Minister. These dramatic changes came about without one word of the Constitution relating to the Governor-General being altered. All that were changed were the practices and conventions followed by the Australian and British Governments in relation to the appointment and the duties of the Governor General.
Over the past 22 years our Governors-General have made 30 State and official visits to 22 countries, and nearly all of them in Asia or the Asia-Pacific region. Every host country visited by Governors-General Sir Paul Hasluck, Sir John Kerr, Sir Zelman Cowen, Sir Ninian Stephen and Mr Bill Hayden recognised, received and treated them as Australia's Head of State. Australian Governors-General have even been accorded special courtesies by foreign Heads of State and their governments when travelling abroad privately and unofficially while on leave. It is simply not true to speak of this country needing to become a republic in order to be properly recognised and accepted by other countries. So you see, not one of the reasons we have so far been given for wanting to change this country's system of government by removing the Crown from our Constitution has a skerrick of truth in it. Yet this dishonest debate is the one that monarchists are constantly being exhorted to join, for fear of being left behind.
The republicans propose to alter our Constitution by what has been called the minimalist position. This would involve substituting "President" for "The Queen and Governor-General, with the powers and duties presently assigned to the Governor-General, including the reserve powers, remaining unchanged in the hands of the President. and with the President being elected by the Parliament. When the opinion polls discovered that, if we were to become a republic, 82% of Australians would expect to be able to elect their President, the Prime Minister flatly declared that Parliament would choose our President for us. Even the minimalist proposal would involve altering 60 of the 128 clauses of the Constitution and adding 10 new clauses! If that's a minimalist change, I would hate to see a major change.
The minimalist proposal constantly brings out of the wood-work all kinds of proposals for far more wide-spread constitutional change, such as having the President elected by the people; reducing the powers of the President; doing away with the position of Head of State altogether; increasing the powers of the Prime Minister; reducing the powers of the Senate; abolishing the Senate, abolishing State Parliaments; abolishing State Governors; and ultimately abolishing even the States themselves. It would seem that the minimalist republican proposal may simply be a stalking-horse for all sorts of other wide-spread proposals for constitutional change, and all aimed at further concentrating Commonwealth power at the expense of the States.
The publication which I mentioned earlier, Restoring The True Republic, Has an Introduction by Harry Evans, Clerk of the Senate, in which he reminds us that: A republic as the dictionary tells us, is a state in which sovereignty or supreme power is vested in the whole people rather than in a monarch The essence of republican government is that elected officials act as the agents or trustees of the whole people. In order to keep sovereignty with the people and to prevent the misappropriation of sovereignty by officials, power is not entrusted to any single officer or body, and the power entrusted to each officer or body is limited in accordance with constitutional rules.
This division and limitation of power in accordance with constitutional rules is essential to the theory and practice of republicanism. .. The only two modern republics that have lasted for more than 100 years - the United States and Switzerland - are federations, and federalism exemplifies in its most congenial form the limitation and division of power. Evans goes on to describe the many federal features of our Constitution which are characteristic of republican government, and concludes that.
These are the devices by which successful republics have sought to avoid a concentration of power that would turn them into de facto monarchies or closed oligarchies. But to return to the minimalist proposal. Its real effect is not just the removal of the sovereign, who, as I have already said, plays no part in our daily processes of government. The real effect is that the day by day role as Australia's actual Head of State would continue to be carried out at Yarralumla by an Australian, but we would have lost the one protection against politicisation of the office. We would have replaced an appointed Australian as Governor-General with an elected Australian as President. An appointed Governor-General comes to that high office without having to seek it and without having to defeat others to attain it. The knowledge that it is an appointed office acts as a very real restraint on the way in which a Governor-General exercises the powers and functions of the office.
An appointed Governor-General has no political constituency to represent, has no mandate to discharge, and provides no alternative power base to that of the elected Prime Minister. On the other hand, an elected President comes to office without those restraints, and there are examples all around the world of republics where such an arrangement produces tension, instability, and conflict. Furthermore, appointment opens up the office to talent that would certainly not be available under any process of election. Former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke is on the public record as saying that "the well-being of ordinary Australians would not be changed one iota if we became a republic tomorrow."
He has also publicly questioned the proposed presidency, saying that unless a "careful job of political neutering" was done, a President would have a "stronger base to be a wilful beast than any Governor-General. And former Labor Leader of the Opposition and now Governor-General Billy Hayden has said that he believes a President would use his or her reserve powers more often than a Governor-General, because 'an elected President would have his or her own constituency available to them. And if they were politically opportunistic then they would appeal to that constituency and ignore the government of the day." In the same interview His Excellency went on to confirm that Australia is already as free and independent of Britain as it could possibly be; and that the present system works well because a Governor-General in the role of Head of State is aware of the restraints under which he must function.
With a constitutional referendum probably still some five or six years away, (assuming one is held at all), and with the proposed change-over day just under seven years away, (again assuming that the referendum receives the approval of the Australian people), it is the height of impertinence and arrogance for the Prime Minister and his Government to act as if the referendum had already been held and won, and to ride rough-shod over the feelings of their fellow Australians who disagree with them.
The Prime Minister has changed the ministerial oath of office so that Ministers of the Crown no longer swear allegiance to the Crown. The oath of citizenship has been changed by deleting all references to The Queen. Commonwealth Government Bookshops have been directed to stop selling photographs of The Queen to members of the public. The Prime Minister's Department has ordered the removal of photographs of The Queen from its conference rooms and public areas, and the same thing has been done in other government departments and in Australian Embassies overseas.
The Prime Minister has instructed the Governor-General not to submit to The Queen any requests from national organisations for permission to add the prefix "Royal to their names. And only recently, in a most gratuitous insult to the Sovereign, the Prime Minister instructed the Governor-General to no longer put to The Queen, as Head of the Order of Australia, the Order's half-yearly honours lists for her approval, but to approve them himself as Chancellor of the Order. This is republicanism by ministerial edict and by stealth. And represents a calculated and deliberate assault on our present constitutional arrangements without the approval of the people.
As for the media, most of them report the so-called "debate" as if the referendum has already been held and won. And now we no longer have to guess why the media are so pernicious in their support for the republic. If you thought it was because of any objective assessment of the merits of the case, you can forget it. In a speech late last year the editor-in-chief of one of our major daily newspapers explained it all. He told his audience that the media favoured a change in our system of government, not because it deserved to be changed, but because the media have a vested interest in change, because change equates to news and news is the lifeblood of the media. In other words, the process of change will sell more newspapers! Surely a miserable and self-serving reason for changing one of the oldest and most enduring Constitutions in the world today?
At Corowa last year, at a constitutional centenary function, the Prime Minister described our Constitution "as a routine piece of l9th century British Imperial legislation" This is not true. 'the Australian colonies. In seeking to federate as a new nation, could have opted for defiant secession from Britain, or bloody revolution against Britain but, as I have already said, they had no need to, and they chose instead a peaceful, democratic, parliamentary process.
What is more, in the words of John Hirst, Reader in History at Latrobe˙ University, The Australian people were more involved in making their Constitution than the people of any of the other great democracies. For legal and constitutional reasons, our Constitution was enacted as clause 9 of an Act of the British Parliament - the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900, but every word and sentence, every comma and full stop, of the Constitution itself was drafted in Australia by our own Australian Founding Fathers, all of whom were specially chosen to do just that task. Except for those from Western Australia, they were directly elected in popular elections, with the selected candidates being supported by massive votes. And the Constitution which our Australian Founding Fathers drafted was put directly to the people in two separate referendums, something which was not done with the Constitutions of the United States, Canada or New Zealand, and on each occasion it passed with massive majorities.
In other words, the constitutional convention that drafted our Constitution was elected by the people rather than the parliaments, and the Constitution which the constitutional convention drafted was approved by the people rather than the parliaments. Again to quote John Hirst, "That the parliaments agreed to this scheme, which took them out of the action, is the greatest miracle of Australian political history.
Abdication of power is rare enough and, furthermore, (the) scheme was totally at odds with British political and constitutional tradition. The referendum came from Switzerland and a popularly elected convention from France and the States of the United States - all republics. So you see, our present Constitution, unlike those of the colonial parliaments, was quite deliberately built on the republican principle which I spelt out earlier, using the words of Harry Evans: "the sovereignty or supreme power (of the state) is vested in all of the people rather than in a monarch". That is why John Howard has been able accurately to describe our system of government as a crowned republic, with all of the virtues of both forms of government. Quick and Garran, in their 1900 magnum opus.
The Annotated Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth, wrote that the process of producing a new Constitution was "unique testimony to the high political capacity of the Australian people. Never before have a group of self-governing, practically independent communities, without external pressure or foreign complications of any kind, deliberately chosen of their own free will to put aside their provincial jealousies and come together as one people, from a simple intellectual and sentimental conviction of the folly of disunion and the advantages of nationhood." This is the Constitution which the Prime Minister has the gall to deride "as a routine piece of l9th century British Imperial legislation". And the nation which then came into being, so Paul Keating tells us, is still looking for a national identity!
The Clerk of the Senate, Mr. Harry Evans, has pointed out that, if the only thing that the republican movement wanted to change was the title of the Head of State, then our constitutional system was in good shape. He went on to say that, whereas there was demand in Britain, Canada and New Zealand for radical constitutional change, many of the changes being sought in those countries were already in place in Australia. He cited as examples the lack of a written constitution in Britain; the lack of a written constitution, an upper house. and state or provincial governments in New Zealand; and the lack of an elected upper house with equal representation for the provinces in Canada. Australia has all of these things, and has had them since 1901, right from the outset.
Written Constitutions such as ours, at least in parliamentary democracies were meant to be enduring documents, not easily changed, yet the republicans say that ours is a horse and buggy document in urgent need of drastic revision and amendment. With our strange fascination for numbers ending in zeros, we are being told that our Constitution will reach its use-by date by its one-hundredth birthday, and that when the calendar clicks over to the next century we should scrap everything that has made this nation what it is and start again.
The United States, from whom we borrowed so much of our constitutional structure, have no such hang-ups. Their Constitution is 217 years old, yet they were able to celebrate its one-hundredth and its two-hundredth birthdays without deriding it as a horse and buggy document. They were able to resist the temptation to see what they could do to make it relevant again. The nation to which the original thirteen colonies gave birth was able to achieve its super-power status without one constitutional amendment changing its system of government or giving more power to the central government. As we approach the one-hundredth birthday of our Constitution, we would do better to reject the notion that it needs to be radically changed or replaced, and instead give it the respect it deserves from us and which the Americans give to theirs.
Those of us who believe that our present system of government is still the best one for us and for Australia do not have to justify that choice. The present system justifies itself simply by having been there for so long, by having been so successful, and by having served the nation so well. An appointed Governor-General, acting under the restraints imposed by our present constitutional arrangements and our present system of government, affords greater protection to our democracy than an elected President could ever do. The onus is on the republican movement to spell out the precise changes to our system of government that they wish us to adopt, and to give us their reasons for those changes. To remove the Crown from our Constitution is to remove one of the strongest safeguards for political stability. Simply to say that the republic is inevitable is to insult the Intelligence of the Australian people.
Republicans therefore have an obligation to identify the defects in our present system of government, to show how their proposals will remedy those defects, and, above all, to tell the truth. 1 June 1994.
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