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Thomas Jefferson once Declared, in beautiful prose, these following words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.

I am a Republican because equality should be the gift of every child, so they have the same opportunity to make of their lives what they will; to pursue Happiness.

Are you a Republican? Or are you a monarchist, who believes in the Divine Right of Kings, the mediaeval notion that the Creator extended His hand to bless one particular family with His sovereign imprimatur regardless of how many wives they marry (and how many religions they might found to obtain that right).

When the Queen dies, the throne might go to Prince Charles, a man so daft that he believes in homeopathy; it might go to Prince William, a man of such unimpeachable bloodlines that he is balding before 30. What is clear, though, is that it shall not go to a man like Barack Obama, a man who fought racial prejudice to become the first black President of the Harvard Law Review and then the first black President of the United States. It shall not go to a Victoria Cross winner, who earned his honours by bravery and good deeds. Nor to men of wit and good humour, of charisma and charm, of good temperance, courage, intelligence or men or women with any of those qualities that make for a great leader. Instead, it shall go to these men by virtue of primogeniture.

Primogeniture. What does that mean? It doesn’t just mean that the throne may only pass to the dusty descendants of some 17th Century German named Sophia of Hanover. It means it goes to the first-ranking male, and expressly excludes Catholic.

The only argument that ordinary people (and not aristocratically infatuated elites who support a continued monarchy) raise against a Republic is the tired old line, “Don’t fix what ain’t broken”. And yet, our constitutional system is broken. The Queen, and her representative, the Governor-General are vested with vast powers under the Constitution. She is both the receptacle of legislative power (s 2) and executive power (s 61, amongst other sections). She owns the land and the law; Ministers, Judges and certain civil servants swear an oath to her (and not the nation, flag or country) upon taking office. She is Commander in Chief and may exercise the prerogative of war.

This is not theoretical power, but actual power expertly wielded by one who has held power for a very long time. She has no legal power, but her influence is magnified immeasurably by the fact she is part of every aspect of the governmental process.

The story of the Queen’s hidden power is told through anecdotes. You will know how the Queen did what the APEC nations could not – to stop the Chaser doing what they do best. As others have pointed out, stifling political and satirical commentary on an event broadcast around the world simply would not be tolerated if it were done by China or any other State in the world. Why is it tolerated by one who regards herself as divinely born?

Did you know that the current Queen attempted to block the Australia Acts from passing just 30 years ago? The tale is told in the Chameleon Crown, a book by Anne Twomey. The Queen trenchantly refused to listen to the advice of her Commonwealth and State Ministers, at each and every step using guile and deception to stop them agreeing and throwing roadblocks whereever she could. She succeeded in this for many years, but she was defeated by a cross-partisan group of governments. Had she been more successful, Britain would still retain the power to reserve State legislation and to refuse assent to contentious Bills.

It was only through meticulous research that this history was uncovered, but the lesson should be learnt and heeded – the Queen’s power is her incredible influence behind the scenes and within the shadows. It is enhanced by the great and undefined powers vested in her by the Constitution. Sections which constitutional scholars thought were relics are still in use. In Britain, for example, it was thought that it was a mere formality to send certain Bills to the Queen before she assented to them. It turns out that she demanded to have them sent to her earlier so that she could get independent legal advice on whether those Bills should be altered.

Even now, the Governor-General and the State Governors exercise great powers that are crucially important in a hung Parliament. They might have the power to refuse Royal Assent to Bills. This is not an outdated power. Assent was nearly refused last February at the Commonwealth level and in Victoria in 2005. It happened almost 50 times in the various Canadian provinces between 1900 and 1935 (there is no little research on later refusals of assent). The Governor-General and Governors may prorogue Parliament and dissolve it, they may dismiss the Prime Minister and the Ministry. Though convention binds them to do this on ministerial advice, they remain the Queen’s representatives.

It is doubtful that they would listen to the Queen’s command, but they are honour-bound to listen to her advice, and convention-bound to never disclose what the Queen says to them. It’s almost like a conspiracy theorist’s dream – a secretive family hiding in the open, with laws vesting absolute power in them and laws that prevent anyone from knowing how she exercises those powers.

I am a Republican because the principles of democracy and equality must be upheld. One should not be raised above all others at birth because they have particularly anaemic ancestors. The Queen wields her influence through soft power, and that power is magnified by the vast power vested in her by the Constitution. It must stop.

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6 Comments

  1. Hm. If only the US political party hadn’t kind of ruined the word.

  2. Yes, it is true that the Democrats have ruined the principle of democracy by, inter alia, supporting the continuation of Guantanamo Bay. But I think its still worth sticking with democracy a tiny while longer.

  3. Well-written John! I agree wholeheartedly with u on all of ur points.

    I would also like to add that it’s time we moved on from our emotional and cultural attachments to the United Kingdom. There is no doubt that the UK has granted Australia a lot of its heritage and identity, and I think a lot of it is great and invaluable.

    However, the times have changed. We have to realise that we are no longer dependent upon the ‘mother nation’ for much anymore, economically, politically or militarily.
    For the UK to retain so much constitutional influence over our legal and governmental systems is essentially an anachronism that would lead us to many consequences, as you’ve eloquently postulated, that are neither desirable for the UK or Australia.
    Finally, I also have to say that I’m a fervent believer of ppl being able to acquire things or positions in life through their own hardwork, abilities and determination, and as such I just can’t see the value of someone getting all that by sheer birthright.

    Lastly, if Australia was to be a republic, how would you reconcile the current constitutional inconsistencies and difficulties?

  4. I think that continuing to vest the Governor-General (or President) with full sovereign power is a good idea. Australia needs an apolitical actor to get us out of constitutional crises. What I don’t like is that the Governor-General should act at the Queen’s advice or influence (if she chooses to exercise it). The Queen, as Queen of the UK, has a considerable conflict of interest that is not outweighed by her supposed political impartiality.

    An Australian should be in charge of influencing these decisions.

  5. Our Governors-General have been military heroes with the Military Cross (Michael Jeffery), leading judges and eminent Australians. At a state level we have had medical scientists and great philanthrophists (Malcolm McCusker). You would not get the same calibre of people as President of Australia, so to say a republic would promote meritocracy is a gross falsehood.

  6. If the appointment process is identical for a Governor-General as for a President, why wouldn’t you get the same calibre of people? If you had an alternative method of appointment, that nonetheless kept the appointments largely apolitical but more high profile, wouldn’t you get even more distinguished people?

    And, having gotten these distinguished people to be our Governor-General, why should we then make them the dignitary of an unelected monarch with no personal qualities that commended him or her to the throne besides birthright? Are we to say that the highest that an Australian can aspire to is to be a laptop to a Queen living in a distant land?

    Australia deserves a Head of State who lives permanently in Australia; feels a stronger tie to Australia than any other nation. If you think, contrary to the opinion of all respected constitutional scholars that the Governor-General is the head of state, then we deserve one who is not merely a representative of a far-flung Queen.


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