Stephen Puttick and an Australian love affair with the monarchy.
“I did but see her passing by, and yet I love her till I die.”
Prime Minister Robert Menzies
Perhaps no truer words have been spoken to describe Australia’s relationship to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II than these ones. Australia’s longest-serving Prime Minister made these famous remarks in 1954; during the first state visit of our newly-crowned monarch. As an Australian I do not think I could be a more loyal or passionate supporter of one of, if not the, greatest institutions in the World. I am obsessed with an undemocratic, elitist and secretive family that reside nearly 9,000 miles away in London. The history of this great nation is rooted in ties to the House of Windsor and a method of political organisation that has and continues to guarantee stability, representation and accountability in Australian politics. Last October Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh toured Australia for the 16th time in a reign that has spanned some 60 years; the 16th tour by a Queen whom has served for nearly two-thirds of Australia’s history. This is no small feat, yet for some peculiar reason, some individuals in this country wish to see ties to the Commonwealth cut and the monarchy replaced with a shady, untested, problematic, unrepresentative, non-symbolic political model- that of a republic. In this short paper, I will outline why the people who advocate such a shift are intellectually bankrupt and their arguments for such an unnecessary change simply incorrect.
The monarchy is undemocratic and the Australian Head of State should be appointed or elected so as to better represent the people of Australia. The premises pertaining to this line of thinking are incorrect on many levels. The Crown is a hereditary position that currently passes along a male-preference-cognatic-primogeniture basis – male siblings take preference over their sisters and succession passes down a bloodline until it is exhausted, before retracing to the senior generation. Laws concerning succession to the British Throne are codified in the Bill of Rights (1689), the Act of Settlement (1701) and the Acts of Union (1707). By their very nature, laws of succession cannot be changed unless there is unanimous consent from all Commonwealth Realms. Bi-partisan support exists in Australia to end male-preference and restrictions regarding the accession to the throne by a Catholic (codified
in the 1689 and 1701 statutes), and since the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, support can now be found across the Commonwealth. There is not space here to outline the arguments for and against these changes, however, I personally do not support them – not least due to the inevitable fracturing of the inheritance of the Royal family’s private capital and the Crown (e.g. the oldest son would inherit, along with other interests, the estates of Sandringham and Balmoral, whilst the eldest child [if a daughter] would inherit the Crown and the Crown Estate).
The British monarch is represented in Australia at the federal level by the Governor-General, currently Her Excellency Quentin Bryce AC, and at a state level by each respective Governor. The Governor-General or a Governor can be any Australian (Anglo-Saxon, Aboriginal or otherwise) and it is their task to represent the monarchy in Australia. Realistically, and simply put, the Governor-General is our Head of State. This is where I first take issue with the republic argument- a constitutional monarchy does not restrict any Australian from holding what is the highest political office in this nation. This is a fact, no matter how one may attempt to misconstrue it. Historically, Governors and Governor-Generals have been apolitical and, outside of a small number of conventionally ceremonial duties (most importantly the issuing of Royal Assent), have not been an active nor public part of Australian politics. This is not a bad thing, whilst anyone who takes issue with this should take issue with the appointers and appointed, rather than the model. The Governor-General could be far more active in Australian public life- be it taking on a greater number of ceremonial duties or adding to political discourses- they simply choose not to be. I personally support no change to the roles of the Governor-General and I see the apolitical nature of the Office as but one of the strengths of constitutional monarchy. Furthermore, shifting to the republican model does not necessarily mean the Head of State would somehow become more active and more political. The minimalist model has been, and seemingly remains the fashion- this model simply renames the Governor-General the President, disregards over 200 years of history and does not necessitate a more active role for our Head of State. It will also cost around one billion dollars. Shame. Furthermore, why should (in this instance and in both the constitutional-monarchy and republican models) the Head of State be more active? Outside of ceremonial duties, what should the Governor-General do? This is a discussion that republicans themselves cannot decide on and an issue more fully discussed below.
No other system of government provides for such a stable, representative and accountable politic as that of constitutional monarchy. At least in the British sense, the roots of constitutional monarchy can be found in the Glorious Revolution of 1688- since this time, no British monarch has held absolute power with Parliament acting as the true site of law-making. Due to the assured nature of succession, and the apolitical nature of the Head of State’s office, responsibility of government is focused in the federal and state parliaments- democratic institutions. Anyone whom attempts to argue that a constitutional monarchy is unrepresentative is misguided Law-making in Australia is representative, at least when the mandates to take policy to law are honoured post-election. Or to not make law- whatever the case may be. The beauty of constitutional monarchy is that it focuses legislative and ultimately executive powers in the hands of elected officials and does not allow for inefficient competition between two or more representative bodies- à la the US Presidency versus the US Congress. As abovementioned, any Australian can become Governor-General. The Federal Executive has historically used the appointment as a means with which to recognise lifelong and distinguished service to Australian public or professional life. Heads of State elected in any way- by the people, by a joint-sitting of Parliament etcetera- will result in a political conflict between the legislative and executive- a process that carries with it a plethora of problems and one incompatible with Australian norms and values. I mentioned above that the Governor-General currently gives Royal Assent to all Bills that have passed through the legislative process. Royal Assent, for those unaware, must be given before a bill can become law. By convention, Royal Assent has always been signed. However, any republic-model does not rely on, nor would it necessarily embody, this important convention. The election of, or voting in, of the Head of State would surely lead to the political manifestation of the Office. Our political system cannot depend upon, or be governed by, two seats of power. The system in the United States goes some way in illustrating my point. The Constitution of the United States organises a political system entirely different to that of Australia’s- a system that relies upon different social and cultural values. Advocates for a move to a republic are commonly cited as explaining that any change to the Australian Constitution would not change how the very political system of this country operates; this is untrue, most importantly with regards to the sidelining of vital constitutional conventions and the creation of another representative, and thus powerful, arm of government.
The monarchy serves as a reminder to us all of the important family and cultural values that underpin our society. As individuals and groups in Australia push for the instituting of certain, socially-progressive principles; the legalising of gay marriage serving as an obvious example, it is more important than ever to have the conservative values that bond society together embodied in our Constitution and communities more generally. The House of Windsor, despite certain difficulties in recent times, embodies the family norms that some people wish to undermine. Tony Blair, then Prime minister of the United Kingdom, said of the Queen Mother on her death “[that] she symbolised Britain’s decency and courage… admired by all people… revered within our borders and beyond”. Though not speaking of Queen Elizabeth II, Blair’s words are still fitting- Her Majesty the Queen, as demonstrated at CHOGM last October, unites communities around the World and represents several hundreds of years of Western history. An appointed or elected President, sitting for a finite term, does not embody such worthwhile values; nor would he or she bring a unique and fitting celebrity that adds so much to Australian life. Whilst many would disagree on this point, I would urge you all to watch footage from the Queen’s visit last October- whilst not all of the hundreds of thousands whom came to Perth did so in support of Her Majesty, the visit provided an opportunity for certain noisy, angry individuals from the deleterious left, and those with some narcissistic sense of misfortune, to air their problems and be heard, if only for one day. Even here it seems, in the face of socialism, Her Majesty advances the democratic process.
Australia should remain a constitutional monarchy and a member of the Commonwealth. Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II and her successors should remain as our rightful Head of State. Any shift to a republic poses serious questions as to the constitutional stability of this country. The constitutional monarchy as a method of political organisation has, and continues, to serve this country well- it is the best model for the politic. Further, our ties to Britain through the Commonwealth and the monarchy recognise the most important parts of our national history. Civilisation came to this country in 1788, and I for one am proud of this. In 1788, George III was King- our Queens third-great-grandfather- though the monarchy has seen a great deal of change, not last during the reign of this Queen, it is still a most important part of Australia’s political framework and discourse. In this, the year of Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee, all Australians must come together to celebrate Australia, the Commonwealth and our sovereign; and may the unbroken genealogical line of monarchy last another 2,000 years. God Save the Queen!