Australia's Absurd Monarchy


It is a sad fact that at some time in the not too distant future Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor — or Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom as she is better known — will die. At that moment her eldest son, the Prince of Wales, Charles Philip Arthur George Mountbatten-Windsor, will become King of the United Kingdom and 16 other countries within the Commonwealth of Nations, including Australia.

Once he is King, Charles will become head of the 54 countries that make up the Commonwealth of Nations. Of those countries 33 are republics and the rest, like Australia, are monarchies. King Charles will become Head of State of the Commonwealth of Australia, the sixth British Royal to hold the office. Charles won’t have to apply for the job or even fill out a form indicating his interest. The Australian Constitution gives him the position — no questions asked. It is a job no Australian has ever held — and unless the constitution is changed — no Australian ever will.

There are some monarchists who claim the Governor General is our head of state. To put it kindly, that assertion is total rubbish. They would only have to look at section two [Governor-General] of the Australian constitution to be put right. It removes any chance of there being any question about who is Australia’s Head of State:

"A Governor-General appointed by the Queen shall be Her Majesty’s representative in the Commonwealth, and shall have and may exercise in the Commonwealth during the Queen’s pleasure, but subject to this Constitution, such powers and functions of the Queen as Her Majesty may be pleased to assign to him."

Section six also states, "the executive power of the Commonwealth is vested in the Queen and is exercisable by the Governor-General as the Queen’s representative". It has been that way since 1901 when six self-governing colonies were combined to form the Commonwealth of Australia.

The need for a federal union of the independent colonies that occupied the continent of Australia and Tasmania was debated for decades before anything was done about it. Eventually, after much talk, an agreement was reached and a constitution was approved in a series of referenda, held between 1898 and 1900 by the voters in each of the individual self-governing colonies. At the time Australia’s population was 3,765,339 give or take a few, but as voting was not compulsory and only 442,788 people voted yes in the final referendum and 161,077 voted no.

The vote did not turn our self-governing colonies into states or unite Australia within a Federal Government. For that to happen we required approval from the Parliament of the United Kingdom. On 9 July 1900 the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 was given Royal Assent in London by Queen Victoria. On 1 January 1901, the first day of the 20th century, the colonies became states and Australia became an independent country. Well — sort of independent. Australia will never be totally independent while it relies on a foreigner to be Head of State.

In the many years of debate that preceded federation, much attention was given to whether we should be united under a monarch or become a republic. The republicans lost the debate and now the constitution’s preamble states: "The provisions of this Act referring to the Queen shall extend to Her Majesty’s heirs and successors in the sovereignty of the United Kingdom." Accordingly, Charles will become our King when his mother dies.

The Queen being referred to in our constitution is Charles’ great-great-great-great-grandmother Victoria (Alexandrina Victoria; 24 May 1819 — 22 January 1901) who was reigning when our constitution came into force.

Australian republicans assert an Australian Republic and head of state would be the final step in our journey towards full independence and nationhood. But such a change could only come about by referendum. Section 128 [Method of Constitutional Alteration] states that the changes must be agreed to by a majority of voters in Australia and by a majority of voters in a majority of states. This is difficult to achieve; of the 44 proposals put to a referendum since federation only eight have been successful.

Technically, it has always remained possible for the British government to modify the Australian Constitution as its origins lay in their parliament. While nobody dreamed of doing so, 86 years after passing the Australia Constitution Act 1900, the British parliament passed the Australia Act 1986. The new act removed the power of the United Kingdom parliament to change the Australian Constitution. It can now only be changed in accordance with the prescribed referendum procedures as set out in Section 128. To avoid any possibility of someone finding a loophole in the new act, equivalent acts had to be passed in every Australian State Parliament and the Australian Federal Parliament. It could be argued that up until 1986 we were not really independent.

But the referendum held on 6 November 1999 — when our population was 18,925,855, give or take a few — was defeated with 5,273,024 people voting yes and 6,410,787 voting no.

Monarchists claim the status quo is fine. "If it ain’t broke," is their common refrain. They quietly ignore the fact that our constitution is broken, and has been since 11 November 1975, when Queen Elizabeth’s representative, Governor General Sir John Robert Kerr, sacked the Australian Prime Minister Edward Gough Whitlam.

Despite the constitution stating the Governor General must act on advice of the Federal Executive Council (and Whitlam refusing Kerr to seek advice outside the Council) Kerr only acted after taking legal advice he was not entitled to seek, from people he was not entitled to involve, who gave advice they knew they were not entitled to give. Immediately after sacking Whitlam, Kerr appointed John Malcolm Fraser, who did have the qualifications needed (the confidence of the House or Representatives), to be the 22nd Prime Minister of Australia.

Monarchists overlook Kerr’s actions and claim the following election on 13 December 1975, which Fraser won in a landslide, justifies his behaviour. But the legality of Kerr’s actions and the election that followed are separate events.

Regardless of the arguments for retaining the Monarchy or not, our Monarch and head of state is unfit to be a member of the Australian parliament, yet stands above it. Section 44 [Exclusion from Eligibility] of the Australian constitution states that any person who is under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power is excluded from eligibility.

Most absurdly, when Elizabeth II dies and Charles becomes King it will be his job to pass on Australia’s condolences to himself as the new King and head of state of the United Kingdom. That bit of nonsense should be enough to turn any self-respecting monarchist into a republican.

New Matilda

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