In 2016, We Need An Australian As Our Head Of State

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Lindsay Foyle makes the case for ditching the Queen as the ‘supreme Australian power’.

The results of a poll, conducted by Essential Research (released in December 2015), found 51 per cent of Australian voters supported replacing the British monarch with an Australian citizen as head of state when Charles becomes King.

If Australia is to have the chance of becoming a republic we need a referendum on the subject sometime very soon, or Charles will be King and inertia will overtake change. Whilst not wishing anything bad on our Queen, she is almost 90 and her reign may end at any time.

It would not be impossible to put it to a vote at the time of the same sex marriage plebiscite. That might be just a bit too quick, but we could have a second plebiscite that commits us to becoming a republic as soon as the Queen Elizabeth no longer reigns.

Talk of an accelerated public debate on Australia becoming a republic will no doubt bring out the letter writers. Some will be from the republican side wanting action now. They will be arguing for an Australian Head of State. Others will be from a group of people who claim to be monarchists, strangely claiming that the Governor General, not Queen Elizabeth II, is our Head of State.

They claim this because the Constitution does not use the words ‘Head of State’ when describing the Queen. It is a moot point.

The Australian Constitution is a wonderful document to start with when trying to understand who is what relating to our national government.

The Constitution Act, which was passed by the British Parliament and received Royal Assent from Queen Victoria in July 1900, states we are united in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

It took effect in Australia on January 1, 1901 – the first day of the 20th Century. It also states the provisions of the act referring to the Queen shall extend to Her Majesty’s heirs and successors in the sovereignty of the United Kingdom. Given those provisions, it seems pointless to argue the Queen is not at the top of our parliamentary system of government.

But if there was any chance of a misunderstanding, the Constitution also says the legislative power of the Commonwealth shall be vested in a Federal Parliament, which shall consist of the Queen, a Senate, and a House of Representatives.

Queen Victoria’s heirs and successors did not have long to wait to take over, as she died in 1901 and was succeeded by King Edward VII. He was gone in 1910 and George V became King.

King Edward VIII took over from him in 1936 and quickly abdicated. His brother George VI became King. The current holder of the royal hot seat is his daughter Queen Elizabeth II.

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born on Aril 21, 1926, and proclaimed Queen on February 6, 1952. She was Crowned June 2, 1952 and did not just become Queen of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. She also took on the job of Queen of Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Barbados, the Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, as well as becoming Head of the Commonwealth.

Back in the 1890s, when the constitution was written, everyone understood it would be impossible for the Queen to be both in Australia and in London. So provision was made for her to appoint a Governor-General to be her representative in the Commonwealth and for “him to exercise such powers and functions she may be pleased to assign him”.

All that seems to be fairly unambiguous. When the Queen is busy being the Queen elsewhere, her understudy, the Governor-General, gets whatever part of the gig the Queen thinks is appropriate.

It is true that nowhere within the constitution does it state the Queen is Head of State. So maybe she should not be called Head of State. However Section 61 [Head of Government] does say, “The executive power of the Commonwealth is vested in the Queen and is exercisable by the Governor-General as the Queen’s representative, and extends to the execution and maintenance of this Constitution, and of the laws of the Commonwealth.”

Some suggest there are many documents referring to the Governor-General as Head of State. There is no reason to doubt them. However it should not be forgotten that the position of Governor-General exists only as the Queen’s representative.

The recently published book, The Dismissal in the Queen’s Name, by Paul Kelly and Troy Bramston, outlines just how much contact there is between the Queen and the GG.

The book makes for interesting reading for those wanting a better understanding of what happened back in 1975, during the Whitlam dismissal. But regardless of the level of contact between the Monarch and GG, Kelly and Bramston make it very clear – the Queen is the boss and the GG knows it.

While the Monarchists may make claims, it is interesting the official website of the British Monarchy states, “the Queen is Head of State of the UK and 15 other Commonwealth realms.”

There may be people who want to make an issue of what is written in the Constitution; and that is fine. The Constitution can always be changed, and there was a chance to do that back in 1999. Had the plebiscite carried it would have enabled an Australian to be our Head of State and be given the title of President.

A fresh plebiscite might be a different story. The monarchists might finally get what they claim already exists – an Australian as Head of State.

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Lindsay Foyle

Born in Sydney, Lindsay Foyle has been involved in the media since he left school near the end of 1960 and has been drawing cartoons professionally since 1975. He was deputy editor of The Bulletin in the 1980s and worked on The Australian from 1996 to 2009 as a journalist and cartoonist. He is currently working as a freelance cartoonist while writing books on Australian cartooning. He is a past president the Australian Cartoonists’ Association and has been active in the Media and Entertainment Arts Alliance for over four decades.

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