No Thanks: States’ Republic Call An Empty Populist Charade

THE LATEST IDIOCY masquerading as hand-on-heart nationalism kicks off what might be an interesting week this week, with all state and territory leaders — bar WA’s Colin Barnett — signing a so-called “declaration of desired independence” with the aim to end the link to the monarchy and declare Australia a republic; the move is empty, cynical posturing that is likely to fail, but could do irretrievable damage to this country were it to succeed.

This morning’s article was a toss-up between this issue and the renomination of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott for Liberal Party preselection in his seat of Warringah; we will come back to Abbott (and the repercussions of that) this evening, although I am mindful it may be just about time to see some reputable opinion polling as the silly season draws to a close — and if any of that comes through in the meantime, we may have to juggle.

But the “declaration of desired independence” signed by most state and territory leaders — calling for Australia to abandon its links to the British monarchy and declare itself a republic — is the sort of banal drivel that might be expected from people who literally have better things to do with their time, and I say that in full cognisance of the fact that Liberal Party identities in New South Wales, Tasmania and the Northern Territory are parties to this empty piece of absurd populist posturing.

First, depending on preference, readers may access mainstream media coverage from either the Murdoch or Fairfax stables.

Having covered off on this in the past it’s hard to know where to begin today, so utterly devoid of credibility is the rehashed, reheated, recycled bullshit being squirted afresh by the Australian Republican Movement; dispassionate consideration of the facts of this matter — made with a brutally realistic judgement of the behaviour of people and politicians, rather than some pie-in-the-sky feelgood claptrap and a national singing of Kum-ba-ya — shows the adoption of republican government in this country to be unattainable at best, and downright dangerous to its stability and security at worst.

And no, it has nothing to do with whether you love or hate (or couldn’t care less) about the Royal Family, although with the high visibility and prominence of a large band of popular younger royals, combined with the instant accessibility of social media, it must terrify the ARM that pro-monarchist sentiment in generations Y and Z is running a country mile ahead of support for a switch to a republic among those younger Australians.

In other words, there’s a degree of “it’s now or never” about this.

Traditionally — starting with Paul Keating in 1992 — the idea of a republic in this country is floated by Labor Party politicians facing extreme electoral difficulties as a diversionary tactic; of course, since Keating put the issue on the agenda almost quarter of a century ago, many Liberal Party figures have leapt onto the bandwagon as well. But even now, whenever there’s an attempt to reheat the souffle, it is almost invariably an ALP personality (or someone aligned with the Left) who kicks it off.

So it appears to be now, with most of those behind the so-called declaration being from or aligned to the ALP; the move has the explicit support of embattled federal Labor “leader” Bill Shorten, and if ever there were a Labor figure in diabolical electoral trouble, it is he.

This latest move seems to be an attempt at implicating Prime Minister (and former ARM head) Malcolm Turnbull in a fresh republican plot. To date — and to his credit — Turnbull has resisted the temptation.

It is difficult to see how the conspirators believe they can succeed; after all, there was a referendum just 15 years ago that was convincingly defeated; it is neither possible nor advisable to keep having referendums (or non-binding plebiscites, as is the case here) with the eventual ambition of smashing opposition by wearing it down into resignation. Yet this seems to be the tactic, despite (as The Age records) opposition to the move now commanding an outright majority in reputable opinion polling.

And there is a deadlock among republicans that I can see no way through: the so-called “direct electionists,” compelled in 2000 to vote on a model that featured a President selected by the Houses of federal Parliament, opposed it as “the politicians’ republic,” whilst the so-called “minimalists” who advocated it (and it seems current ARM chief Peter FitzSimons is one of them) have historically appeared to heed at least one argument of monarchists in that the office of a directly elected President would inevitably become politicised — and for a politician to wield the power the Constitution confers on the Australian head of state would be downright dangerous, and would threaten the political stability (and even the security) of the country.

That point should not be ignored or downplayed, and anyone who fatuously claims “oh, they’d never do (insert undemocratic outrage here)” is kidding themselves.

A directly elected President would be a conflict with, and a rival power centre to, the elected government of the day and to Parliament as an institution: and before anyone starts rattling on about 1975, the reserve powers wielded by an impartial figurehead to resolve a constitutional deadlock between the Senate and the House of Representatives — precisely as the constitutional architects foresaw — would not have been used, say, had the Whitlam government held office under an overtly ALP President.

The consequences of that, at a time the government could not appropriate Supply in the Senate and at a time of national social and economic chaos, would have been disastrous.

But really, this stunt — and that is all the “declaration of desired independence” is — hardly merits the trouble of mounting complicated constitutional arguments to shoot it down.

First, it was signed by eight people — eight — out of a country with 25 million people in it, and elected to represent as they may well be, their views on such a critical issue of national importance are no more valid than the other 24.9 million or so living here.

Secondly, one has to wonder why this is such a pressing issue at a time the country’s expenses are running well beyond its income, and have done now for several years; with half a trillion dollars in Commonwealth debt (a figure that grows dangerously close to $1tn once the gross liabilities of the states are included) and no inclination of the entire political Left to even countenance genuine solutions to restore national finances to a sustainable position, the fact its servants can find the time and energy for this is an indictment on them.

But really, the kind of statements — and blatant intellectual dishonesty — being trotted out over this are almost childish.

Thanks to the Australia Acts passed by the Whitlam and Hawke governments, this country is already fully independent of Britain; the British Parliament no longer wields any power to directly determine in the interests of Australia or its people, save for those who still retain UK citizenship; and whilst nobody in the republican cart cares to acknowledge it, Australia has had an Australian head of state now for 50 years: the Governor-General, an office which has been held by Australian-born appointees continuously since 1989, and of whose past 11 appointments 10 (stretching back to and including Lord Casey in the 1960s) were Australian-born. The exception — Sir Ninian Stephen (1982-89) — was a dual national who came to Australia as a child, and who served in the Australian Army in World War II. Only a pedant would suggest Sir Ninian was “a foreigner.”

Significantly, the monarch is a ceremonial figure only, acting on the advice of his or her ministers — including those in Australia — and has no power to amend or reject legislation in this country; and where the spectre of 1975 is invoked, that particular ghost is easily vanquished by the hard, cold fact that Sir John Kerr acted on his own initiative, but in full accordance with the Constitution, to dismiss the Whitlam government: the Palace, whilst reticent in its support, was only informed after the event.

Still, that precis of facts hasn’t stopped the likes of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews making stupid statements like “it’s time to stand on our own two feet, on paper and in practice,” or Queensland’s Annastacia Palaszczuk claiming — with no sense of irony — that it’s “about time our country (was) led by one of our own,” when in point of fact, it already is.

In my view, the entire thrust of the republican offer is based on the cultural cringe and anti-British bent of the hard Left — not all of its advocates necessarily fit that description, but it’s where it originated — and it’s noteworthy that so many of the most prominent advocates for a republic just happen to be Irish Catholics who, of course, have their reasons for hating England, but such prejudices have no place in this country.

(I could add — tongue-in-cheek — that their own anti-discrimination and racial vilification laws prohibit it, but that would hardly be sporting).

But to whatever or whomever you ascribe responsibility for the republican movement, its only appeal is an emotional one, not one based in facts, logic, or consideration for the consequences.

An Australian Head of State (when we have one now). Being led by one of us (we already are). Time to cut the apron strings (which were cut 30 years ago). Time to stop tugging the forelock (what?). Time to do away with a foreigner as Head of State (in any meaningful sense, there isn’t one).

On and on it goes, mindlessly ignorant of the fact that were the republican “dream” to become reality, this could quickly become a very ordinary place to live.

Anyone who trusts Australian politicians to behave soberly and responsibly when imbued with the absolute mandate of directly elected presidential power has a mental problem. Let me just say to those on the Left, you know the hated Tories you reckon are so incompetent, reactionary, dangerous, etc etc etc? At some point they will win the Presidency and they might just act unilaterally. What will you do — bring the unions out onto the streets to overthrow the government?

Naturally, more conservative voters don’t need to be warned about either the dangers of handing their opponents absolute power or of gifting it to their own. There are checks and balances in the present system that would be forever destroyed by abandoning current arrangements. Once they’re gone, no politician will vote them back into existence. And once the monarchy has been abandoned, it is unlikely we would ever be welcomed back into the fold.

Don’t point to the US as an advertisement for the use of presidential power; that country has more problems than we have here.

As I have opined in the past, none of these so-called republican nationalists are running around the world maligning Canada, or New Zealand, or any of the other countries who retain the Queen as the ceremonial head of a constitutional monarchy as the best form of government.

And as FitzSimons points out, 32 of 54 Commonwealth countries have become republics during the present monarch’s reign. An awful lot of those, which he conveniently fails to mention, are social and economic basket cases. There goes that justification as well.

One idea I have heard — either the codification of the reserve powers in the Constitution or their excision from it at a referendum as part of the transitional arrangements — merely underlines the view that as tear-jerking and heartwarming as some of the republican rhetoric might be, there are some very sinister undertones to the actual intentions behind those barbed words and what they seek to achieve.

And very soon, Australians might just be in line to get a little more bang for their buck, and gain a real advantage from being a Commonwealth country sharing a common monarch; British Prime Minister David Cameron, a Tory, is set to retire within the next couple of years — not wishing to serve either a third term in the post, or all of his present term to enable a successor to become established — and his likely replacement, current London mayor Boris Johnson, is preparing to institute a system of free people movement initially between the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand: the idea is that as Commonwealth countries, citizens of each will be able to live and work without restriction in the participating countries, with the scheme only open to those countries who share the common monarch.

The proposal opens opportunities to Australians of all ages and from all walks of life that they wouldn’t otherwise have (except in New Zealand) as well as building on economic and trade links. Want to live in Canada for five years? Want to live and work in London if you’re over 32? If you don’t have citizenship of those countries, then good luck. And it wouldn’t hurt to see more Canadians and British folk spending time here, either. We don’t know everything — the fact yet another republican debate is starting proves it — and as a country of migrants, we can hardly shun economic immigrants who want to work and contribute, and from whom we might actually learn a trick or two as well.

Refute that, Peter FitzSimons.

I think the arguments in favour of constitutional monarchy and against “feelgood” republicanism are watertight anyway, but should Johnson succeed with his plan (and I’m told the other contenders for the Conservative Party leadership are on board with it too) there’s a very big extra bonus to be had from keeping things just as they are.

So no thanks: to the ARM and its current band of snake oil salesman, tell your story walking. We’re not interested. And frankly, this so-called “declaration of desired independence” isn’t even worth the paper it’s printed on, let alone acknowledging it as anything more than a stunt, a charade, and a pretty empty one at that.

 

Gay Rights, Republic: Pull Your Head In, Governor-General

IN A FLAGRANT abuse of office, Quentin Bryce has made an inappropriate, tacky public foray into politics, using a lecture series convened by the ABC to advocate gay marriage and a republic. The Governor-General has shown cavalier disrespect for the sovereign, and compromised her position.

It is an utter disgrace that a serving Governor-General should opt to intervene in issues that have nothing whatsoever to do with her role, let alone divisive matters that politicise what is and should always be a strictly impartial role at the apex of Australian governance.

Yet for someone who was a social activist as a prominent Labor figure prior to assuming vice-regal office it comes as no surprise, not that that excuses or justifies her actions.

Quentin Bryce has used the last in a series of lectures orchestrated by the ABC to outline “her vision” for a country “where people are free to love and marry whom they choose and where…(a) young girl or boy may even grow up to be our nation’s first Head of State.”

To be clear, my remarks today have nothing to do with my positions on the issues the Governor-General has raised, although readers will know that I am opposed to both and have outlined my reasons in this column several times in the past.

Very simply, Quentin Bryce has politicised what is an apolitical post, and for that she deserves contempt.

Providing vice-regal imprimatur to contentious social issues probably sounds like a brilliant idea to a socialist, but that’s the point: it’s the one office in Australia that “has no opinion.”

The views of Quentin Bryce on these matters is irrelevant, although the reaction from predictable quarters is an object demonstration of the irresponsibility of airing them.

Communist Party Greens leader Christine Milne was quick out of the blocks, taking to Twitter to express her congratulations “for strong advocacy of marriage equality, a republic and an ethic of care. Real leadership.”

The former Labor Premier of Western Australia, Geoff Gallop — now chairman of the Australian Republican Movement — used the speech as his cue to declare that it was time to revisit the issue of “an Australian head of state.”

But Liberal MP Kelly O’Dwyer — also a republican — was, properly, more circumspect, declaring “It’s highly unusual for a currently serving Governor-General to advocate for a republic.”

Quite.

It is not indelicate to point out that since her appointment as Governor of Queensland in 2003 and subsequently as Governor-General in 2008, Bryce has been content to pocket millions of taxpayer-funded salary dollars as the representative of the Crown.

It is entirely reasonable to therefore hold her to the consequent expectation that she would adhere to the clear convention that her offices should not interfere in political issues.

Past Governors-General have done so; even Labor appointees such as Bill Hayden and William Deane performed their duties admirably and with distinction, although Deane had a mildly controversial reputation at the time for his advocacy on Aboriginal disadvantage.

By contrast, however, Bryce has revealed herself as nothing more than a grub.

As I said at the outset, my remarks have nothing to do with my own stand on the issues Bryce has elected to interfere in, and they don’t.

But the principle of the independence of the Governor-General has been violated in a calculated and deliberate fashion, and for that Bryce should be condemned.

Her comments do not legitimise one side of the debate on such issues o’er the other, nor invalidate the contrary position.

But the reactions from elements campaigning on the same side of those debates shows why the convention of independence exists at all: now, they will parade and trumpet Bryce’s intervention as the provision of official sanction where none should exist — either way.

There is, not to put too fine a point on it, also the issue of disrespect for the monarch who remains — irrespective of the wishes of some to the contrary — Australia’s head of state.

For its part, the institution itself maintained the admirable neutrality that Bryce clearly lacks the self-discipline or principle to display, saying in a statement that “in response to any questions about the future of the Monarchy in Australia, Buckingham Palace has always maintained that this is a matter for the people of Australia.”

Which is how it should be.

In closing — and to address any charge of hypocrisy that readers opposed to my views might level — I should point out that my remarks in no way disrespect the office of the Governor-General.

In my view, its current occupant was an unsuitable appointee who was also an inappropriate selection as Governor of Queensland, and I said so on both occasions at the time (and had this column been in operation in 2003 and/or 2008, I would have published remarks to that effect here then too).

Bryce has shown, by her contempt for conventions of appropriate conduct as the holder of that office, that she is not entitled to any respect: indeed, I look forward to her pending replacement by a more suitable candidate.

It is because of my respect for the office that I make the points I do here, and the sooner Bryce ceases to sully it, the better.

 

“Howard For Governor-General” Push Gathers Strength…It Shouldn’t

THE AUSTRALIAN today carries a story on an issue we covered last August; there are moves afoot in the Liberal Party to make John Howard Governor-General. This time it’s for real, instead of the ramblings of sacked public servant Godwin Grech, but my position, in a word, is the same. Don’t!

I almost feel like I’m knifing an old friend in the back as I write this: Howard’s government was brilliant; Howard himself is one of the great Australian Prime Ministers, and I have been a longtime advocate of he and the twelve-year administration that bears his name.

We first ran across this subject at The Red And The Blue six months ago, when disgraced public servant Godwin Grech raised it in an extraordinarily self-indulgent feature piece carried by The Age and the magazine The Spectator Australia. I published comment on this at the time, and strongly suggest readers review the article by way of background.

The passage of six months doesn’t make this idea any better; indeed, with the prospect of a solid Liberal win at the coming election looking increasingly certain, the capacity of the next government to act on this makes it all the more important that the “Howard for Yarralumla” push is chopped off.

(One important detail in the article I have repasted a link to here has been superseded by events since August: incumbent Governor-General Quentin Bryce’s term was extended to March next year, removing the potential scenario I had outlined in the original piece).

Nobody doubts Howard’s ability, qualifications or (on paper) suitability for the role of Governor-General; as parliamentary figures go, he’s probably the best-credentialled in this regard than any other serious candidate in recent times — Bill Hayden and Sir Paul Hasluck included.

I don’t think there is any serious doubt, either — even among Howard’s detractors — that he would discharge vice-regal office with great competence and aplomb.

But he is, very simply, too political: John Howard isn’t just a man who led a government of one particular political stripe for twelve years; he’s also an ideologue and a warrior of the New Right who is reviled and despised by a very large minority in this country — the people who never voted for him and never would, certainly — but reviled nonetheless.

Hardly the unifying figure, or impartial symbol, that convention dictates that the Governor-General represents.

It surprises me little that the idea has taken off in certain circles within the Liberal Party (and remember folks, your columnist is a member of the Liberal Party too).

But this really is a bad idea, and would run the risk of setting a very dangerous precedent: the conservative Howard, with his deep sense of tradition and commitment to the continuity of Australia’s institutional heritage, would — rightly — be aghast if a Labor government were to appoint, say, Paul Keating to the post at some future time.

The idea, to me, is as bad as that.

And Hayden and Hasluck might have been capable/inoffensive/docile enough (strike out whichever you like) in the job, but if a precedent of nominating past politicians as Governor-General is renewed and perpetuated, there’s no guarantee the next one won’t be someone far less reliable, or stable, or even safe to entrust the Constitution to.

I’ll be interested in readers’ thoughts on this, from both the pro- and anti- Howard perspectives; given this idea appears to be inching closer to realisation, I just wonder: what do others think?

Is it just me? Should I be falling into line with my Liberal Party buddies, and doing so with a clear conscience? Or is this as I suspect it to be: a really, really bad idea?

Over to you…

New Red Herring As Labor Dredges Up Republic Putsch

“WHEN attempting the impossible, do the unexpected:” sage advice from an old proverb that served Paul Keating well, as he dug the ALP out of a deep electoral hole. But the republican campaign is old news; and as a tactic to win votes, its efficacy ended with Keating’s triumph in 1993.

It seems to be the week for shorter posts at The Red And The Blue this week (or it could just be the after-effects of my piece on the Labor Party leadership the other night).

Either way, I’ve seen a report tonight in Melbourne’s Herald Sun that — in spite of my staunch support for continuation of Australia’s present arrangements as a constitutional monarchy — has elicited more of a groan and a giggle than a wave of anger.

Self-important, pious bubble and Treasurer, Wayne Swan, appears to be leading the charge this time around; the Sun reports he has used a speech to the Labor faithful to put the issue of a republic in Australia back on the political agenda, saying that it is “unfinished business that we must have the courage to complete.”

Swan appears to have then recited a digest of the emotive but constitutionally, legally and operationally meaningless arguments the republican case was built on last time it surfaced — which culminated in a solid vote to retain the status quo at the 1999 referendum.

I include here — for readers who are interested — a link to an article I wrote on the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s ascension to the throne; whilst not a comprehensive rebuttal of the republican case, it nonetheless provides an outline of some of the aspects of its case that I believe pose insuperable barriers to a transition to a republican model, as well as some of the reasons I believe the present system should be retained.

In any case, the merits or otherwise of a republic versus a constitutional monarchy are not the motivation for this particular article — tempting as they may be to debate.

I would simply make the observation that once again, confronted with the prospect of political annihilation — as Keating was in 1992 — the Labor Party is once again attempting to play the ruse card of an Australian republic.

Faced with a situation in which everything except another leadership change has been tried — unsuccessfully — now the ALP brings out the hoary old chestnut that 20 years ago provided adequate distraction for Keating to be viewed as “a visionary.”

Did this issue help Keating win in 1993? Of course it did; prior to him putting a republic on the agenda the year before, only the most diehard of Labor’s voters ever talked about such an idea, let alone anyone in the wider community — and even then, the Labor people who did so were mostly those on the party’s hard Left.

But as I have repeatedly opined and as we have discussed previously, Keating (to give him his due) was a master political craftsman, and a strategic and tactical political colossus; the failings of his government and his own persona eventually brought the Labor edifice crashing down, but at his peak Keating was a political giant.

The likes of Wayne Swan and Julia Gillard — to borrow a phrase from broadcaster Derryn Hinch — are mental midgets by comparison.

Yet there they are; like deer caught in the headlights, or — to mix the metaphors — flying blind on a one-way ticket to nowhere.

Labor is facing oblivion — not merely heavy electoral defeat, but total and absolute slaughter, from which few survivors will stagger clear of the wreck to lick their wounds — and after five years of lies, deception, sleight of hand and ideologically driven sabotage of the silent Australian majority, now it wants to impose a republic on the country in one final, desperate lunge at distracting the people long enough to vote for it.

If I were Wayne Swan, I’d be more concerned with explaining the nasties in the coming federal budget — slashing of the private health rebate, cuts to Family Tax Benefit, and the abolition of tax deductibility for a raft of work-related expenses incurred by the Australian taxpayer — than I would be about something as unnecessary and divisive as a republic.

And I make the point that if Labor is so far gone as to see a need to resort to this particular issue as a last-gasp stunt, its pending ex-MPs would be better served making arrangements for their lives after Parliament than seeking to engage in a “debate” on Australia’s constitutional arrangements.

Keating, for all his nous and superb political skills, could not sell this initiative to the Australian public.

And if Keating couldn’t, then mental midgets of the ilk of Gillard and Swan never will.

Either way — this time — it won’t shift a single vote.

What a sham.

John Howard As Governor-General? I Don’t Think So

Nowadays, anything Godwin Grech says shouldn’t warrant mention. However, the Fairfax press and The Spectator Australia magazine have seen fit to publish an article in which Grech expatiates upon the glorious idea of G-G John Howard. This is a bad idea, on every conceivable level.

It comes as some surprise that reputable instruments of the press would give oxygen and airtime to a character like Grech, the disgraced former Treasury bureaucrat and past informer to the Liberal Party, who went several steps too far in 2009 by producing a fabricated email which “proved” that former PM Kevin Rudd was corrupt.

In what became known as the “Utegate” affair, Grech’s missive destroyed his own career, and guaranteed Malcolm Turnbull’s days as Liberal leader were numbered after Turnbull foolishly acted on the email without adequately checking its veracity.

And so, to find The Spectator Australia gifting column space to Grech for an opinion piece is grotesque; The Spectator proper — the original, UK version — is an excellent publication, and one which in view of this event might be better served abandoning its “focus” on Australia and sticking to events in Britain.

Why The Age saw fit to reprint the piece is unfathomable.

Even so, Grech’s article (the version of which The Age published can be viewed here) does contain some material I don’t necessarily disagree with, although much of it is petulant hot air from a man whose time never really was; his piece essentially boils down to a partisan rant underpinned by the thesis that the Howard government was brilliant, and that the Rudd-Gillard government is terrible.

Beyond that basic premise, there is little to substantiate or validate some of Grech’s more outlandish statements; this brings me to his claim that John Howard should become Governor-General when the term of incumbent Quentin Bryce expires in September next year.

Make no mistake: this is a very bad idea, and one whose momentum — if any — must be stopped in its tracks; of all the potential candidates to replace Bryce when her term expires, Howard is far from the top of the list of the most credible, feasible or sensible.

As a staunch political conservative, I realise that I might be expected to show some sympathy for this suggestion — not least as Howard led what on any objective measure was the best government, at the federal level, this country has seen in the past 50 years. As it turns out, I have no truck with the idea whatsoever.

Grech talks of Howard as potentially “a first-class head of state who would be warmly embraced by Buckingham Palace” and goes on to declare that he “would perfectly complement Tony Abbott, providing Australians with a world-class leadership team.”

It’s clear Grech has no comprehension of how a constitutional monarchy works, if he really thinks that.

The role of the Governor-General is largely ceremonial, although its holder is the Head of State; and with the exception of certain circumstances in which specific constitutional provisions provide otherwise (such as in 1975, when Sir John Kerr acted in accordance with S64 of the Constitution to dismiss the Whitlam government), the Governor-General usually acts on the advice of the Prime Minister.

The Governor-General does not act as some type of political advisor to the Prime Minister of the day, as Grech explicitly proposes.

And the Governor-General does not form part of some tag-team “leadership” team, operating in cahoots and in cohort with elected parliamentarians.

In John Howard, we see a figure who is overtly (and, in this context, overwhelmingly) political; the man was Prime Minister for nearly 12 years until fairly recently, and prior to that spent more than 30 years as a Liberal Party operative, elected member of Parliament, and political spear-thrower for the Right.

Irrespective of whether you’re on the side of the spear-thrower or not, such an openly political figure would politicise the office of Governor-General and polarise public opinion and confidence in it as a legitimate instrument of governance.

It is true that political figures have held the role in the past, and that they also discharged their duties with some distinction; Sir Paul Hasluck was a very distinguished Governor-General. Bill Hayden, more recently, was unremarkable and uncontroversial.

But Hasluck was made Governor-General in 1968 by then-PM John Gorton to get rid of a dangerous enemy from the ranks of the parliamentary Liberal Party and to remove the most serious rival he faced for the party’s leadership; Hayden’s appointment — irrespective of how it may have subsequently been presented — was payback for resigning in favour of Bob Hawke’s leadership of the ALP in early 1983.

It doesn’t matter, as Grech states, whether Howard would be “warmly embraced” at Buckingham Palace; he is simply too polarising a figure, and too overtly political, for that particular role.

Laurie Oakes also responded to Grech’s absurd arguments in the Herald-Sun today; Oakes pointed out — correctly — that Howard’s appointment to the role would be “divisive and provocative,” noting that “after several years of political turbulence and non-stop nastiness, that is the last thing Australia will need.”

As it happens, Oakes’ misgivings of the merits or otherwise of John Howard as Governor-General largely mirror my own.

But something that does niggle in the back of my mind as I write this (and we may well revisit the thought at some point) is the timing of the expiry of present Governor-General Quentin Bryce’s term, in September next year.

It suddenly occurs to me that an election is due in August; for this to occur, it would need to be called by the Prime Minister no later than about mid-July.

It also occurs to me that every Labor Party figure who has spoken publicly in the past 12-18 months on the issue of the timing of the next election has referenced “late 2013” or “toward the end of 2013” as the time such an election is “due.”

Even Julia Gillard implicitly announced the date as the last Saturday in September, until she realised it would be Grand Final day, and went on to make a fool of herself with wild predictions about the prospects of the Footscray Football Club.

Constitutionally, they are all correct; an election may well be held as late as the November/December period.

But more usually, and by loose convention, elections are held three years apart, unless they are for some reason called early, and on that basis the next one should be in August next year.

I just wonder whether the ALP plan is to go to an election later in 2013 to ensure its own nominee is appointed to the Governor-Generalship, rather than go to an election it is likely to lose in a landslide, only to gift the incoming Liberal government the right to fill the vice-regal role with its own appointee for a five-year term.

Then again, I might just be a terrible cynic…

But in terms of precisely who the next Governor-General should be, it sure as hell shouldn’t be John Howard, or any other political figure from either side of the political spectrum for that matter.

Oakes suggests the Head of the Defence Force, Angus Houston; a fine man to be sure, and somebody I think would perform the role of Governor-General admirably.

My thoughts, however, are that the best candidate is another military man: Houston’s predecessor, Peter Cosgrove, who would not only make an excellent fist of the role, but would also be the sort of unifying figure to which Oakes alludes.

Godwin Grech and his undebunked theories of the world are best left undisturbed (and unpublished) in whatever cave to which they retreated following Utegate; as for John Howard, I trust he is enjoying his retirement, and I hope he finds satisfaction in the summer of cricket — his great passion — that will soon commence.

Beyond that, the occupancy of vice-regal office will be determined in due course; a Cosgrove would be ideal, and a Houston just as good; but a Howard is, and should rightly be, completely out of the question.

What do you think?

Many Congratulations, Ma’am: God Save The Queen!

Yesterday, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, celebrated 60 years on the throne and her Diamond Jubilee as the constitutional monarch of 16 countries including Australia; her reign has been remarkable, and is second only to Queen Victoria in length.

I would like of course, firstly, to minute my warmest and fondest congratulations to Her Majesty on reaching this milestone; the present Queen is the only monarch I have ever known, being just shy of 40 years of age, and it says much about the constant she has been that even people my parents’ age in their early to mid-60s have little or no memory of her father, King George VI.

As an ardent and lifelong constitutional monarchist I am delighted to be able to see the Queen celebrate this anniversary; common sense dictates that it is unlikely she will be with us long enough to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee in ten years’ time, and so as much as this is a time for festivity and celebration, it is also a time for some reflection. I do wonder in passing if she will live long enough to surpass the reign of Queen Victoria (1837 – 1901) to become the longest-serving monarch  of the realm of all time.

Much has been made — in the United Kingdom, in Australia and elsewhere — of the prospect of one day replacing the present arrangement of a constitutional monarchy with a republic and a President, however so derived. The details vary from place to place but the sentiments are the same; even in Canada, where separatism, not republicanism, is the order of the day in Quebec, and the motivation for those French-Canadians to cut their ties with the hated British and strike out alone in their own, localised version of a Gallic republic.

I believe, and I always have believed, that the best interests of our own country at least lie with the present constitutional arrangements remaining in place, and with Australia eschewing republicanism on an indefinite basis.

Australia, along with New Zealand and Canada, are arguably the most successful of the  former British dominions now thriving as modern, vibrant, successful first-world countries; all are free, fair and tolerant, are democratic and stable, and each boasts its own rigorous identity in the world.

And all retain a system of constitutional monarchy, with the present Queen as Head of State.

Whilst Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, she is also Queen of Canada, Queen of New Zealand, Queen of Australia and so forth in the countries that retain the monarchical system. (Courtesy of one Joh Bjelke-Petersen and his antics in 1973, she is also recognised as “Queen of Queensland,” but that is another matter altogether).

When we look across the puddle to our neighbours in New Zealand, do we accuse those we see of tugging the forelock to Britain? When we consider our friends and allies in the splendid country of Canada, do we regard them as kowtowing to a foreign power? If we look around the world at other nations in the Commonwealth — many of which are of less fortunate circumstance than we in Australia — do we dismiss them as being subservient lickspittle?

Of course we don’t.

Yet this is the vituperative atmospheric of the so-called republican debate that went on in this country during the 1990s; its colourful invective — colourfully prosecuted by Paul Keating — may very well have animated many people, but in the end it was based on a false premise.

As was the entire republican case, based as it was on intellectual untruths, sloppy and misleading legalities, a typical attempt at brainwashing from those to the Left of the political spectrum, and an appeal to the subjective vanities rather than the considered sensibilities of the people republicans sought to coerce away from a constitutional monarchy.

And — shamefully — the republican campaign in Australia only ever organised itself in earnest when the opportunity presented to take advantage of problems within the House of Windsor: prior to 1992, and increasingly since the defeat of the referendum on the subject in 1999, the prevailing mood in Australia has not been typically conducive to serious consideration of abandoning the monarchy.

I remember as a very young boy — perhaps of 6 or 7 — being of the opinion that people called “Sir” had been given something by the Queen because they had done very well and she wanted to reward them; I, too, therefore aspired at that delicate age to what I soon enough learnt was a knighthood.

I remember, too, being mightily pissed off as a 14-year-old with Bob Hawke and his government for rescinding the awarding of knighthoods as part of the so-called reforms enacted in the Australia Act 1986 — and Hawke didn’t just rescind knighthoods for Australians under the British and Commonwealth honours system; he rescinded the provisions in the Order of Australia that allowed the granting of knighthoods under a purely Australian honours system, too.

(The Australia Act 1986 also extinguished the right of Australian citizens to exercise a final legal right of appeal beyond the High Court to the Privy Council: this, too, is something I have always viewed as a legal and moral travesty, but more on that — and the flip side — later).

For so many people, the question of monarchy versus republicanism is one based on affection or otherwise for the House of Windsor and the current monarchy, or on dislike for the British, or on half-baked notions of Australian nationalism behind which there is little or no substance and certainly nothing by way of corroboration except a lot of hot air and noise about an Australian-born Head of State. And about a confused concept of “cutting ties with Britain.”

It isn’t a subject I intend to cover at great length tonight: for one, we’d be here long enough for the Platinum Jubilee to roll around; two, I want to turn my comments back to the Queen; and three, the points I do intend to put on the table here are quite sufficient in terms of backing any republican into a corner with no way out. There are others, but these will do quite nicely for starters.

The first — and most obvious — of these is that we do, very simply, have an Australian Head of State: her name is Quentin Bryce and she is the Governor-General, and vice-regal representative, of Australia.

It seems lost on many that whilst the Queen is indeed the nominal Head of State in Australia, she remains so in a ceremonial capacity only; whilst Sections of the Constitution do certainly confer authority on the Queen to act in certain situations (such as the disallowance of a Bill, which we looked at some months ago in relation to the carbon tax), by convention, the Queen would almost certainly refuse to exercise such authority — even on the advice of her ministers.

If anyone doubts this, they should do some research on the former Governor of Queensland, Sir Colin Hannah — another Bjelke-Petersen stooge — including the circumstances in which she refused Bjelke-Petersen’s request to extend the tenure of Hannah’s commission, and the background and events leading to her refusal to do so.

If you’re a republican, it might be quite illuminating (or disheartening, depending on how one looks at it).

Even the “Labor bastard” who turned on Whitlam — Governor-General Sir John Kerr — did more to legitimise the role of Governor-General as the independent Head of State in Australia (as a link in the chain of a system of constitutional monarchy) than he ever did to legitimise republicanism; his actions set a modern precedent in which the Queen learnt of Kerr’s actions only after his termination of the Whitlam commission took effect, and did not subsequently intervene.

The events of 1975 are often held up by republicans as “evidence” and “conclusive proof” that the monarchy must be abandoned. I’ve never really understood why; no British people, and certainly not the Queen herself, were involved. Kerr’s actions represented a legitimate course within his legal responsibilities; were constitutionally sound and valid; and did exactly as was needed: to break a deadlock between the Houses of Parliament that existed at the time.

The constitution, and the monarchy, were not faulty; and to the extent the constitution may have been perceived as defective, it bears remembering that many Labor heroes at the turn of the century were instrumentally involved in its drafting alongside many conservative figures; if it contained or contains fault, those founding fathers share the responsibility.

The numbers in the Senate had certainly been modified in 1975 — by state Premiers in NSW and in Queensland. Of course, those numbers were used by Malcolm Fraser as he worked to smash the Whitlam government from office. But those actions, also, bear no reflection at all on the monarchy.

If the Labor Party and its acolytes did not like the outcome of 1975 and the Dismissal, that’s another matter altogether. But it is not one of constitutional monarchy.

Perhaps most instructive of all, though, are the lessons that lie in the aftermath of the passage of the Australia Act 1986; cursory they may be, but they offer the greatest pointer of all to the dangers of implementing a republic in this country.

What this Act did — according to its packet directions — was to remove forever the power of the UK Parliament to legislate with effect in Australia; never mind the end of knighthoods, and never mind (for now) about the abolition of access to the Privy Council.

The Australia Act 1986 in short achieved everything the republicans who followed some years later said (and say) they wish to achieve; clearly it is a nonsense to achieve the same thing twice, and so it is necessary to dig a little deeper to see what they really want. It is not necessary to dig very far.

The only real argument remaining open to republicans in any practical sense is the “Australian Head of State” one, with the references to “cutting ties to Britain.”

We’ll come back to ties with Britain later.

As I have already pointed out, we already have an Australian Head of State — the Governor-General — who acts independently of the Queen as a cog in the well-oiled machine that is our system of government within a constitutional monarchy.

Starting with the appointment of Sir Paul Hasluck to the role in the late 1960s by then Prime Minister John Gorton, the Governor-Generalship has been held by an Australian ever since. It is true Malcolm Fraser wanted to appoint Prince Charles to the post in 1982, but for obvious reasons that do not warrant the expenditure of space here, he was very quickly disabused of the idea.

The most obvious symbol of what republicans want — an “Australian President” — may in itself be impossible to realise; as the referendum in 1999 showed, those favouring a directly elected President flatly refused to accommodate those favouring a President chosen by Parliament. So trenchant were the two camps, and so strident their opposition to the other, that this conflict alone is likely irreconcilable.

But even if it were to be resolved, the Australia Act 1986 bequeathed this country a gift on account of its inherent abolition of the right of appeal to the Privy Council.

You see, readers, the highest Court in the land now is the High Court of Australia; and whilst its role is to interpret and adjudicate questions of law, its composition is based solely on the discretion of politicians.

For there to be a vacancy on the High Court, somebody has to die or retire; then, it is a simple question of the government of the day nominating a replacement whose appointment is rubber-stamped by Parliament.

Needless to say, the High Court has — at various times — been levelled with accusations of bias, and usually in favour of whoever has most recently spent an extended period in office at the federal level.

And for those readers who think directly elected judges are a good idea as an alternative, there are certain states in America which do precisely that, and are worldwide advertisements to others not to do anything of the kind.

So what if this system — a “President” elected by Parliament, or directly elected — were to be adopted in place of the Governor-General and a ceremonial monarch?

In short, Australia would be headed by either a political puppet or another politician respectively; the very nature of the role is such that it must be, and be seen to be, apolitical.

True, former politicians have held the post, Hasluck being one, and former ALP leader Bill Hayden another; yet neither discharged their duties in a manner inconsistent with the requirements of the office.

And if you look at the High Court, the record of its rulings and its case history, and analyse these in any detail, then you may be in a position to make a valid call on whether or not you think Australia ought to become a republic.

Because if you don’t like what the High Court has done over the past thirty years, the chances are that you won’t like what becomes of this country if it becomes a republic.

I believe everyone is entitled to their view; I am equally entitled to my opinion — which is the whole point this column exists, and those opinions, if they spark debates as they have done to date, have proven to be of value even to those who may disagree.

I do think republicans are wrong at the most basic and fundamental levels; and for as long as this country’s present arrangements continue, with Parliament operating in a constitutional monarchy, then the better off Australia will be.

This brings me back to the Queen.

This remarkable woman has been a distinguished world leader for decades; modest, dignified, strictly apolitical, she has been a source of advice and counsel for many of her Prime Ministers and other Heads of Government (including Australia), and has been a symbol of stability in a world which has, especially in recent years, changed so very much.

She and her family retain great affection for, and great links to, Australia; indeed, the Queen has visited here many times during her reign; the future King Charles even lived in Australia for a time, attending boarding school near Geelong in the 1960s.

And this in turn brings me to that other sacred pillar of republican faith: the “need” to cut ties with Britain.

Why should we ever do that? Modern Australia and modern Britain are very similar in many respects; we share similar societies based on similar systems and traditions, and those societies share the same similar problems that go with them.

Indeed, Britain and the British people are the most like us of anyone else in the world; we share similar cultures and ways of life; we are among each other’s most important trading partners; we share common interests, opportunities and threats.

I’m very much in favour of building ties and relationships in Asia, and especially in maintaining and expanding those we enjoy with the United States; but not at the cost of the existing ties and friendships we already have, and never at the expense of those we share with the United Kingdom, and the history and tradition that accompany them.

As for the Queen herself, once the pomp and pageantry and celebration of the Jubilee has subsided, this splendid lady with her well-known preference for simplicity will no doubt enjoy some time privately with those around her, and reflect too on all she has seen in 60 years on the throne; from the young princess thrust into the role after the death of her father when the free world was struggling to recover from its war effort, to the better yet more dangerously complicated place that world is today.

My hat is off to you, ma’am, and I salute you: many, many congratulations on the achievement of your Diamond Jubilee, and long may you reign over us for many years to come.

God Save The Queen!

Constitutionally Possible: Getting Rid Of The Carbon Tax Without An Election

If the Gillard Government’s so-called “clean energy bills” pass the Senate, and if the Prime Minister refuses to call an election before the resulting carbon tax is implemented next year, is the hoodwinked Australian public bound to cop the fruits of an election lie? Not necessarily…

First, a disclaimer: I’m indebted to Tom Elliott, who is standing in for Derryn Hinch as 3AW Drive host, for the bones of this article; he pointed out on his program this afternoon that sections 58 and 59 of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act — the Constitution, in short — still provide for the Queen to disallow any bill passed by both Houses of the Australian Parliament.

I’ve done a little digging around in the hours since Elliott led his program with this; not only is this true, but those sections of the Constitution are unencumbered.

And this got me thinking about our system of government within a Constitutional Monarchy, recourse open to our citizens within that system, and attempts to bastardise it by the Whitlam, Hawke and Keating governments — whilst keeping sight of the arguments of the republican movement from the corner of my eye.

It’s an irony, but no coincidence, that this subject presents on the day Her Majesty has been in Melbourne. Apparently a small band of noisy protesters attended one of the public gatherings with placards reading “Welcome, your Majesty, please dissolve parliament” and “Carbon tax corruption.”

Elliott joined the dots and dug out the relevant sections of the Constitution, and I thank him for that.

However, I’d like to go further.

Before I do, and so readers can see what I’m on about, here are the relevant sections 58 and 59 in full:

S58. When a proposed law passed by both Houses of the Parliament is presented to the Governor-General for the Queen’s assent, (s)he shall declare, according to his/her discretion, but subject to this Constitution, that (s)he assents in the Queen’s name, or that (s)he withholds assent, or that (s)he reserves the law for the Queen’s pleasure. The Governor-General may return to the house in which it originated any proposed law so presented to him/her, and may transmit therewith any amendments which (s)he may recommend, and the Houses may deal with the recommendation.

S59. The Queen may disallow any law within one year from the Governor-General’s assent, and such disallowance on being made known by the Governor-General by speech or message to each of the Houses of the Parliament, or by Proclamation, shall annul the law from the day when the disallowance is so made known.

There are reasons — good reasons — why Australia’s founding fathers embedded so many checks and balances into the Constitution; succinctly put, one of these was to ensure that power in Australia was decentralised, and to ensure that each tier and institution in our structure of governance was accountable to another.

With the Monarch — in this case, the Queen — at the top of the structure.

The merits or otherwise of republican argument are utterly irrelevant to the discussion I’m putting on the table; as it stands, today, the present Constitution represents and underpins the laws of the land.

Mind you, I’m partially surprised to find these sections of the Constitution intact and unchanged; only partially though, which reflects the nigh-impossibility of enacting constitutional change by referendum — the only way that august document may be altered.

My surprise derives from remembering — before thinking the matter through fully — that previous ALP governments have already abolished the right of appeal to the Privy Council; passed the Australia Acts; abandoned knighthoods as part of the national honours; and removed many references to the Monarchy from government and institutional life. Just to name a few that spring to mind.

Yet at the end of the day, we remain a Constitutional Monarchy; the Constitution retains powers for the Queen or her representative to act; and some carbon tax protesters appear to have made the link.

And I think that power in the Constitution should be used in appropriate circumstances.

How could this mechanism be used to overturn the so-called “clean energy bills” once the Senate passes them?

To me it’s a question of making use of the provisions of the Constitution, an exercise in direct democracy, and a challenge for Tony Abbott to utilise his leadership of the Liberal Party to galvanise public opposition to these measures in a tangible and practical fashion.

In Britain, the current Conservative government has introduced a mechanism by which any petition bearing 100,000 signatures from registered voters (whose bona fides are validated against the electoral roll) automatically triggers a vote in Parliament on whether the issue in question ought be put to a referendum.

This happened just this week — 100,000 people signed a petition calling for the UK to leave the EU (something I endorse, but that’s another matter).

The government took the petition and instructed its MPs to vote against it to the man; it was duly voted down, but only after 30% of David Cameron’s MPs crossed the floor of Parliament to vote in support for the referendum.

I think that on the issue of carbon tax, a petition needs to be made, in the first instance, of the Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, in her titular role as Head of State and Vice-Regal representative of the Crown.

There’s no point petitioning the Prime Minister, who’s beholden to the lie by her commie mates; nor is there any point in petitioning the Speaker (a member of the ALP) or the Clerk of the Parliament (a public servant).

There are 14,000,000 enrolled voters in Australia; of these, half cast a vote — after preferences — for the Liberal and National parties at last year’s election.

In the 15 months since, their ranks have swollen by as many as another 1.2 million, largely on the back of Julia Gillard’s broken promise on refusing to introduce a carbon tax.

Now, if 100,000 can sign a petition in the UK on an issue of governance, 100,000 signatures in Australia carries three times the weight — our population is 22 million; the population of the UK is 63 million.

But given the depth and intensity of community anger over this issue, the gathering of 100,000 signatures should be child’s play; indeed, I’d be unsurprised if there aren’t hundreds of thousands of people who would sign a petition for the G-G to intervene.

Let’s say half a million signatures are gathered…it’d be the biggest opinion poll ever conducted in Australia outside an election.

The petition would be presented to the Governor-General, who (in the proper execution of her duties) would declare a conflict of interest (her son-in-law, Bill Shorten, is a minister in the Gillard government and thus bound by government policy).

The appropriate course of action in such circumstances would be to send the petition “upstairs” for the Queen to consider.

At this point, the Monarch would be the arbiter. However, such a course of action would likely involve representation from both sides of Australian politics, and with advisors and equerries at Court to minimise the direct involvement of the Queen personally as far as possible.

Does this sound far-fetched?

Well, the Constitution confers the authority on the Queen; clearly, given her family relationships, the Governor-General would be compromised in ruling on such an issue.

In 1975 — when “Labor Man” Sir John Kerr dismissed the Whitlam government to resolve a political deadlock (without consulting the Queen) — “experts” said that convention dictated he could do nothing of the kind; the law won the day, the deadlock was broken, Australia had an election, and Whitlam was swept into the dustbin of history.

I reiterate: the Constitution provides for the Queen to break the deadlock. Just as the “reserve powers” in the Constitution had never been used or explored prior to their employment in 1975, sections 58 and 59 need to be employed now.

This could take the form of a national campaign orchestrated by the Coalition and funded by its donors; backed by a significant media campaign (remembering trade unions threw $13 million at John Howard’s WorkChoices legislation) it could provide a singular focus point for Tony Abbott’s leadership of the Liberal Party — especially considering the fact that once the laws are passed, they’re likely to be forgotten for a while until the tax itself materialises.

This government lied to the people of Australia; its Prime Minister said — unambiguously — that “there will be no carbon tax under the government I lead” and then proceeded to introduce one.

It’s completely irrelevant as to whether it was an outright lie, or one told in the process of selling out to the Communist Party Greens, but the fact is that Australians were duped.

It’s made much, much worse by the Labor Party and the Greens already saying they will refuse to recognise any mandate obtained from the people by the Liberals and Nationals at an election to rescind the tax, and will vote any attempt to do so down in the Senate if they collectively retain the numbers to do so.

The Parliament should not be above the people; it should be answerable to them.

This is a special case; it’s been many years since such a flagrant lie was foisted on people, only for them to be told after the event that they would never be able to avail themselves of redress.

People want an election. The clamour for a fresh vote is virtually unprecedented in my own 39-year lifetime. If the government won’t give the people a say, then an appeal to another arbiter — any legal arbiter — must be made.

It turns out that the Constitution provides one.

The law is the law, and the Constitution the ultimate expression of it in Australia.

And if our system of government allows it, then it should be utilised.

God Save The Queen!