History tells us that new wars are lost because generals re-fight the last one. The looming battle to keep Australia’s constitutional monarchy safe from the Albanese government, and its republican cheerleaders like meretricious Peter FitzSimons, risks going the same way.
In 1999, the monarchy prevailed in the referendum on an Australian republic for two reasons. First, the republican elite hopelessly split on what republic model should go forward – Malcolm Turnbull’s parliamentary choice model that eventually went to referendum, or the direct election model that was more popular in the electorate.
Second, however, was the clever reasoning advocated by pro-monarchy leaders Tony Abbott and the Spectator Australia’s own David Flint. Despite the trenchant opposition of a pro-republican media, they successfully persuaded enough Australians that the parliamentary selection of a president would be a ‘politicians’ republic’. Allied to that, however, was the assertion that the Australian Constitution is already a ‘crowned republic’ in which the Governor-General, not the Queen, is the de facto Head of State.
That argument helped win the battle of 1999. And, as former judge Ken Handley QC, argued here last week, there is all manner of legal opinion to back the assertion.
But politically, it is all legal mumbo-jumbo. Sophisticated sophistry totally unhelpful and irrelevant to the referendum battle for hearts and minds that will come if the Albanese government is re-elected.
The Queen, in fact as well as name, is Australia’s Head of State. And, contrary to the fears of Flint, Handley, and the solidly loyal Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy, who all insist the Governor-General is the star and not the understudy, that is, in the language of 1066 And All That, a Good Thing.
As far as the legal argument goes, go no further than the opening sections of the Australian Constitution.
Section 1 of the Constitution 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.’ The Queen, not a Governor-General.
Section 2 provides: ‘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.’ That is done by of Letters Patent and Royal Instructions from the Queen to her representative in Australia, effectively delegating her powers to him to exercise on her behalf.
Thus, very simply, the Governor-General is the sovereign’s surrogate, not a Head of State in his own right. The lawyers can parse dry statutory words, dust off mouldy law reports and legal treatises, and do what lawyers love to do – argue black is white – as much as they like: it doesn’t change the actual reality as understood and perceived by everyday Australians.
That the Queen is our Head of State.
It’s not the Governor-General’s image on the coins jangling in our pockets. It’s not the Governor-General’s doings that fill the pages of our women’s magazines and newspapers, and take up many hours of radio and television airtime.
It’s the Queen and, for better or worse, the Royal Family.
Let’s be honest. The reason that support for the monarchy is holding up so well in the polls, most surprisingly among younger Australians, is that Her Majesty is an amazing woman, still doing an amazing job after seventy years. She is a rock of constancy in our lives when all around is constant change and crisis. She is genuinely respected by republicans as well as monarchists, and many love her.
The prospect that, in time, she will be succeeded by the likeable Prince William, who will reign with Kate by his side and surrounded by his very attractive young family, neutralises the impending succession to the Throne by the republicans’ not-so-secret weapon, Prince Charles, and widespread disgust at the conduct of the black sheep (or should that be blackguard?) princes, Harry and Andrew, not to mention the destructive and gold-digging Meghan.
The Queen is the monarchy’s greatest asset. Her role in Australia should not be denied by monarchists, but celebrated loud and long. Her Majesty is our Head of State, and her children and grandchildren are her ‘heirs and successors, according to law’, as the constitutional oath of allegiance puts it.
The immediate danger to the future of the monarchy in Australia is not its constitutional and legal status. Rather, it is the tendency of Charles and, increasingly, William to insist they have a right to express opinions publicly that calls the Crown’s legendary impartiality into question.
The Heirs to the Throne should not be imposing their wisdom on the world in Davos and at United Nations climate lovefests. Rather they should, at most, stick to privately asserting Bagehot’s rights to be consulted, encourage, and warn. The more political their public utterances, the more ammunition for those who yearn to abolish them. It’s something the Queen has understood for all her long adult life.
Politicisation of the Crown, by the Crown, is its real existential threat, about which monarchists really should be deeply worried. The status of the Governor-General simply doesn’t matter. It’s irrelevant.
Defenders of the Crown in Australia, like David Flint and Tony Abbott, did a heroic job saving the Australian monarchy in 1999. They will forever be celebrated and respected for their dedication to the cause, and for outsmarting and out-campaigning their republican opponents. That theirs is a sincerely held position on the monarchy’s Australian status merits respect.
But in 2022, saving the monarchy from further republican assaults means looking at the challenge through 2022 eyes. That demands fighting the referendum war to come, not the last one. More specifically, it means ditching the sophist, legalistic myth that the Queen is not our Head of State, and instead shouting from the rooftops that it’s a wonderful blessing that she is, and how lucky we are to have her and the Crown she embodies.
Terry Barnes writes the Spectator Australia’s Morning Double Shot newsletter
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