Today is the Queen’s Birthday holiday. Yet I suspect that not many of my fellow Australians will give much thought to the Queen nor her birthday. For most today is just another public holiday. Nonetheless, this public holiday always arouses my republican inclinations.
I find it odd that Australians have a foreign monarch, for the institution is inherently un-Australian. It is elitist – only members of a particular aristocratic family can rise to the position of monarch; it is sexist – males take precedence over females in the succession; it is sectarian – the monarch is the head of the State Church of England; it is foreign – the monarch is English.
Throughout history people submitted to the English monarchy not because they desired to but because they were forced to. The English monarchy had real power and was not afraid to use it. Those days are well and truly passed. Government is in the hands of the party that secures the most seats in the lower house of a democratically elected parliament. Yes, the Queen’s representative, the Governor General, is required to officially sign legislation into law, to appoint ministers, and to preside over ceremonial affairs of state, but he/she has no real power. Convention demands that the Governor General observe the wishes of the government.
Why then do we not throw off the last vestiges of monarchy?
The argument I usually hear is that we may descend into constitutional chaos should we tread this path. But have you ever read the Constitution? I have, and it strikes me that the only reason works is because convention demands we ignore parts of it.
58. Royal Assent to Bills
When a proposed law passed by both Houses of the Parliament is presented to the Governor-General for the Queen’s
assent, he shall declare, according to his discretion, but subject to this Constitution, that he assents in the Queen’s name,
or that he withholds assent, or that he reserves the law for the Queen’s pleasure.
Recommendations by Governor-General
The Governor-General may return to the house in which it originated any proposed law so presented to him, and may
transmit therewith any amendments which he may recommend, and the Houses may deal with the recommendation.
59. Disallowance by the Queen
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.
61. Executive power
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
68. Command of naval and military forces
The command in chief of the naval and military forces of the Commonwealth is vested in the Governor-General as
the Queen’s representative.
I can’t see the Australian population tolerating a situation where the Governor General refused to sign a law into being, where the Queen disallowed a law made by the Parliament, or where the Governor Generalthe sought to take control of our troops. These provisions in the Constitution work because we have a convention that says they should never be exercised.
Is it possible we would stuff up the drafting of a revised Constitution? Maybe, but I think unlikely. The Constitution we have didn’t drop down out of heaven by the finger of God. It was put together by people who sought to protect the vested interests of powerful monarch. I’m pretty confident we have plenty of people clever enough to help us draft a new Constitution that reflects the interests of Australians.
So this Queen’s Birthday, I send my best wishes to the Queen, to Charles and Camilla, Wills and Kate, and the rest of the royal family. But as for the elitist, sexist, sectarian institution that they represent I cannot say the same.