In my article posted on 11 August 'How I’ll vote in Albo’s referendums' I indicated that my vote for Albo’s “Indigenous Voice” proposal would be “Yes” but for his republic, it would be “No”. The Queen’s death last Thursday has caused me to elaborate much sooner than I had expected as to why I won’t vote for Australia to become a republic. In doing so I make two things clear.
First, I am not against republics per se. I‘m not arguing that any country now a republic should revert to being a monarchy. In truth, my argument is that Australia is now a “crowned republic”. It enjoys all the benefits of the democracy for which republicans have fought over the years. Therefore, why change the sensible set of constitutional arrangements we now have? In the Australian context, one is either a “constitutional monarchist” or a “constitutional republican”. Since the word “constitutional” has been dropped by the republicans I choose to drop it from my description of myself. It is too much of a mouthful to say “I am a constitutional monarchist” even though that is what I am.
Second, I am not an “Elizabethan”. While I have always respected the Queen, I don’t see her passing as an argument for a republic. As a matter of assessing the political strength of the monarchy, her passing may have the effect of increasing Australian republican support – but it does not affect my attitude. As to the chances of Australia becoming a republic, I make a confident prediction. When it is next put to the people the republic will go down more heavily than it did in 1999 when the negative vote was 55-45.
As for myself, I have never been a republican which is, perhaps, due to my background and age. Born in August 1939 I have always thought of myself as a British Australian. Therefore, I have always thought of the issue as not being about the idea of monarchy or republic but about the question of the extent to which Australia should cut its historic British connection. If I were Aboriginal, I suppose I would have been anti-British and denounced the colonisers who had invaded my country and stolen my land, but I am not in that position. Nor is the great majority of the Australian people.
My personal attitude towards the Queen differs from that of most of my republican friends. I remember 3 February 1954 fondly. My late father was a yachtsman. At about 3 am on that day my father drove the both of us by car to The Spit in Middle Harbour where his yacht “Antares” was moored. We sailed around to Farm Cove where we joined a flotilla to greet the Queen. He thought it a great privilege to have been invited to join that flotilla for he was very, very pro-British because it had been the British who saved the world from Nazism. I inherited those views from him.
As we waited, we watched the royal yacht ss Gothic steam into Sydney Harbour, the Queen came ashore and was greeted by the then premier of New South Wales, Joe Cahill. To me, it was a thrill to be so close to the Queen, but most of my friends hated having been dragged about to see the Queen at a great distance.
The republic debate was started in earnest by Paul Keating in 1992. My wife Lindsay and I immediately joined the new organisation Australians for Constitutional Monarchy. We are both monarchists, but our emphasis differs. Lindsay is more interested in royalty than I am. My interest is mainly in democracy and constitutional arrangements. For that reason, most of my friends think I should be a Republican.
However, the proposition that a good democrat cannot be a monarchist is one that I deny. I think a good constitutional monarchy is often a pretty good way to run a democracy. As to the logic of my position, I repeat the aphorism of Winston Churchill that “logic is a poor guide compared with custom”.
That brings me back to Albo’s referendum to be held during the 48th Parliament – the Indigenous Voice being scheduled for the 47th Parliament. It may well be preceded by a plebiscite on the mechanism of choosing a president. If so, I’ll be voting for the least democratic way to do that. The last thing Australia needs is any democratic claim a president may make in competition with the prime minister.
The thing that most annoys me about the case Republicans make is the way they describe the present constitutional arrangements. They insist that the King, and only the King, is the head of state. They dismiss the alternative view that the Governor-General is the head of state. This, therefore, is my view.
The term “head of state” nowhere appears in the Constitution, nor in any official document. When the Queen visited Australia, she never described herself as “your head of state”. Her description was always “your Sovereign” or “your Queen”. In truth the Queen has always been only the symbolic head of state – hence Australia’s use of the term “the Crown”, rather than “the State”. Hence the Queen’s head is on the coins of Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
My proposition is that the Governor-General is the constitutional head of state because the entire powers of the Crown are vested in him. He is not the deputy to the Queen as the republicans suggest. He is, in the words of section 2 of the Constitution “Her Majesty’s representative in the Commonwealth”, by which is meant the representative of Queen Victoria, her heirs and successors. Thus, supposing that Queen Elizabeth chanced to have been visiting Canberra on 11 November 1975 that would not have given her the power to sack Gough Whitlam. That power always resided with the Governor-General.
In Australia’s crowned republic power lies with the politicians elected by the people but it also lies with the thoroughly Australianised office of Governor-General, not with the King or Queen.
I have written enough to explain my long-term view of this subject. What about the present situation? My answer to that question is to say that September 2022 made me very proud of the fact that for the past two decades I have been one of the 15 patrons of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy. God save the King!