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The making of Australia: a foreign piece of work

A letter sent to The AIM Network 28 January, 2017 for the attention of Michael Taylor

Dear Michael,

I have listened to, and now read – although only in part, as printed – Prime Minister Turnbull’s address on the occasion of ‘Australia Day’ 2017.

I found in it the usual salutations to those around the barbecue, playing cricket or observing the tennis games.

In the printed version a tribute to “the first Australians … for more than 40,000 years” and their “continuous human culture” was followed by a mention of “the cultures of all our migrants. … Each new Australian adds another thread to our national tapestry, magnificent in its diversity and the most successful multicultural society in the world.”

Rhetorical flair and historical references – to Mr Turnbull ‘s own family, to start – did not go amiss. An immodest display of erudition is always present in Mr Turnbull’s utterances. The Prime Minister concluded with a sense of satisfaction: “Together we have built a remarkable nation.”

There was the customary complacence in “our democracy, the rule of law, those values which we uphold as thoroughly Australian values here and in the great land we call home.”

The words such as “land we call home” attracted my attention and stimulated my memory.

I shall now come to the purpose of this letter, and I trust that what I am about to write will inspire your readers to thoughts, reflection and – I hope – reaction.

On Friday 24 July 2015 Mr Bill Shorten, speaking at the opening of the 47th Australian Labor Party National Conference, called for an Australian republic within 10 years – by 2025. He said: “Let us make this the first decade where our head of state is one of us. We can be an Australian republic, with an Australian head of state.” Perplexing words at least those are, because the Governor General is often referred to as ‘the head of state’, both by confusing monarchists and loose, temporary republicans.

On the same day, the ALP Conference passed a resolution that a future Labor government appoint a minister or parliamentary secretary with responsibility for promoting a republic. (‘Bill Shorten calls for Australian republic by 2025 at Labor national conference’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 July 2015).

More recently, 18 December 2016, Prime Minister Turnbull, speaking to the Australian Republican Movement on the occasion of its 25th anniversary dinner, extended his oratorical gifts and spoke of “the spirit that has brought us together tonight. Patriotism – pure and simple. Love of this nation above all others. A profound commitment that every office under our Constitution should be held by an Australian.”

Clichés abounded and were repeated: “our values of democracy, the rule of law, mutual respect, a fair go, mateship” – they were all there in the Prime Minister’s address. And the Constitution? That “does not belong to the Government, or the Parliament, or the Judges. It belongs to the People.” Out of hackneyed expressions, a foreign piece of work, refractory to meaningful amendments, ‘our Constitution’ more belongs to a frozen continent than to one of the warmest parts of the world. Most reading Australians would know that.

The Prime Minister went on to say that “The vast majority of Australians have known no other Head of State than the Queen.” And for good measure he added: “She is so admired and respected that few of us can say – whether monarchists or republicans – that we are not Elizabethans.”

Mr Turnbull concluded: “I do not believe Australians would welcome let alone support another republican referendum during her reign. And as you know I have held this view for some time.”

The italicised words are crucial.

The Prime Minister returned to the point further on in his speech: “As I have said before – and this is the cold, unyielding practical reality – it is hard to see how this issue will return to the forefront debate in this country during the Queen’s reign.” [my emphasis added].

So much by way of introduction of the theme: how to make Australia a republic.

Wanting to know more I went to entries such as ‘succession to the British throne’ in Wikipedia – surely a universally available source.

There I learned that succession “is determined by descent, gender (for people born before October 2011), legitimacy, and religion.”

The English Bill of Rights 1689 and the Act of Settlement 1701, both of them as amended in March 2015, restrict the succession to the legitimate Protestant descendants of Sophia of Hanover who are “in communion with the Church of England.” Marrying to Roman Catholics no longer disqualifies, and Protestant descendants of those excluded for being Catholics are eligible to succeed.

Queen Elizabeth II’s heir apparent is her eldest son, Charles, Prince of Wales.

Next in line after Charles is Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, the Prince of Wales’s elder son. Third in line is Prince George of Cambridge, the son of William, Duke of Cambridge, followed by his sister, Princess Charlotte of Cambridge. Fifth in line is Prince Harry, the younger son of the Prince of Wales. Sixth in line is Prince Andrew, Duke of York, the Queen’s second-eldest son.

The Bill of Rights 1689 and the Act of Settlement 1701, restated by the Acts of Union 1800, still govern succession to the throne. They were amended in the United Kingdom by the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, which was passed mainly “to make succession to the Crown not depend on gender” and “to make provision about Royal Marriages”, thereby implementing the ‘Perth Agreement’ in the United Kingdom and in those realms which, by their laws, have as their monarch automatically whoever is monarch of the United Kingdom.

Upon the death of a sovereign, the United Kingdom Accession Council meets in St. James’s Palace to proclaim the new sovereign.

In the Commonwealth realms, of which the United Kingdom is one, upon the death of a sovereign, the heir apparent or heir presumptive succeeds to the throne immediately, with no need for confirmation or further ceremony. Nevertheless, the Accession Council meets and decides upon the making of the accession proclamation, which by custom has for centuries been ceremonially proclaimed in public places, in London, York, Edinburgh and other United Kingdom cities.

The other fifteen Commonwealth realms are Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. They are independent of each other, while sharing one person as monarch in a constitutionally equal fashion, and the same order of succession.

The Bill of Rights 1689 and Act of Settlement 1701 are, and the Royal Marriages Act 1772 was, ‘received’ into Australian law, and the Act of Settlement is part of the laws of the Australian states and territories, and therefore not only Australia but also its states had to change their laws.

The Perth Agreement is an agreement entered into by the prime ministers of the sixteen Commonwealth realms during the 22nd Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 28-30 October 2011 in Perth, Western Australia, concerning amendments to the royal succession laws, namely, replacing male-preference primogeniture, under which male descendants take precedence over females in the line of succession, with absolute primogeniture; ending the disqualification of those married to Roman Catholics; and limiting the number of individuals in line to the throne requiring permission from the sovereign to marry. However, the ban on Catholics and other non-Protestants becoming sovereign and the requirement for the sovereign to be “in communion with the Church of England” remained.

By December 2012 all the realm governments had agreed to implement the proposals. New Zealand chaired a working group to determine the process for reform. It was affirmed that legislation in those realms which required it would commence when the appropriate domestic arrangements were in place in all the realms and the Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom announced on 26 March 2015 that the amendments had come into effect ‘across’ every realm.

At a meeting of the Council of Australian Governments in mid-December 2012, the then Prime Minister, Ms Julia Gillard, and the premiers of five states agreed each state legislature would pass a law permitting the federal parliament to alter the line of succession for the Commonwealth and all the states. Queensland raised objections which, however, were overcome by the passing of a separate, amended, bill on 2 May 2013.

The Australian Parliament passed the Succession to the Crown Act on 19 March 2015 and Royal Assent was granted on 24 March 2015. The change to the succession law in the United Kingdom and throughout the other Commonwealth realms finally came into effect on 26 March 2015.

This seems to be the legal position.

It would be helpful to learn from Messrs Shorten and Turnbull how they would proceed to make Australia a republic.

For the time being, the opinion of your readers would be quite welcome.

Thank you for your attention.

Warmest regards,




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  1. Phil

    Its a fascinating article and thanks to the writer(s) for illuminating the issues.

    But, and I emphasise, but, the matter is so far from the reality of our times here in Australia as to be more akin to a tale from a thousand years ago.

    It seems utterly surreal that we have to debate a world of kings, queens, princes and princess, and argue who gets to sit on a bloody throne.

    This is the world of fairies and those people who take it seriously need to go away and sit in a dark room for as long as it takes to chase their demons away.

    I refuse to debate the issue. Piss the bloody crown off. Piss the queen and her entire infantile royalty off. Just end the sham.

    Australia, please, please grow up.

    Turnbull is a weak and spineless politician – he stands for nothing – a weather vane swinging in the shifting breeze – a useless appendage. He cannot take a position one day that doesn’t change the next.

    The queen seems to me to be a very nice old lady, nothing more nor less – but for Christ’s sake people she’s just another little old lady – let’s end this pathetic allegiance to fairyland.

  2. wam

    I expect, with your background, it hit the round file by half way through para 3. I got to para 5 before I took the sal vital.

  3. brickbob

    A very odd article indeed so i will just say that Turnbull is an absolute arsehole,the Queen is a nice lady i think,andthe sooner we become a republic the better.

  4. ranterulze

    Fascinating article, but just to add a sour note to the respondent commenters – where’s the evidence that the Queen is a “nice lady” let alone a very nice one? We only have the mass media’s Royalty PR which massages us, manufactures consent as Chomsky phrased it. Underneath there are faint wiffs of scandal from Mountbatten’s death to Andrew’s association with paedophile Epstein. What will historical records say about the House of Windsor and Elizabeth herself in years to come?

  5. roma guerin

    I have read every word, and I found it quite interesting, but I did not understand the conclusion. Is the writer saying that Australia cannot become a republic unless or until a new law is passed in England, and then ratified in Australia, to let us off the hook?

  6. seaworks

    Every time this red herring pops up (usually when there is need of a distraction to the terrible calibre of our politicians) I wonder if we really need a “president”?
    Going by what the yanks are stuck with at the moment, I would far sooner have a distant monarch that does not interfere with the running of Australia.

  7. townsvilleblog

    I don’t think the queen is a nice lady, she is worth $43 Billion and presides over some of her subjects who are starving and/or homeless, I don’t equate this with niceness. The sooner I have a chance to once again vote for an Australian republic the happier I will be.

  8. John

    Why do we need a leader except as a target for our ire? Surely we are adult enough to identify issues as a community, and arrive at best practice outcomes by consensus.
    If a ribbon needs to be cut, nominate someone for the day.
    Time to get rid of the waste and influence peddling represented so well by inherited titles and the concept of elites.

  9. townsvilleblog

    Kaye, the hangers on like Phil the dirty ole’ Greek and the Princes and Princesses Vicounts, Earls and Barrons are all parasites, I dislike the lot of them.

  10. helvityni

    Kaye, as I don’t take much interest in Royalty, I don’t know if the Queens are allowed to divorce….

    Nice Queens, nasty Queens are stuff of story books for me.

  11. stephentardrew

    I can agree to a point however at the moment there are bigger fish to fry.

    Our fall from justice into injustice and unbridled greed infested neoliberal and neoconservative reality should give us no time for the niceties of a Republic.

    We need to frame a revised moral sense or the same distortions of empire will infiltrate our future republic. It is no good changing the architecture nominally if it is rotten at the core.

    The US and Britain are sending us an equally dystopian message. I as sure as heavens do not wish to follow either of them into the graveyard of inequality, victim blame and environmental degradation.

    The clock is ticking.

  12. John

    All this with indignation have I hurled
    At the pretending part of the proud world,
    Who, swollen with selfish vanity, devise
    False freedoms, holy cheats, and formal lies
    Over their fellow slaves to tyrannize.

    But if in Court so just a man there be
    (In Court, a just man, yet unknown to me)
    Who does his needful flattery direct,
    Not to oppress and ruin, but protect
    (Since flattery, which way soever laid,
    Is still a tax on that unhappy trade);
    If so upright a statesman you can find,
    Whose passions bend to his unbiased mind,
    Who does his arts and policies apply
    To raise his country, not his family,
    Nor, whilst his pride owned avarice withstands,
    Receives close bribes through friends’ corrupted hands—

    A Satyr against Reason and Mankind (1675)
    By John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester

  13. king1394

    If there is to be a move towards a Republic , it needs to be fully determined and ready to roll at the death of the Queen, which is more than likely to occur within the next few years. In other words, it needs to be worked out now. To say it cannot be discussed while the Queen still lives, is to put it off indefinitely. Charles is an elderly man who probably won’t reign terribly long and then the blessed Will & Kate will accede. I’d put money on Australia remaining a Monarchy until and perhaps beyond the British themselves dismantling it

  14. Florence nee Fedup

    Many other Commonwealth countries have manage to throw off shackles British royalty while remaining members Commonwealth with little trouble. Has not the Queen herself said it is a decision we are free to make. Moreover should make.

  15. Leanne

    With the current situation Australia is in, the rorting, cheating, deceit,the unfit government, etc etc, I find we are better left being part of the commenwealth and not a republic. Who here could imagine President Malcolm Turnbull or pathetic whney little boy Cory Bernadi as vice president? I shake at fear over just those 2.
    Bill shorten yes would make a great first President, but albeit worn and tired.
    I am happy that Australia has a royal as their head of state, if all else fails to rectify this current government of ours, at least we got one hope left, perhaps the very last hope of rectifying it and fully at that…………..

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