A letter sent to The AIM Network 28 January, 2017 for the attention of Michael Taylor
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Rhetorical flair and historical references – to Mr Turnbull ‘s own family, to start – did not go amiss.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.
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.