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The magic we would lose by removing the Australian Crown

By David Flint - posted Friday, 24 January 2003

It is more than three years since the proposal for a republic was lost. Referendums are soon forgotten but not so long ago I was surprised by this question: "Didn't we decide to become a republic in 1999?" This surely confirms Malcolm Turnbull's telling assessment, four months before the referendum: "We have Buckley's chance of winning. Nobody is interested."

So we got through the end of the century, the start of the new millennium, the centenary of federation, and the Olympic Games without becoming what the University of Melbourne solemnly predicted - an "international laughing stock". Actually, after East Timor and weathering the Asian economic crisis we are respected, admired and even envied. And along with the other countries which are the most attractive to live in, according to the United Nations, we have retained the Crown in our constitutional system.

So where stands the republic today? Were its chances improved at the conference at Corowa in late 2001? Former Governor Richard McGarvie had worked for so long to make that a success. But at the last minute all his hard work was to be taken over by a solid phalanx of republican lawyers. The result? Professor Greg Craven summed it up. Until the conference, he believed, Australia's chances of becoming a republic were slim. After Corowa, he concluded, they were non-existent!


The difficulty for most republicans is that few appreciate - or even fully understand - our present constitutional system. Most Australians, unlike republicans, even if they don't fully understand it, know that it works, and works better than most. The Crown is not just some disposable appendage, it is central to the constitution, a pristine institution above politics which is at its very heart. To adapt the description of a British republican think-tank, the Australian Crown is:

  • The essence of our executive governments, state and federal,
  • a significant part of our Parliaments,
  • the spine of our judiciary,
  • the employer of our public services,
  • the commander- in-chief of the army, navy and air force,
  • the guardian of our constitutions, and
  • the lynchpin linking the federal structure with the states.

The Crown was imported from Britain but - and this is most important - it was adapted to our needs. In brief, it was Australianised. This is also the case with our law, our other institutions and indeed, our language - none of which we would readily abandon. Apart from sharing the one sovereign, the Australian Crown is an institution separate and apart from the Canadian, British and the many other Crowns. And if this were not so, former One Nation Senator Heather Hill would still be in the Senate!

The Australian Crown is personalised at its pinnacle by the Queen of Australia, who will normally act on the advice of her Australian Prime Minister. But most of the Crown's federal powers are exercised by our Governor-General, those of the States by the Governors.

So at the heart of our constitutional and legal system there is thus a vast institution beyond politics. There is no reason why we could not remove it, if that is what we really want to do. But we owe it to ourselves, our parents and our children to understand and to be fully informed on what we are removing. And equally we ought to know precisely what we are putting in its place.

As with the flag, which Mr. Keating says "gets up his nose", republicans don't like the constitution but don't know or can't agree on a replacement. The flag now is unassailable, and nobody is interested in a republic.


And in any event, on one view of what a republic is, our republicans are not really republicans. They want to keep at the heart of the constitution a political no-go area, an institution above politics. In other words they want the Crown but without the Sovereign. But they can't have their cake and eat it too. And precisely because of this quandary, the republican movement resorts to publicity stunts, instead of developing a workable acceptable and truly republican model.

2001's stunt was a demand that the Queen of Australia give back the Tom Roberts painting which hangs permanently in Parliament House. They might as well have asked The Queen to return our Crown land - an equally ludicrous proposition.

In 2002 it was an ARM call for State Governors to be elected. As if State Premiers would want a politician above them with a greater mandate then there own. The Premiers were not prepared to be like a group of foolish turkeys voting for an early Christmas! They refused. The Sydney Morning Herald declared the proposal an ARM "no brainer"!

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This article was sent to The Age on 2 September 2002 but was not published.

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About the Author

David Flint is a former chairman of the Australian Press Council and the Australian Broadcasting Authority, is author of The Twilight of the Elites, and Malice in Media Land, published by Freedom Publishing. His latest monograph is Her Majesty at 80: Impeccable Service in an Indispensable Office, Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, Sydney, 2006

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