March 30

2020 Summit blunder: governance experts wrong

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…Summiteers’ abuse…

Prominent republicans appointed to the 2020 Summit on governance have gratuitously abused  constitutional monarchists, accusing them  of lying, of fraud and of speaking “arrant nonsense.” 

The basis for this abuse is a constitutional rule – a convention – which exists only in their imagination.

Yet they are expected to use the Summit to call for fundamental changes to the constitution which they have demonstrated they do not understand.

These changes would  be the biggest ever seen in our history. Suggesting these on the basis of imagined rules does not augur well for the Summit.

In a recent and lengthy interview posted to  The Monthly site, republicans Professor Robert Manne and Dr Mark McKenna  accused  constitutional monarchists  of  lying and of fraud when they say the Governor-General is Head of State.

This interview was to promote the book “Dear Mr Rudd: Ideas for a Better Australia,” edited by Robert Manne which contains a chapter by Dr McKenna on changing Australia into some sort of republic.

Of course, if constitutional monarchists are lying, diplomats, foreign governments, presidents, emperors, The Pope, international organizations, the Hawke-Keating governments, and the High Court have fallen for this lie.  

They all believe that the Governor-General is Head of State or, in the case of the High Court, the Constitutional Head of the Commonwealth, the Governors being in its unanimous view, the Constitutional Heads of State.

…imagined constitutional rule …

The principal argument Robert Manne and Mark McKenna  advance for their abuse is that when The Queen is in Australia the Governor-General must disappear, and this proves to them that Her Majesty  is Head of State. The academic republicans put their discovered  rule in terms which would seem unusual for the learned world of academia.  When The Queen comes,  they say “ the Governor-General has to push off.”

A few years ago the former Chief Justice of Australia, republican Sir Anthony Mason, made the same claim, which he now probably regrets.

Sir Anthony Mason, is also to sit on the 2020 Summit panel on governance. (He became a republican when watching the 1932-1933 bodyline cricket series, but waited 65 years to tell the world, accepting two imperial knighthoods on the way.[i])

 Sir Anthony claimed  it was  a “robust convention” that there is no place for the Governor-General when the Queen is present. 

He sought to use this as his coup de grâce in demolishing the argument advanced by Sir David Smith that the Governor General is head of State, an argument  Sir Anthony grandly denounced  at the Australian National University as “ arrant nonsense.”

Unfortunately, Sir  Anthony’s paper  was replete with error, the  coup de grâce included.

Sir Anthony's central  attack on Sir David centred around Sir Zelman Cowen's absence when the Queen opened the High Court building in Canberra in 1980.

Sir David Smith replied that  there was such a practice on previous Royal visits, but he knew of no constitutional or other basis for it.

So he took the matter up with Buckingham Palace. He was told that the Palace also knew of no basis for the practice, which seemed to be peculiar to Australia, and that The Queen would be pleased if the Governor-General were present when she opened the High Court.

As Sir David writes in his book, Head of State (reviewed here, 11 April, 2006), he so informed the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and draft orders of arrangements were prepared which provided a place for the Governor-General on the dais.

…Malcolm Fraser appropriates  the G-Gs place…

 It was only when the then Prime Minister, Mr Malcolm Fraser, saw the draft that he decided that the Governor-General should not be present: with the Governor-General out of the way, his place in the official procession next to the Duke of Edinburgh would be available for the Prime Minister. Sir Zelman asked Sir David not to pursue the matter, but he was disappointed and very hurt.

Far from being the application of a robust convention, the Governor-General’s absence was the result solely of Mr. Fraser desire to rank next to royalty.

(But later he decided he should join the push to get rid of The Queen. He even joined his rival EG Whitlam in campaigning  on television for a republic in 1999.  We believe that their joint campaign garnered many votes…for the No case.)

 Sir David points out that when The Queen opened the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane in 1982 the Governor-General, Sir Ninian Stephen, was present and seated next to her, as did the Governor-General of Canada when The Queen  opened the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton in 1978.

“So much for Sir Anthony's so-called robust convention, “ observes Sir David. 

Sir David also cites  the opening of the new Parliament House in 1988 to demonstrate the absence of any such convention, robust or not. A painting in Parliament House shows The Queen addressing the assembly in the Great  Hall with the Governor-General on the dais.

No doubt to the great embarrassment of  Sir Anthony Mason, a press photograph at the time is fascinating. For it shows, sitting in the front row,  none other than….. Sir Anthony Mason.

And incidentally, I recall that when The Queen first came to Australia in 1954, she was received by Sir William Slim, the Governor-General, together with the Governor, the Prime Minister and the Premier.

 Nor did the Governor-General  go into hiding during the tour. Readers may see a photograph of Sir William Slim with The Queen at a Garden Party in Canberra here.

…perhaps their reasons for some sort of republic will be based on fact and not fantasy….


When republicans make their claims, and especially when they choose to heap personal abuse on constitutional monarchists, they should do some rather elementary research before they make such monumental errors.

As we point out above, both have been appointed to the 2020 Summit to pontificate on the governance of our country.

We will be very surprised if they do not call for Australia to change its constitution and become some sort of republic.

This time they will have to do is find some new reasons for their recommendations.

Let us hope that this time Professor Manne and Sir Anthony Mason find  reasons which actually exist.


[i] Sir David Smith, Head of State, 2005, page 190; reviewed here, 11 April, 2006

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