July 8

Confusion in the diplomatic corps

Ambassadors and High Commissioners represent the Australian Crown in foreign and Commonwealth countries. Curiously, former diplomats were among the more passionate republicans in the referendum campaign, complaining about the difficulty they had to explain the Australian constitutional system. If they could not perform their job, why didn’t they just resign?
The last diplomat to receive a vice regal appointment, Mr Richard Butler even tried to put republican words into the mouth of the Sovereign he had served for many years. This was in his first interview on the ABC after being nominated, as we reported in this column  on 18 August 2003.
Another republican who was a diplomat unwisely rushed to place this challenge to constitutional  monarchists in The Australian on 5 July, 2007
“David Flint (Letters, 4/7) and other monarchists don’t explain how Prince William could represent Australia’s head of state (the Queen) and, at the same time, as they would have it, be Australia’s head of state (governor-general).
Alison Broinowski
Paddington, NSW
The Australian published my rather obvious response on 6 July,2007:
”Dear Editor,
It is astounding that the former diplomat, Dr Alison Broinowski,( letters 5/7) seems unaware of the elementary fact that when the Governor-General travels overseas on official business , he does so as the Australian Head of State. It is the duty of Australian diplomats to ensure he is received as such.
David Flint.”
It has long been the policy of Australian Governments, ALP and Coalition, that the Governor-General is Head of State whenever he travels overseas on official business. That is appropriate as it is elementary that the term “Head of State” is diplomatic and thus governed by international law. It is and has been the duty of diplomats to ensure that no diminution of this status occurs.
On one occasion the governor-General, Sir Ninian Stephen, (pictured) had to cancel a State Visit to Indonesia for this very reason. The Government of the Republic of Indonesia subsequently apologised.
I assume that in the diplomatic catechism there is a question, “Who is Australia’s Head of State? “ To this there is, I am sure, the answer: “ The Governor-General is Australia’s Head of State.”  I assume the diplomatic trainee class learns this by rote.  But perhaps they don’t. it may well be that diplomatic education has gone post-modern.  Otherwise why would a former diplomat ask a question the answer to which should have been learned in the subject “Elementary Diplomacy”?
Nevertheless, Dr. Broinowsi was not satisfied, as the postscript below testifies.


She wrote yet again to The Australian on 9 July, 2007.  “I’m astounded,” she said,” that David Flint (6/7) thinks the Governor-General becomes Australia’s head of state when he travels outside Australia. That would create an absurdity: that the Queen would cease to be Australia’s head of state whenever the governor-general was abroad, and would then resume her title on his return to Yarralumla. The Constitution is clear, and so are our passports, which describe the governor-general as “the representative in Australia” of the Queen. No doubt the governor-general’s passport says the same.”
I posted this response on The Australian site: “The former diplomat, Dr Alison Broinowski, is astounded that the Governor-General travels as Head of State. But that is and has long been government policy which diplomats are expected to see is observed by foreign governments.  This should not surprise Dr. Broinowski ; the term is diplomatic and has nothing to do with constitutional law and everything to do with international law.
“It is difficult to understand why Dr Broinowski persists with what one eminent republican calls an “arid and irrelevant” debate.  Australians are not lying awake at night wondering who their Head of State is –they made that very clear in 1999.
“Dr Broinowsi is free to argue for a republic, but rather than trying to revive a failed campaign, perhaps she could tell readers of The Australian precisely what changes to the Constitution, and presumably the Flag, she proposes.”


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