In a recent column, I recalled how an ACM supporter, Phyllis Stephenson had effectively saved the Oath of Allegiance in NSW by her intervention in 1995.
A similar bill was introduced some time ago,and passed by the lower house. The high point of the debate there was the admission by one MLA that in swearing the Oath, he had committed perjury.
As we reported on 2 March, 2006, this Perjury, or should it be Perjurors’ Bill, was suddenly brought on for debate in the Legislative Council that day – just at the very time when Her Majesty is to visit Australia.
The quite disgraceful reaction to the Reverend Dr.Gordon Moyes attempt on Thursday 2 March 2005 to ensure that further debate did not occur before The Queen’s Birthday on 21 April, and certainly not while The Queen is here, was rejected by the government, although they hide behind the pretence that it is really a private member’s bill.
Bringing the bill on now , and refusing this adjournment until after 21 April will confirm the view held by many that this is intended to be a calculated insult to the Sovereign.
I have been asked whether, if the bill is passed, what can be done.
First, we have to accept that it is the constitutional duty of the Governor to sign the Bill, and no blame will attach to her for doing her duty.
The bill , however improper, is not on the face of it either illegal or unconstitutional. It would appear to be within the legislative competence of the NSW Parliament.
To argue that it is unconstitutional is to draw a very long bow indeed.
So should it be tested in court anyway? I have over time discussed this with several eminent lawyers-not one thinks a challenge could succeed. Moreover they warn a failed challenge would be very expensive, even if our lawyers acted pro bono-that is without charge and in the public interest.
If we were to lose the case in the High Court, which would seem likely, an order for the legal costs of the NSW government could be made against us. This could be considerable, and well beyond our resources.
In additon we would be distracted by this for far too long, directing all our fundraising efforts in to paying the legal costs of the NSW government!
This is hardly a sensible option. In any event, remember that whatever they do to the oath, they cannot remove the allegiance each one of the politicians owe to the Crown – even those who admit they are perjurers!
In the debate itself on 2 March, 2006, DON HARWIN valiantly led the opposition to the Bill, ably supported by those other men of principle, DAVID CLARKE, the REVEREND FRED NILE and the REVEREND DR GORDON MOYES.
The following are extracts , but the full debate can be seen on the web at: http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/hanstrans.nsf/v3ByKey/LC20060302
The HON.DON HARWIN said:
" Today in question time our colleague Reverend the Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes asked the Leader of the Government what the Government was planning to do to mark the forthcoming eightieth birthday of Australia’s Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II. This afternoon we have the answer. With Her Majesty the Queen’s eightieth birthday just eight weeks away, the Iemma Government has decided to mark the occasion by debating this bill this afternoon, with its likely passage just in time for her birthday in April. It is a shameful mark of disrespect to a woman who has given her whole life to the service of our nation and the Commonwealth.
" It is a matter of great regret to me personally, and I am sure that is how many people around the State will feel. "¨The Government has brought these constitutional amendments before the House without a mandate from the people of New South Wales. There has been no public debate of any substance on the subject and there is certainly no discernible mood for change among the people of the State. This is reason enough to dismiss the proposed legislation, which would change our State’s Constitution Act.
"The passage of the bill today would not improve the lives of the residents of New South Wales tomorrow. They would still have to endure a public transport system crippled by a lack of service and an unacceptable on-time running performance. They would still have massive hospital waiting lists and a health system struggling to cope with the shortage of nurses. The passage of the bill will do nothing to alleviate the enormous backlog of maintenance work and facility upgrades needed in government schools, nor address the continuing drift of students into the private school system. The people of New South Wales will still face a looming crisis in their energy supplies due to a lack of infrastructure planning and investment, and long overdue improvements along major transport corridors such as the Princes Highway would be brought no closer by the passage of the bill.
"With the people of New South Wales suffering under this tired old Labor Government and desperate for the passage of bills that will improve their lives and provide the infrastructure our State needs for the long term, it is an insult and a disgrace that the Government has chosen to progress the passage of this frivolous bill. It is a shameful waste of the Parliament’s time and demonstrates that the Government is out of touch with the people of New South Wales. It is certainly not serious about resolving the major problems we face. I would also like to place on record the representations I have received from people around New South Wales and from the member for South Coast, who has received many letters from her constituents urging the upper House to reject this bill. I am happy to say I will vote to do that.
"Because of the anomalies it creates, the lack of a mandate from the people, and the waste of parliamentary time debating the bill while the State’s services and the infrastructure on which they depend are in crisis, the Opposition rejects and will oppose the bill.
The Hon. DAVID CLARKE also spoke against the bill.
He said:¨ The Constitution Amendment (Pledge of Loyalty) Bill is the latest effort in the campaign by the Labor Party to turn our nation into a republic. Clearly, the provisions in this bill,which seeks to replace the Oath of Allegiance to the Queen and her successors that is taken by New South Wales members of Parliament with a pledge of loyalty to Australia and to the people of New South Walesis part of that campaign. The provision that seeks to replace the Oath of Allegiance, the oath of service to the Queen, and the special Executive Councillor’s oath, taken by members of Parliament when they become Ministers and members of the Executive Council, with the pledge of loyalty and a single Executive Councillor’s oath, is part of that campaign as well.
"I believe in democratic values, I believe in our constitutional framework of government, I believe in the institution of constitutional monarchy and I believe in preserving those symbols and practices that are part of our heritage and history and make Australia the nation that it is today. For each of these reasons I will vote against this bill and I take pride in being a member of a Coalition that made the decision to oppose it. The bill is a breach of democratic values. It is a perversion of democracy. It strikes at the heart of democratic traditions. Why does this bill do those things? It does so because the people of New South Wales have never been given the opportunity to express their view on this question"
The Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile then observed that the member who introduced the bill was leaving the chamber:
"Primrose won’t even stay here to hear your argument."
¨ The Hon. DAVID CLARKE continued: "That is for sure. That is certainly worth noting. The people of New South Wales have never been consulted and they have never been asked. This bill does indeed raise important issues, because if it did not the Government would not be endeavouring to get it legislated into law. If the Government did not consider that an oath of loyalty raised important matters, it would not be pushing this bill. The New South Wales Labor Government had the opportunity during the 2003 State election to put the issue to the people of New South Wales and it declined to do so. The New South Wales Labor Government had the opportunity, and indeed the obligation, to tell the people of New South Wales that if re-elected it intended to bring about the changes envisaged in this bill, but instead it kept quiet.
"The New South Wales Labor Government misled and deceived the people of New South Wales in not telling them that this was part of its agenda. Little did the people of New South Wales know that this bill was part of the Labor Government’s agenda. Why did it not tell the electorate what it intended to do? The answer to that question is very simple: It knew it would lose votes if it did. In fact, it knew that it would lose a great many votes if it took the electorate into its confidence. The Government well remembered its bad experience with the republic referendum in 1999. At that time it thought it had the republic in the bag. The Government was all gung ho; it had most of the media on board, including of course the ABC; and it had all the self-appointed political elites stitched up as well. Even the opinion polls purported to show that the Government had backed a winner. "What was the result? Well, the proposed republic was convincingly rejected by the electorate. Every State voted it down. In New South Wales nearly 54 per cent of electors voted "No" and that translated into 70 per cent of federal electorates voting "No". The ALP got done over and so did the Left political elites in the media. What a great sight it was on that night in 1999 as the results poured in to see the ABC commentators lost for words, heartbroken, dejected and humiliated. This is why, prior to the last State election, the Labor Government kept under wraps its intention to bring forward the bill now before us. This bill goes against the democratic ideal because Labor calculated, quite correctly, that the 1999 overwhelming rejection of a republic by the New South Wales electorate would translate into a majority, or at least a substantial proportion, of the electorate opposing this bill, which it would see as nothing more than republicanism by stealth. "The practice of the ALP in pursuing republicanism by stealth, by not signalling such legislation prior to an election, is the Government’s standard modus operandi now. We all recall the same stunt being pulled in 1996 when the Labor Government ejected the New South Wales Governor from Government House. The intention to eject the Governor did not rate a mention in Labor’s State election campaign at the time. It was not surprising that Labor decided to mislead the people of New South Wales by not signalling its intention, because when the plan was finally announced¡Xafter the election, of course, many thousands of citizens took to the streets in a gigantic march in protest at the action. I was one of those many thousands, and the many thousands who marched were only the tip of the iceberg. Why were the people of New South Wales upset by this move? Because the Governor of our State is highly respected. In recent decades successive governors of our State have been individuals of great integrity and popularity. Most people in New South Wales did not like witnessing our Governor being shunted off to an office block somewhere out of sight. Given half a chance, substantial elements in the Labor Party would relish the idea of axing the position of Governor altogether. Last year the Labor Government pushed through legislation to remove the Crown from any coat of arms in New South Wales courts. Was this issue raised during the 2003 election campaign? Of course not! It was the same old story of republicanism through the back door, republicanism whether the people of New South Wales wanted it or not. And New South Wales Labor knows that the people of this State do not want it. History is repeating itself. "There has been no widespread call for this bill except from a minority section of the Labor Party and the minuscule remnants of the republican movement. Indeed, any evidence of public opinion demonstrates opposition to the bill.
"I have received no letters from constituents supporting the bill. On the other hand I have received countless letters and telephone calls opposing the bill. I am not aware of any petitions supporting the bill, but I am aware of many petitions to the Parliament signed by thousands of citizens opposing the bill. Indeed, I have presented many such petitions to this House. There is no public call for this bill. There is no mandate for its introduction. There is no support for this creeping republicanism. Matters that the people of New South Wales want fixed by this Government do not get fixed, but agendas that people do not support get pushed down their throats.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS, from the Democrat Party, then spoke in favour of the bill:
" I support the Constitutional Amendment (Pledge of Loyalty) Bill. It is an anomaly, and it struck me when I first came into this place, that I was pledging loyalty to Queen Elizabeth II. My loyalty is to the people of New South Wales; I believe that that is my task. There is a hereditary monarchy as far away across the world as it is possible to be, and that relates to our history. However, I believe it is now almost an embarrassing legacy ¡K.I believe that the majority of Australians want Australia to become a republic. It was a piece of cunning by John Howard to combine two questions in one, in which the question of how a head of State would be elected was confused with the idea of whether Australia should become a republic.
"There was a double question. Of course, that split the opposition, some of whom favoured a republic but wanted a different method of selecting the head of State. That has enabled John Howard¡an archconservative who I believe has taken Australia back at least 50 years, and perhaps 100 years in some aspects¡to delay progress towards Australia becoming a republic, an idea which has broad if laconic consensus amongst the Australian people."
Dr Chesterfield-Evans was of course never compelled to stand for election. So why does he complain about what he should have known would be the consequence?
Then the Reverend the Hon. Dr GORDON MOYES then moved that the debate be now adjourned until the next day on which General Business takes precedence after 21 April 2006.
"That date is Her Majesty’s 80th birthday,"he said. "To be disputing this matter at the time of her birthday celebration would be misconstrued as a royal slap in the face." The Hon. PETER PRIMROSE, for the government, rejected this. He successfully moved an amendment omitting the words "after 21 April 2006". He explained this by saying it would have the effect of simply moving that this debate be adjourned, as happens to all other bills in this place, until the next sitting day on which Private Members’ Business takes precedence.
As I said before, the government pretence is that this is a private member’s bill. This was a tactic used in another bill to advance the cause of creeping republicanism
The behaviour of the government conserning the REVEREND GORDON MOYES’ amendment demonstrates that this exercise is being undertaken to cause the maximum embarassment.