November 23

Elect our own monarch?


As long as I can recall, the argument has been made to ACM by concerned citizens that Australia should choose a sovereign different from The Queen who is The Queen of Australia a separate Crown from that of the United Kingdom.  This would involve a royal prince or princess  being invited to become King or Queen of Australia and also to replace the Governor-General.

This could involve a referendum. This would be a vote on a new dynasty; this would be different from states such as the United States and France which are sometimes referrd to as elective monarchies. In these a ruling president or elective monarch is chosen every few years.

It is argued that there would be advantages in Australia having a resident monarch. Some even think this is the only way to ensure our constitutional monarchy survives – I do not think this is so. The continuation of our Federal Commonwealth under the Crown, our crowned republic, is of course a matter for the Australian people – if and when they are asked in a referendum, as in 1999. 

The debate then was on constitutional principles, as I expect it to be in any subsequent referendum. It was curious then that the republicans spent a vast amount of time telling ACM how to campaign. I expect  we will take the same amount of notice of their advice in any future campaign – zero.

Presumably Canada, New Zealand and other Realms should also do this. The result would be fifteen new kings and queens.

There are precedents for this, mainly from or near the nineteenth century. On the whole they were very successful; most invited princes proved to be model constitutional monarchs. 

In 1831 Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was offered the Belgian throne. In 1832 Otto of Wittelsbach, Prince of Bavaria, was offered the Greek throne. In 1862, Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria was offered the Mexican throne, but  more by the French than the Mexicans. He became the Emperor Maximilian, briefly. In 1866, Prince Karl of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was offered the Rumanian throne, later becoming King Carol.


In 1878, Alexander, Prince of Battenberg was offered the Bulgarian throne. In 1905, Danish Prince Carl was offered the Norwegian throne – a republic was rejected in a referendum after the personal union with Sweden came to an end.

Luxembourg is not an example of a country choosing its own monarch.  The personal union with the Netherlands ended by operation of a version of the German Salic law against female succession in 1890 when a woman, Queen Wilhelmina, ascended the Netherlands throne.  This was similar to Hanover in 1837, when Queen Victoria ascended the British throne, thus ending the personal union with the United Kingdom .

…Commonwealth Realms are different…

 The Commonwealth Realms, inwhich there is a personal union of sixteen crowns, are different. They have had a very long and successful experience of the exercise of the role and function of the Crown through viceroys. Most have no republican movement worth mentioning, except Australia. Even there, the movement has been in serious decline, particularly since Malcolm Turnbull ended his very generous funding. According to Greg Barns, all of the other wealthy republican celebrities were parsimonious, and the movemnet was prinicpally subsidised by Mr. Turnbull.

In any event most Australian republican politicians have put off a referendum proposing some form of politicians’ republic to beyond the current reign. In other words, they are saying the issue is unlikely to come up while any of them are still in Parliament. Any of them.

The reason is they expect to be defeated in any referendum. Whether any would propose a separate monarchy is unknown, although it is said Malcolm Turnbull once supported this. Most Australian republicans will not even tell the people what sort of politicians' republic they are planning.

The development of separate Commonwealth Crowns –apart from pre-existing indigenous Crowns as in Tonga – does not seem to have been onsidered at the time the Realms were given self government. Although Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India, none of her children were ever made, say, Prince of Nova Scotia or Prince of Canada in preparation for the emergence of separate thrones.

..Crowned republic a natural form of government for Australia ….

Dr Harry Melkonian is an American constitutional lawyer and a senior lecturer at the United States Studies Centre in the  University of Sydney. In “A novel solution to the republican debate” in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age 14 November, 2009, he argues that the way ahead for Australia is to elect our own monarch. It is clear that he realises that Australians are unlikely to turn their backs on our crowned republic.

“The debate about whether Australia should retain its British monarch or become a republic fails to consider,” he says “what may be the most acceptable arrangement for a majority of Australians – an Australian constitutional monarchy. Republicans rail against having a king or queen who hails from another land and monarchists fear the instability of a republic and the danger of an elected president undermining the Westminster system. Both sides raise valid concerns – concerns which could be resolved through a domestic monarch.”

“Monarchists maintain the current system provides stability and works well with the Westminster form of government. Their argument is meritorious. A constitutional monarch deprived by law of any real power does not threaten the ability of the prime minister to govern. A president, elected by the people, could claim a substantially greater franchise than a prime minister selected in secret party-room negotiations.”

“By the same token,” he writes, “republicans certainly have a legitimate concern that an independent country should not have any of its leaders reside in another country and be subject to the constitution of another country. Further, the British constitutional requirement that whoever is the king or queen of England (and Australia) must also be the head of the Church of England is about as un-Australian as anything imaginable.”

…why do complaining republican politicians never try to change the law?


There are three points to make. First, we are not subject to the UK Constitution. The law relating to the succession is an Australian law. And not one of the republican politicians who complain about its terms has ever tried to change it. This is because it suits them to complain. It has been left to the UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown to propose removing the old religious test and male primogeniture. This is to be discussed by the Commonwealth Heads of Government in Trinidad and Tobago this month.

…a republican confession…

Dr.Melkonian’s basic position seems to be that constitutional monarchy is the natural form of government for Australians. He is right.

This is consistent with the recent observation made to me by an elegant and  prominent republican. 

Let us call him Petronius.

” David, I know this will distress you," he said. " I am coming to the conclusion that Australia is essentially a monarchical country.” 

"Waiter," I called.  "The weeping vase…one tear for me, one tear for dear Petronius."    


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