February 20

Head of State: diplomatic blunder.



…Indonesia’s dictator decides who is our head of state….

Richard Woolcott, the former diplomat and passionate republican, “has probably spent more time over the past 40 years with Suharto than any other senior Australian official,”  says The Australian. The newspaper invited him to write on the former Indonesian dictator, President Suharto.  This appeared on 28 January, 2008, as “Suharto as I knew him.”

In the course of this piece, Mr. Woolcott says, without further comment:

“ Probably because of his army training, Suharto was somewhat hierarchical and conscious of status. For example, he declined, as head of state of Indonesia, to receive Sir Ninian Stephen ( pictured) when he wanted to visit Indonesia in 1986. Suharto acknowledged Queen Elizabeth II as Australia's head of state, not the governor-general. In Suharto's eyes, Sir Ninian was her representative.”

We cannot understand where General Suharto could have got this idea from.

The term head of state is diplomatic, and who is the head of state is determined by international law. According to international law, there could have been no doubt that Sir Ninian was head of state.

…only half the story…

Mr. Woolcott leaves the reader up in the air. This is only half the story.  

The reader would think that the Australian constitutional system causes us problems overseas. The very idea that a foreign dictator should instruct the people of this old democracy how to run our affairs, and who to send as head of state, is gross.

Sir Ninian’s visit was called off by the Hawke government after what was clearly an affront to our dignity and that of our head of state, and as the High Court has declared, the constitutional head of the Commonwealth of Australia.

And the Indonesian government soon apologised for their mistake.     



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