Twenty five years ago today, Australia became independent, writes Dr Anne Twomey in The Australian 3 March 2011.
You might think this statement absurd. Surely Australia has been independent for a lot longer than that? Let me provide a lawyer's answer: yes and no. Yes, Australia as a nation became independent at some unknown date after 1931.
…1901,1926, 1931, 1942…
Others argue that it was earlier. High Court Justice Lionel Murphy said it was 1901, because the British gave us the power to change our constitution. ( In fact we were the first dominion to have this power, well before Canada.)
Others see independence dating from the Balfour Declaration of 1926, which stated officially, of the United Kingdom and the Dominions:
"They are autonomous Communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations."
…Statute of Westminster..
Others say it was 1931, the date of the Statute of Westminster, which gave legal effect to the Statute of Westminster, or its adoption here in 1942. But because the states did not trust the Federal government, the states were excluded from the Statute.
Professor Twomey explains:
"By 1931 it had the power to exercise independence but chose not to do so for some time. Arguably, having the capacity to exercise independence is enough to be classified as independent, although the parents of 20-something children who show no inclination to leave home may beg to differ.
"The Australian states, however, did not gain their independence from Britain at that time. Bizarrely, they remained colonial dependencies of the British crown, despite being constituent parts of an independent nation.
"This meant state governors were appointed by the Queen on the advice of British ministers and that it was the Queen of the United Kingdom (not the Queen of Australia) who gave royal assent to state bills.
"When an Australian governor-general once complained to the British government about this anomaly, the response of British diplomats was that it was better to "let sleeping anomalies lie".
…British take duty seriously…
Australian politicians from both sides seemed surprised that while the British reluctantly retained the right to advise The Queen in State matters, that they took this burden seriously. This of course is to their credit.
"In Australia it was assumed that the requirement for state matters to go to the Queen through British ministers was just one of those quirky British formalities. But the reality was that British ministers took their role of advising the Queen seriously and were not simply conduits for state advice."
Professor Twomey gives examples. In all of these, the British behaved correctly.
The point is, as she explains in The Chameleon Crown and her recent book The Australia Acts, that from 1986 the states achieved their full independence.
The claim by some republicans in 1999 and even today that we are not independent is absolutely wrong.
That they rely on such an untruth only serves to cast a serious doubt on their case.