A person who claims that the Queen is a foreigner is either ignorant of our law and history or is intending to deceive or both.
Do we have a man in charge of the NSW Police and our precious personal freedom whom we see as a foreigner? Was Neville Wran the other night tugging the forelock (as Keating would put it) to a foreign princess? After all this country was begun English, Irish, Scots and Welshmen comprised the great bulk of convicts and settlers who came here. These people, who all came from the UK very quickly began to be transformed into a person called an Australian and today they make up about two-thirds of our population. With the newcomers had come the English Law and direction of the government process from London where the King or Queen resided. All the people who came to this country afterwards have had the same monarch and that state of affairs continued after federation and the creation of our Constitution in 1901, and even after we obtained our independence from Great Britain in 1942, and accepted the Queen as the Queen of Australia in 1952.
The Queen is no foreigner. To call her such is akin to saying that your mother and father become strangers in your eyes when you leave home. We all in this country share a common heritage brought here by our pioneers. It now comprises our system of government, our Constitution, our judiciary, and our freedoms, and that heritage is and has been enjoyed by every man and woman who has ever lived here whether they were born here or not.
It is claimed by republicans that we are maturing and "progressing naturally" in becoming a republic, as though becoming a republic is some final stage to which nations aspire. Nothing is further from the truth. There are two main systems of government, constitutional monarchies of which there are about 36 and republics of which there are about 116. Great Britain has had a monarch for a thousand years. The Japanese have had an hereditary emperor for even longer it is claimed. Spain was a republic but just recently turned back to a monarchy and put the King on the throne.
The point is that there is certainly nothing special about being a republic. It is simply a form of government that is not a monarchy. Republicans often tell you that in a republic anyone can become president and, by Jove, when you look around it’s not hard to believe it is. Saddam Hussein runs a republic. So do the Chinese but you’ve got to toe the line if you want to get into Parliament there. The Indonesians have a republic with a rotten human rights record, a fetish for locking up newspaper journalists and a habit of murdering Timorese every time the Timorese remind the Indonesians they have no right at all to be in East Timor.
Mrs Gandhi in the Indian Republic which followed it being a Dominion under Great Britain, got into cahoots with the President and locked up the opposition because life had become just too hard for the government. Adolf Hitler rose to power on a republican constitution and became the world’s most powerful dictator and he did it without breaking a single clause in the constitution. Bangladesh’s republic has had two presidents murdered, two successful military take-overs and 19 attempted military take-overs. The French are on their fifth republic and don’t let us talk about the Italian republic which has an election every second week.
Most republics are not free. I could go on. There are 116 republics in the world and only two can show a level of stability of government approaching that of Australia’s 100 years. Is it any wonder that migrants the world over who leave or are thrown out of their rotten republics flock to our shores. We have a system that really works – all the merits that a republic can claim but woven into a constitutional monarchy so as to give an almost gilt edged guarantee of political stability and constitutional government. The things I listed a moment ago (and I could list more) couldn’t happen under your constitution.
For 100 years (and even in the 100 before that) you, your fathers and mothers, your grandfathers and grandmothers and beyond have gone to bed at night and slept peacefully because you and they knew that they would not wake up in the morning and find that the army or some unelected group had taken over the government. If Adolf Hitler had been born in the United Kingdom he would not have got to first base.
The issue you are concerned with is not whether you have an Australian as Head of State – that is a false question – it disguises the truth. The issue, the true issue, is whether you throw out – and throw out it is, not just alter – a system that works for one that might not. It’s not just you, it’s your children and children’s children. If you throw the Queen out, the system crashes to the ground and you need a new constitution.
Your constitution is the framework which defines the powers of your rulers, the politicians. Your present constitution derived from the struggle for power between King & Parliament that went on in Great Britain for centuries and produced a balance of power which has given the UK centuries of stable government. Australians in 1901 took over the system but in a way that suited us, and since then we have produced the most sophisticated and most efficient system the world has seen in an independent nation, which of course, we are.
Our system is one in which the Queen who is a symbol only, costs us nothing, takes no part at all in the governance of our country but hands over all her powers to the Governor-General who is an Australian chosen by an Australian Prime Minister. The Governor-General uses those powers to ensure continuity of constitutional government. You get a Governor-General for $1 worth of stamps sent on a letter to the Queen. It costs likewise a $1 worth of stamps to dismiss him if he steps out of his non-political neutral role. Contrast that with what you are going on to get when a president, as the polls show a president must be elected by the people. Bands, Balloons & Bally-Hoo. The Constitution the republicans have put together wants the politicians to appoint him. More power to the politicians – the President a stooge of the politicians. Your Governor-General is the people’s best defence against unconstitutional government. That system cannot be bettered.
(Note: This essay was prepared after the 1998 Constitutional Convention.)