ACM NATIONAL CONFERENCE – “THE GOVERNOR-GENERAL AND STATE GOVERNORS – GUARDIANS OF AUSTRALIAN DEMOCRACY”
Professor David Flint, National Convenor
ACM held its annual conference in Sydney on 26 to 28 August, 2005 at the Union Club. This was ACM’s sixth since the referendum.
In opening the formal part of the Conference on the Saturday, I pointed out that with the 2004 election result, republicanism involving a serious proposal to throw out our constitution was off the political agenda and the republican movement is well and truly in the doldrums.
Sir David Smith KCVO, AO, delivered the keynote address, “The Constitutional, Ceremonial and Civic Role of the Governor-General”. Having served five Governors-General, and The Queen, and written widely in the area, Sir David is better placed than any body else to speak on this topic.
This was followed by John Paul’s “Historical Account of the Use of the Vice Regal Powers”. John Paul produced a table which demonstrated that the use of the reserve powers was more frequent than generally believed and, that they had come into play once every few years. This detailed paper will constitute an important account of the significant exercises of these powers, and should be sufficient to counter the view, even heard from some academics, that our viceroys are no more than rubber stamps.
To gain a different perspective, ACM invited the Consul General of Canada, to speak. Mr. L Richard Kohler gave us an account of the Vice Regal Role of the Canadian Governor General. One of these roles is inform Canadians about the Canadian Crown and the various Homecomings (Royal Visits) that the Queen and members of the Royal Family frequently undertake.
The conference also considered ACM’s “Campaign for the Recognition of the Governor-General as Head of state”. Philip Gibson presented a paper in which he argued strongly for the conclusion in the debate that the Governor-General is our Australian Head of State.
Bronwyn Bishop spoke authoritatively on whether legislation should be introduced to declare the Governor-General as Head of State, noting that attempts to codify Vice-Regal responsibilities could advantage politicians at the expense of the Governor-General, simply to declare by legislation something which was widely known; just ask Philip Gibson.
Kevin Linderberg addressed us on the Heiner Affair, a struggle for fairness and equality before the law. This relates to a cabinet decision taken by Queensland Goss government to order the destruction of evidence, although notice had been received that the evidence could be required in litigation.
The conference was then presented ACM’s upgraded website, www.norepublic.com.au was launched by Daniel Dykes and Tania Braukamper.
A special feature of the website will be the Republic Audit. This will show the amounts of money spent by republicans in State and Federal Governments on promoting their cause at our expense. ACM shall publish all the costs incurred to date. We shall also estimate the cost of the current ARM proposal to make Australians vote until they get it right. Additionally, we shall publish the costs of each measure of creeping republicanism, from ejecting the NSW Governor from Government House to the removal of oaths, the chipping away at Royal Coats of Arms, and the taking down of portraits of the Queen and so on.
The Conference Dinner was addressed by ACM’s first National Director, the Hon. Tony Abbott, MP
In his address, Tony was critical of the “either–or school” of foreign policy that says Australia has to choose between Asia and our historic and constitutional links with our “two great friends” the USA and the UK.
We continued on Sunday with the third session, “Prominent Australians who have worked with State Governors”.
Mr. Michael Hodgman QC, Shadow Attorney General for Tasmania, gave an entertaining paper on this theme from a parliamentarian’s perspective. (See additional report: “The Butler Did It”)
Mr. Peter Bassett spoke to his paper ”The Governor and the Constitution, A Practical Perspective”, and I had the pleasure of launching a book by Mr. Henry Speagle OAM,“An Editor’s Odyssey” (See the separate editorial reviewing Mr. Speagle’s book in this newsletter).
Mr. Speagle spoke to his paper, “The Role of the Victorian Governors-The Thread of Gold.”
Then in “Thirty Years On: How Papua New Guinea became a Constitutional Monarchy”, Mr Peter Bassett told us how the New Guineans rejected Canberra’s attempt to make the country a republic on independence , and how The Queen accepted their invitation to become their Sovereign. Apparently she had looked to EG Whitlam as the responsible Prime Minister for constitutional advice on the invitation, but this advice was not forthcoming.
The Fourth and Final session was the Campaign to Put the Governor back in NSW Government house. The announcement of this campaign by NSW Liberal MP Anthony Roberts was received with enthusiasm, partly because new NSW Premier Morris Iemma seems to be a realist. He observed during the referendum campaign in NSW Parliament on 27 October 1999:
"IF THE NO CASE WINS THAT WILL BE IT FOR A REPUBLICAN SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT FOR A VERY LONG TIME, IF NOT FOREVER"
We could not put it better!