The republican movement has given up explaining what they want. Instead they spend their time putting on the occasional embarrassing stunt, such as demanding The Queen give back Tom Robert’s Federation painting which hangs in Parliament House. Or they scratch around desperately looking for some silver bullet to have Australia magically reconstituted as some form of politicians' republic.
When the Canberra Times claimed that the absence of a separate Australian Regency Act was the silver bullet which justified our conversion into some vague unknown politicians’ republic, the newspaper published as far as we can see, just one letter.
The letter writer announced that he had found yet another silver bullet.
This was based on the fact that our Founders decided that our Federal Constitution, once it was approved by the people, should be given legal effect by the only body which could do this – the British or Imperial Parliament.
So for this elementary legal reason our Constitution is clothed in a British Act of Parliament, the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, 1900. The Constitution is to be found in the ninth section, the first eight being referred to as the covering clauses.
In 1931 the British legislated to the effect, among other things, that this would only be changed if we Australians asked them to do this. Our Parliament waited until 1942 to adopt this. In 1986, at our request the British even renounced that residuary power.
But a Mr Ron Chapman of the ACT declared in the Canberra Times on 28 January 2009 that we Australians cannot change the covering clauses of the British Act.
From this he makes the extraordinary argument that Australia is still a self-governing British colony. The he says this is in breach of international law. Then he says Australia needs a “valid constitution.”
A “valid constitution” is of course shorthand for a constitution which converts us into a politicians’ republic.
….even republican experts admit – this is no silver bullet….
We do not know to what extent Mr Chapman speaks for the republican movement.
But his opinion runs counter to the views of all of the leading republican experts. The Republic Advisory Committee reported to Prime Minister Keating in 1993 that the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, 1900 could be amended in Australia. Let’s be clear on that. Republican experts say we can amend this British Act. In other words there is no silver bullet.
The Committee was chaired by Malcolm Turnbull, and Mr. Keating saw to it that only republicans sat on it. It included former NSW Premier, Nick Greiner, the present Vice Chancellor of Melbourne University and co-chairman of the 2020 Summit, Professor Glyn Davis, Dr John Hirst, the historian, Susan Ryan a Whitlam government Minister and the late Professor George Winterton, a noted expert in constitutional law.
The view that the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, 1900 could be amended here was supported by detailed advice from Dennis Rose QC, the Acting Solicitor- General. That is included in the appendix to the report. ( I can’t find it on the web, but a print version is available)
Now I don’t think for one minute the Act needs amending. No adequate case for doing so has been made out. As for putting in a new preamble, can you imagine the reaction in America to a similar proposal in relation to the Declaration of Independence or the US Constitution, or in the UK to the Magna Carta or to the Bill of Rights?
Leave it alone. That’s what the people said in 1999. And, Mr. Chapman, there is no silver bullet.