March 9

Not just a snub, a power grab

The action of the NSW government in rushing through a bill, ostensibly a private member’s bill,  to remove the oath of Allegiance for New South Wales politicians, just as The Queen is to arrive in the State, can only be assumed to be a calculated snub.

Worse, it is yet another step in a power grab to limit the politicians’ accountability to the people.

Only last year we obtained confirmation of what we feared – that the decision to eject the Governor from Government House in 1997 (and to downgrade the position to a part time one filled, unconstitutionally) by the Chairman of the Law Reform Commission was not only that dubious one announced at the time,  to return the house to the people.



As we noted in this column on 27 November, 2005 Mr. Carr now says that one lesson from the dismissal was the “potentially corrupting role of the vice-regal office”. He then admitted this was the reason he had decided the NSW Governor would not live in Government House. 

In other words the reason the Governor was thrown out was to diminish the office, and weaken any discretionary power the Governor might have over an errant Premier.

Mr. Carr also that the "reserve powers" that Sir John Kerr used in 1975 to dismiss the Whitlam government did not exist.  Sir John held that it was unconstitutional for a government to attempt to govern without a grant of supply from the Parliament, which is fundamental to the Westminster system.

As I said in that column, Mr. Carr’s argument that the reserve powers do not exist would have amazed the great Labor leaders, Curtin, Chifley, Evatt (who even now is still a leading authority on them) and Mr. Carr’s illustrious predecessor, and subsequently Governor-General, Sir William McKell, as well as Paul Keating and Gareth Evans who spent vast amounts of time trying, unsuccessfully, to codify those very powers.

Mr. Carr claimed the trappings of vice-regal life had drawn Sir John Kerr to the "delusion" that his role was to exercise real power rather than serve as a ceremonial figurehead.

He said: "Living in the gilded cage of Admiralty House and Government House at Yarralumla, being attended on by security chiefs, ambassadors and visiting heads of state, created the illusion in this man that the paper role of Governor-General had a reality."

So the reason the Oath of Allegiance is to be abolished is for the same reason the Governor was thrown out was to diminish the office. It is to weaken the discretionary power the Governor as the representative of the Crown,  might have over an errant Premier. It is an attack on the Crown as the constitutional guardian.

Accordingly, the republican politicians would not accept a compromise proposal by the Rev Fred Nile to have keep the Oath of Allegiance and add the new pledge.

So the Oath is to be replaced by a meaningless pledge to Australia and the people of New South Wales.. The point is that under the pledge, the people cannot discipline an errant government. 

 If the politicians were genuine, they would give the people a right of recall. This would involve a certain number of people be able to petition for a recall election. This exists, for example, in British Columbia and California where in 2003, Governor Gray Davis was recalled over mismanagement of the state budget.

This NSW bill is more than a snub. It is part of a campaign to weaken the constitutional guardian, the Crown, with a view to making politicians even less accountable.

It was an attack, a calculated attack, on the checks and balances of our constitutional system.





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