October 22

Our crowned republics crowning common sense

There are many good reasons to describe our Commonwealth of Australia as a crowned republic. These are based on language, political philosophy and usage.

As the Charter of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, written in 1992 by Mr. Justice Michael Kirby says “Some of us believe that Australia is already a form of republic under the Crown: a "crowned republic"

" Australia now enjoys all the desirable features of a republican government and a constitutional monarchy without any disadvantages of either system. Agitation for change is unnecessary, irrelevant, divisive and distracting.”

It is worth reflecting on the reasons why Australia’s greatest constitutional monarchists – John Howard, Michael Kirby and Tony Abbott , all affirm that Australia is indeed a crowned republic.

… dictionary… 


The Macquarie Dictionary (1st edition) gives the following three relevant definitions of a republic:


1.     A state in which the supreme power rests in the body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives chosen directly or indirectly by them


2.     Any body or persons, etc., viewed as a commonwealth


3.     A state, especially a democratic state, in which the head of government is an elected or nominated president, not an hereditary monarch.


 Clearly a constitutional monarchy falls into the first and second definitions.  As for the third, a constitutional monarch never heads the government.


The origin of the word is from the Latin res publica, meaning public matter. The closest word in English is “Commonwealth,” which we return to below.


The Shorter Oxford Dictionary (3rd edition) says the word first occurred in English in 1603.


Its relevant definitions are:


1.     The state, the common weal -1684


2.     A state in which the supreme power rests in the people and their elected representatives or officers, as opp. To one governed by a king or the like; a commonwealth 1604.


Either could include a constitutional monarchy.



…. political theory and usage…


Sir Thomas Smith introduced the term “republic” to describe the English system as long ago as the sixteenth century. A prominent diplomat, he was one of the greatest classical scholars of his time.


He studied at Padua and was made Regius Professor of Civil Law and Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University. He was also a Member of Parliament, an ambassador to France and as a secretary of state a very close and trusted confidante of Queen Elizabeth I.



His book, “De Republica Anglorum; the Manner of Government or Policie of the Realme of England” , was first published in 1583.  His intention was to show how the English system differed from and was superior to others.


 “No one”, said the renowned historian, FW Maitland, “would think of writing about the England of Elizabeth’s day without paying heed to what was written about that matter by her learned and accomplished Secretary of State.”

 But the term republic was still occasionally used to include ones where the executive was in the hands of an hereditary officer.  The best example from our point of view was King William III who was invited with Queen Mary II to take the throne after James II fled the kingdom.

 William had been Stadtholder of  Holland and four other provinces  in the republic of the Seven United Netherlands, the Dutch Republic , which would become the Kingdom of the Netherlands. By the time of William, a sovereign Prince of Orange, the office of Stadtholder had become hereditary in practice if not in law.It is surely of particular relevance that our first more constitutional monarch  came from an undoubted crowned republic. 




Eighteenth century republican theorists did not see constitutional monarchy as incompatible with genuine republicanism, says Professor Brian Galligan, A Federal Republic, 1995, p.4.  Indeed  Montesquieu praised the English constitution as an ideal model for republican government


Indeed, the French political philosopher Montesquieu, one of the greatest figures of the Enlightenment, declared England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to be a ‘republic hiding under the form of a monarchy.’

 Seeing England  as one of the freest countries in the world, he found there the development of an important check and balance against the abuse of power.

This was the separation of the judicial power from the legislative and executive powers, one of the achievements of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 under King William III and Queen Mary II which established an earlier version of the constitutional monarchy, and which was the basis of government in the United States. ( The presidential form of government there is at times described  as an elective monarchy.)

…categories of republics…


The point is that no definition of the word “republic” is all encompassing. Indeed by itself the word ‘republic’  is so imprecise as to be almost meaningless.  It requires some qualification to explain what is intended.


A useful distinction can be made between crowned republics (also known as constitutional monarchies) and politicians’ republics. This does not purport to be an exhaustive classification. Falling outside of these are, for example, absolute monarchies, which have existed historically in say, France under Louis XIV and exist today in Saudi Arabia. But most countries today would be either crowned republics ( constitutional monarchies)  or politicians’ republics. Note that all crowned republics are democracies, but that many politicians’ republics are not.


Politicians’ republics can themselves be classified in various ways. In Australia the republican movement proposed a republic where the politicians’ chose and closely controlled the president. This was rejected in 1999. Although they will not today reveal what sort of politicians’ republic they want, the two most talked about is, first, some variation of that rejected in 1999.

The other principal form of a politicians’ republic is  where the president –  and presumably the vice president, the six governors, the six lieutenant governors and the territorial administrator(s) are all elected politicians.




….Australian usage…



The statement Australia is already a republic may come as a surprise to many. But this would have been the assessment of those great political philosophers, Rousseau and Montesquieu who praised the English constitution as an ideal model for republican government.


As Sir Henry Parkes, to many the Father of Federation, wrote:


"Every constitution is in reality a republic. There is just as much a republic in England as there is in the United States, the only difference being, that in the one case the word is not used, and in the other it is."



Cardinal Moran, the leader of Australia's Catholics during the final phase of the nineteenth-century movement for Federation, described our constitutional system as the "most perfect form of republican government".

The Republic Advisory Committee, established by Prime Minister Paul Keating in 1993, chaired by Malcolm Turnbull and consisting only of republicans, conceded that  it may be appropriate to regard Australia as a crowned republic. (An Australian Republic,Vol 1, 1993 at page 3)


As we have noted, the term "crowned republic" has been used by leading supporters of the Australian Crown in our constitutional system, including the former Prime Minister, John Howard, the former Minister, Tony Abbott, the former High Court judge, Justice Michael Kirby, and the former NSW Court of Appeal judge, Justice Ken Handley.



"Commonwealth" …

 The choice of this word to describe our Federation, the Commonwealth of Australia, is consistent with Australia being a crowned republic.

That word "Commonwealth" is, after all, the English equivalent to a republic. But as with the word "republic", it does not necessarily mean a state in which there is no monarch or sovereign. From 1649 to 1660, England was a Commonwealth or republic under Oliver Cromwell. But it was also a de facto monarchy with the office of Lord Protector passing to his son, son Richard.   

The term is used today not only in relation to Australia but also The Bahamas, and four American states which do not have a monarch.   It can be thus used in relation to a state where there is no hereditary monarch. 

The term was proposed by Sir Henry Parkes, who believed Australia to be a republic. This was at the 1891 Federal Convention in Sydney. It was adopted in 1897-8.  In both conventions, observe Founding Fathers Sir John Quick and Sir Robert Garren, other names were suggested, including “United Australia,” “Federated Australia,” and “ The Australian Dominion.” 

But “Commonwealth” prevailed, the principal objection being it was suggestive of republicanism.  


…Crowned republic

The actual term “crowned republic” was used by Alfred Lord Tennyson in his poem “ To The Queen” in “Idylls of the King” where he refers to :

                                 “  our slowly-grown

And crowned Republic’s crowning common-sense “


HG Wells said of the British Empire ''Nothing of the sort had ever existed before. First and central to the whole system was the 'crowned republic' of the United British Kingdoms …”

 And Walter Bagehot in The English Constitution wrotes of England being a “disguised” republic.  On the other hand there are numerous political observers who have referred to the office of President in the French Fifth Republic and in the United States as an elective monarchy because we find there executive governance very much centred in one man.


The term crowned republic has been advanced  by leading Australian constitutional monarchists, and as we have seen even the Republic Advisory Committee, established by Prime Minister Paul Keating in 1993, chaired by Malcolm Turnbull and consisting only of republicans, conceded that  “it may be appropriate to regard Australia as a crowned republic.” ( An Australian Republic, Vol 1, 1993 at page 3)

….What makes a crowned republic?

 In Australia, Canada, New Zealand and other constitutional monarchies, the Crown is important not for the powers which it wields, but rather, the power it denies others. Under the Westminster system, the Crown constitutes the government advised by ministers who are responsible to the lower house of Parliament.

This house is variously called the House of Commons, House of Representatives or Legislative Assembly.The Westminster system has been singularly successful in assuring both stable and limited, democratic government.But with such a concentration of political power, checks and balances are necessary.

One is the Crown.

Another is an upper house, called the House of Lords or the Senate. Yet another is a separate judicial power exercised by the courts

In the United States, checks and balances come by dividing the three powers, executive, legislative and judicial. .

This means that unlike the Westminster sytem, the President as the combined head of state and head of government is more separate from the Congress.. Although this works, it is rigid. This is particularly so if the Congress tries to impeach the President for some offence.

This is a lengthy process, and can lead to a long period when the government is distracted, if not paralysed.

But if you disregard her civil war, the American system works and unlike most politicans' republics, has worked for a long time.

There is however little support for importing the US model into Australia. Instead, proposals in Australia involve the removal of the Australian Crown from our crowned republic.The Crown is an important check and balance. The powers of the Crown are exercised by a Sovereign (The Queen) or her viceroy. In a number of Commonwealth countries, a viceroy is or viceroys are appointed to exercise most of the powers of, for example, the Australian, Canadian, New Zealand or other Crown.

As a constitutional institution each Crown is separate. But each country shares the same Sovereign in what is known as a Personal Union. In Australia, the viceroys are known as the Governor-General and the Governors. In Canada  they are known as the Governor General and the Lieutenant Governors.

In New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, not being federations, the Governor-General is the only viceroy.

There are presently fifteen such countries, which with the United Kingdom are known as Realms. They were once known as Dominions, although Canada still keeps this name in its formal title.
(For convenience, when we use the word Sovereign in the following paragraphs , we are also referring to Governors-General and Governors and indeed Lieutenant Governors.)

The Sovereign normally acts on the advice of the ministers. But that advice must be lawful, the Sovereign needing to be assured that he or she has the power to act as advised. If there are any conditions on the exercise of that power – as there usually is – the Sovereign will need to be assured that all conditions have been fulfilled.

In this process, the Sovereign can play an important counselling role and sounding board to his or her ministers.In playing this role, Bagehot said the Sovereign has the right to be consulted, the right to advise and the right to warn. In addition the Sovereign will usually enjoy certain ” reserve” powers where he or she may act without, or even against ministerial advice..These usually relate to the calling of elections, and the appointment and dismissal of governments.

…the referendum… 

 The use of the term crowned republic is consistent with the slogans and concepts developed in the 1999 campaign.

These were not political spin as used by politicians in elections; each was the distillation of the best legal and political advice available, and which are still relevant today.   

They were: 

•                    our crucial and long adopted one, “ We already have an Australian Head of State – the Governor-General”,

•                   our adoption of  the American saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,”

•         our use of  the one attributed to Winston Churchill, "The Crown is important not for the power it wields, but for the power it denies others",

•                    the Vote No Committee’s one,  “Vote No to the politicians’ republic”,

•                    and ACM’s,  “This is the only republic  where it will be easier for the prime minister to sack the president than his cook.”  

…the current Australian debate   

The current constitutional debate in Australia is usually presented simplistically. For example, in some opinion  polls, people  are asked whether they think Australia should become a republic. But the fact is, the word  “republic” is so vague as to be almost meaningless. Australia is already a republic, and more than, as Mrs Helen Clark, NZ Prime Minister said in the Evening Post on 4 March 2002, a “de facto republic.” 

The essential question is, what sort of republic is being proposed? We were federated as an indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown and under the Constitution. That is, the Australian people decided the nation should be formed as a crowned republic. The Crown was not new in 1901.

It is in fact our oldest legal and constitutional institution. It came in 1788, and since then has evolved into the Australian Crown.  At the centre of  a crowned republic there is an institution which is above politics. It acts as a check and balance against the political branches, the houses of parliament and the ministers who effectively constitute the government. This may be distinguished from a republic where the politicians either appoint or control to varying

degrees the head of state, or where the head of state is an elected politician. The essence of the current constitutional debate is whether the fundamental nature of our “indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown “ should be changed by the removal of the Australian Crown.

The model preferred by most republican dlegates at the 1998 Constitutional Convention, the Referendum Model, was put to the people in 1999 referendum.  It was rejected nationally, in all states and 72% of electorates.

The Rudd government has indicated that it will raise the issue again, but not in its first term. Before any referendum, the Rudd government has indicated there will be a plebiscite. (No details of the proposed change are revealed in a plebiscite).

This was the principal issue at the 2020 Summit.

 Before making any  decision, Australians should compare crowned republics with politicians’ republics.

 First, which has been more successful in providing stable democratic government over an extended period of time, especially in times of crisis?

Second, which has been more successfully adopted by other countries?

Third, which has been more successful in assuring the well being of its people?(The well being of the people in different countries –their health, education and wealth – is regularly measured by the United Nations Human Development index, HDI. This allows us to compare crowned republics with politicians’ republics.) 

Those who support keeping the current system do not rely on the attractiveness of crowned republics, the Magic of Monarchy or the widely acknowledged personal qualities of The Queen, who is our Sovereign. 

At the time of the 1999 referendum, the republicans were also campaigning against the Australian Flag, without agreeing on what the new flag will be. Some republicans now say this is a separate issue, other say the flag must change if the people approve a change to a politicians’ republic in any future referendum.


  …use of the term by ACM today….    

  The use of the term “crowned republic is especially relevant today when the republicans refer to “a” republic and will not say what sort of republic they want. By pointing out that this will be one form of “politicians’ republic” we remind the voter of the argument advanced by both John Howard and Michael Kirby “We are already a republic.  Do do you really want to increase the role of the politicians?”

We also expose our opponents who hide their irreconcilable divisions behind the word “republic”. In this we have to remember our target in this campaign.

Our target is not the constitutional monarchists. They will always vote sensibly. Nor is it those committed to a politicians’ republic – of either type.

Our target is the undecided, the uninformed and above all, because they are in the majority, the uninterested.

 We have to persuade those who haven’t thought about the question and especially the young and the immigrants.

Now both monarchists and republicans talk about the need for education. 

ACM has long tried to do something about it. First with CEF-A which is now a bipartisan foundation. Our new project is designed to complement this.

It centres on a new website, www.crownedrepublic.com.au    with an outreach programme. It aims to set out all of the information which will assist them in their assignments, presentations and debates. Much of this is not available elsewhere.

In choosing a name we were influenced by the fact that most student research is web based, and typically begins with a google or other web search. We were advised by experts to take advantage of SEO, Search Engine Optimisation.

This involves choosing such matters as the site name to increase the likelihood that the searcher will come to our site.This then was a strong additional factor in choosing the name Crowned Republic. Early evidence suggests it is working – and worrying republicans.

Our existing site is receiving a very large number of visitors and our new site is already being noticed.We are confident that our new project will have, over time, a significant effect on the debate.   




You may also like

Celebrate the King’s Birthday

Celebrate the King’s Birthday

Record Online Audience 

Record Online Audience 
{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Subscribe to our newsletter!