There is still confusion in the country about the Australian Royal Anthem, God Save The Queen. We are sometimes asked whether it is against protocol to play this when The Queen is not present. We referred in this column on 1 March, 2006 to a letter in which the Premier of Victoria, the Hon Steve Bracks, wrote that the Australian Royal Anthem, God Save the Queen, “is only played at official and ceremonial functions in Australia attended by a member of the Royal Family.” Mr. Bracks was writing concerning the surprising deletion of the Royal Anthem at the ANZAC Shrine of Remembrance service in Melbourne in 2005.
Unfortunately, this is a common misunderstanding. There is even a view in some non governmental organizations that it is somehow wrong to sing God Save The Queen. Even when Her Majesty is there, people are still confused. When ACM complained that the attempt to ban God Save The Queen at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne was a snub to Her Majesty, the Victorian Premier sought comfort for the ban from a letter published in The Australian from, surprisingly, the chairman of another monarchist organization which said that playing our Royal Anthem would “give the impression that the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne is a British event”. ( See this column of 8 March 2005)
On this as on so many other issues related to the Crown, Sir David Smith is the undoubted authority. Sir David was Official Secretary to five Governors-General from 1973 to 1990. He is currently a Visiting Scholar in the Faculty of Law at The Australian National University. His book, Head of State: the Governor-General, the Monarchy, the Republic and the Dismissal, was published by Macleay Press in 2005. A review from News Weekly was republished I this column on 11 April, 2006. Sir David’s paper on our Royal Anthem follows. We strongly recommend that supporters provide a copy whenever a protocol officer , whether in Government House, the Premier’s Department, or the local branch of a worthy organization , advises that God Save The Queen cannot, or should not, be played.
“It’s OK to Sing ‘God Save the Queen’ ”
by Sir David Smith
On 19 April 1984 the Governor-General in Council, Sir Ninian Stephen, acting on the advice of the Hawke Government, issued a Proclamation which proclaimed “Advance Australia Fair” as Australia’s National Anthem and “God Save The Queen” as Australia’s Royal Anthem. It also proclaimed a new Vice-Regal Salute for the Governor-General and national colours for Australia.
When it was first submitted to the Governor-General, the Proclamation stated that the Australian Royal Anthem was to be used only in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen or a member of the Royal Family. The Governor-General was aware that a number of organisations were in the habit of singing "God Save the Queen" at their meetings, and that it was also sung in Church as a hymn. Before the Executive Council meeting took place, the Governor-General spoke to the recommending Minister and voiced his concerns about the wording of the proposed Proclamation. In the light of that conversation, the Minister agreed to alter his recommendation by deleting the word "only" from the Proclamation. The Proclamation was amended at the meeting, after which it was approved by the Executive Council, signed by the Governor-General, and gazetted in Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No. S142 of 19 April 1984 in its amended form.
Later that day Prime Minister Hawke issued a press statement announcing the matters which had been approved and proclaimed by the Governor-General in Council. The press statement contained an error, in that its reference to the Royal Anthem contained the word “only” which had been deleted from the Proclamation. Apparently the Ministers had failed to inform the Prime Minister’s press office of the alteration which they had made to the Proclamation in the Executive Council.
As a consequence of the incorrect press statement, since April 1984 State Governors’ offices and Premiers’ Departments, and even Commonwealth Government agencies, have given out incorrect information on the use of the Royal Anthem. Regrettably, the error has also appeared in a guide to protocol published in 2001 by David Ford, a former Victorian Chief of Protocol. I hope that members of ACM who become aware that their State Government House or Premier’s Department are still giving wrong advice will send their Governor or Premier a copy of this article.
The fact is that “God Save the Queen”, the Royal Anthem of Australia, may be played or sung by Australians wherever and whenever they think it appropriate, regardless of whether the Queen or a member of the Royal Family is present, provided only that it is not used as a substitute for either the National Anthem or the Vice-Regal Salute.