May 1

Plebiscite hearing and the High Court

There was interest in the hearings on Senator Brown’s Plebiscite for an Australian Republic Bill on an important decision of the High Court, the ultimate authority on the Constitution, which is on all fours with the position ACM has long argued that the Governor-General is Head of State.

The case was referred to in the substantial ACM submission before the Committee. The interest expressed from Senator for Victoria Scott Ryan, who declared himself republican, was clearly intellectual. It demonstrated the Senator was approaching the hearings with an open mind. Senator Ryan had asked whether the head of state position was shared between The Queen and the Governor –General.

The 1907 decision, R v The Governor of the State of South Australia (1907) 4 CLR 1497, is the subject of an article in Quadrant in May 2008, "The Head of State Debate Resolved". The decision was unanimous.  It has been referred to since and in no way has the High Court resiled from it. It was by a formidable bench of five, made up of our Founding Fathers, all of whom had played a major role in the political life of our country.

They were the Chief Justice Sir Samuel Griffith, Sir Edmund Barton, Justice Richard O'Connor, Sir Isaac Isaacs and Justice Henry Bournes Higgins. 


 According to the Court, the State Governor is a “constitutional head of state” and the Governor- General is the “constitutional head of the Commonwealth”.  The Court uses the same language ACM has long used in explaining the central place of The Queen or The King in the constitutional system. 

 She or he is “the Sovereign.”


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