The respected columnist Gerard Henderson takes issue in his syndicated column (18/10) with my comment on Channel 10’s Meet the Press (16/10) that Australia is "already a republic … we're a crowned republic".
This was in response to a question about when I thought we would become republic which was assumed inevitable.
My reply included the remark – " We are already a republic … we're a crowned republic".
“This is quite misleading – as Flint's very own position indicates," Dr. Henderson says. “He is national convener of Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy. He does not claim to represent such an entity as ‘Australians for a Crowned Republic’".
But on that, our 1992 foundation Charter written by former High Court Justice Michael Kirby had already declared:
“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.
ACM is a broad church. That said, the term is endorsed by leading monarchists, including John Howard, Michael Kirby,Tony Abbott and Justice Ken Handley.
The origin of the word is from the Latin res publica, meaning public matter. The closest word in English is Commonwealth, which is of special relvance as Australia was constituted as an indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown .
The first edition of the Macquarie Dictionary 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. Note that a constitutional monarchy clearly falls into the first and second definitions. It is also covered by the third, where the head of government is the prime minister.
Sir Thomas Smith used the term “republic” to describe the English system as long ago as the sixteenth century. He was an English diplomat and 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.”
…William and Mary: their crowned republic…
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 after the Stuart Kings 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.
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 which many regard as an elective monarchy.
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.
In that context it is not so suprising that Henry Parkes, to many the Father of Federation, had observed:
"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". He said:
“I regard our colonial administration, linked as it is to the Crown of Great Britain, as the most perfect form of republican government. It has all the freedom which a republican government imparts, and it is free from many of the unpleasant influences to which, in the United States, an elected head of a republic is subject.”
“Nothing is more ambiguous than the word Republic, as used in modern times. It is generally supposed to be a synonym of Liberty, and yet nowhere will you find Liberty so crushed and such vexatious tyranny exercised as in some of the so-called Republics. The Constitutional Government which we enjoy in these colonies is in the truest sense a Republic. There is no country in the world where greater liberty is enjoyed by the citizens.”
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)
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 now Opposition Leader , Tony Abbott, the former High Court judge, Justice Michael Kirby, and the former NSW Court of Appeal judge, Justice Ken Handley.
The choice of this word to describe our Federation, the Commonwealth of Australia, is consistent with Australia being a crowned republic. The 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, Richard.
The term is used today not only in relation to Australia but also The Bahamas, and four American states Kentucky Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
This designation, which has no constitutional impact, emphasizes that they have a "government based on the common consent of the people" as opposed to one legitimized through their earlier royal colony status that was derived from the King of Great Britain. The word 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.
…forms 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 very clear 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. All crowned republics are democracies; many politicians’ republics are not.
Politicians’ republics can 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 is one where the president, and presumably the vice president, the six governors, the six lieutenant governors and the administrator of a territory are all politicians.
Politicians’ republics can 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 now , the two most talked about is, first, some variation of that rejected in 1999. The other is one where the president, and presumably the vice president, the six governors, the six lieutenant governors and the administrator of a territory are all politicians.
…and the future?…
As we are arguably already a republic, albeit crowned or disguised, and as our constitutional system is one of the most successful in the world, constitutional monarchists ask why there is such a fuss over turning Australia into a politicians' republic.
The principal proponents, they say, do not seriously argue that this will improve governance. They say millions and millions of dollars already been spent and more is proposed to be spent on this. More importantly, they ask why anyone would wish to change any of the fundamental features of such a successful constitutional system of which there are so few in the world.