In a devestating blow to the republican movement, coming on top of polling which shows support for a politicians' republic is collapsing, the Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett has entered the debate.
His counsel is very clear – a politicians' republic could be very damaging.
He warned that " If anyone wants to introduce a republic, dissolve the Australian Federation and the Constitution, then the risk is Western Australia may not rejoin".
The Premier, who is a republican, was answering a question on secession in the ABC’s flagship programme ‘Q & A’.
Without Western Australia’s wealth, which now subsidises the other states, a politicians’ republic made up of only the five remaining States and the territories would be significantly impoverished.
This is apart from the loss of a significant part of the nation.
Before the republican movement accuses ACM of scaremongering, let it be remembered that this is a clear warning from the Western Australian Premier, who has previously confirmed he is a republican.
This was the first occasion the programme had been broadcast from the Western capital, Perth.
The Premier also voiced his concern at the poor deal his state receives under the allocation of the GST, and other taxation revenues. He argues that the State should receive no less than 75% – he points out that some of the Eastern States receive over 90%.
There is a long history of the Commonwealth taking Western Australian resources, including her offshore resources. This was supported by a High Court rulin which may well have been superseded by the application of the Australia Acts,1986. These issues were revived by Commonwealth proposals to tax mineral resources which are vested in the Crown in the right of Western Australia.
In 1933 Western Australians were asked:
Are you in favour of the State of Western Australia withdrawing from the Federal Commonwealth established under the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act (Imperial)?
This was passed by 66.23% of voters.
It was taken by a delegation to London, where a clearly embarrassed British government referred it to a House of Commons Select Committee.
The Committee concluded that what the Western Australian Government was asking was beyond the power of the British.
The power to change the Australian Constitution was clearly vested in the Australian Parliament and the Australian people.
Could republicans please note that?
In 1999 they were claiming we are not independent. Some still are. And they are becoming tedious.
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At the time of the 1999 referendum, constitutional monarchists warned that the republican model would diminish the states (see, The Cane Toad Republic, 1999, chapter 12)
Premier Richard Court and Robert Ellicott QC warned of the federation being split, and of secession.
The State Premiers, with the exception of Western Australia’s Richard Court, were ignorant of the advances gained for them under the 1986 Australia Acts as part of our constitutional system, and were willing to throw this advantage away.
Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett should have known about this. He once presented a superb defence of the constitutional system as it affects the states. This was in "The Crown and the States," a speech to the Samuel Griffith Society delivered in 1993, and published in Volume 2 of the Society's proceedings.But like so many politicians, he jumped onto the republican bandwagon at the 1998 Constitutional Convention.
..more power to Canberra in a politicians' republic…
Any change to a republic, even a so called minimalist republic, will necessarily involve radical change, warned lawyer and noted author Hal Colebatch, ( “We would be losing a lot more than Her Majesty, ” The Australian, 2 May, 2008.
He says the radical nature of the change is “not immediately obvious.” The weight of constitutional scholars’ opinion being that the governor-general is the Commonwealth of Australia’s head of state, he warns that in a republic the state governors would be appointed by and loyal to the president.
Given that the state governors have the power to sack state governments, this would have effectively given Canberra, using the state governors, the power to sack state governments.
Australia is already a crowned republic, he says, but one with some unique historical and constitutional features that have subtle but important ramifications.
…the place of the Crown in the protection of the States…
The story about how the States were protected in the negotiations concerning the Australia Acts, 1986, and the role Her Majesty played in that is told superbly by Anne Twomey in The Chameleon Crown: The Queen and Her Australian Governors.
The book was reviewed by Sir David Smith in this column on 22 July 2007.