January 5

Republicans not understanding the constitution – again

[The following comment by Sir David  Smith appeared in The Canberra Times, on 3 January, 2009]

I share Jennifer Saunders’ support for the publication of divergent views, “Constant surprise at intolerance of divergent views” (CT, 31 Dec.), but some of us have great difficulty in getting our views across to some people.

The October issue of Quadrant carried an article of mine of almost 5300 words which largely comprised an exchange of 16 letters between Harry Evans, Clerk of the Senate, and me between February and July 2008.

On 19 December 2008 The Canberra Times published a letter from Bryan Lobascher in which he postulated a scenario under which the Queen and the Governor-General, using section 60 of the Australian Constitution, could act in concert to annul a proposed law which had been passed by the Australian Parliament.

 Lobascher suggested that this could be the fate of a republic bill, and went on to allege that this was a view which I had expressed in my Quadrant article.  

He ended his letter with the words “So much for the people’s wishes as expressed through plebiscite and /or referendum.”

Except that he managed to get the name of the magazine and the date of my article right, every other claim in Bryan Lobascher’s letter is totally false.

Section 60 of the Constitution reads as follows:

“A proposed law reserved for the Queen’s pleasure shall not have any force unless and until within two years from the day on which it was presented to the Governor-General for the Queen’s assent the Governor-General makes known, by speech or message to each of the Houses of the Parliament, or by Proclamation, that it has received the Queen’s assent.”

House of Representatives Practice contains the following reference to the use of section 60:

“In respect of … bills reserved for the Queen’s assent, … a decision would probably be based on the appropriateness of the bill (Flags Act 1954) or the appropriateness of the occasion (that is, the Queen’s presence in Canberra), or both (Royal Style and Titles Act 1973).  In the latter case the Prime Minister informed the House that the Queen had indicated that it would give her pleasure to approve the legislation personally.”

Lobascher’s hypothesis that the Governor-General and the Queen could use section 60 to disallow a republic bill which had been passed by the Australian Parliament is a malicious perversion of our constitutional arrangements.  

As both the Queen and the Governor-General could invoke section 60 only if they were acting on the advice of the Australian Attorney-General, and as the Attorney-General would have been responsible for the drafting of the bill and its passage through the Parliament as a proposed law, Lobascher’s hypothesis is revealed as a complete absurdity.  

It would seem that he has read the Constitution with the same attention to detail as he gave to his reading of my Quadrant article.

[ *Sir David Smith was Official Secretary to five Governors-General from 1973 to 1990. This comment appeared under the headline " Our laws quite safe under Constitution. You can draw absurd conclusions when you don’t read with proper attention". ]



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