January 9

Royal conscience, politicians and citizen initiated referendums

“Amid many more apparently momentous events, very few people have been aware that a small and very lonely but brave battle for something at the core of Christian civilization has been fought and lost by, of all people, a Grand Duke, in, of all places, Luxembourg,” writes Dr Hal Colebatch.

Dr Colebatch addressed the ACM National Conference in Perth in September, 2008 where he issued a warning about the threat to the federation and thus the states in any attempt to turn our Commonwealth into a politicians’ republic.

More recently, in The American Spectator in December, 2008, Dr. Colebatch wrote about the fact that Grand Duke Henri had refused to sign into law a bill legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide.  This law would allow doctors to kill terminally people who had asked repeatedly for this and who had the consent of two doctors and a panel of experts.

The matter of euthanasia does not fall within ACM's remit.  But whatever view one has about the legalistion of euthanasia, it is beyond doubt  that the Grand Duke was motivated by the strongest sense of principle. 

He feared that his approval of the proposed law would encourage citizens to believe that something he believed to be morally unacceptable had in fact enjoyed his imprimatur and therefore was to be encouraged.

Dr. Colebatch says that the Grand Duke also believed that the introduction of the law would have the same result that had been seen in  neighbouring Holland.

There, he writes, “…voluntary euthanasia has rapidly expanded so that involuntary euthanasia — i.e. murder — has been barely, if at all, punished in cases where only the barest fig leaf of rationalization has been offered and consent has been problematical at best."

"Victims of the Dutch euthanasia laws have reputedly included children and people suffering from transitory depression, as well as people unable to communicate their wishes on the matter.”

…virtuous monarchs…

Pointing out that constitutional monarchs have on occasions shown that they can be more than “the ventriloquist's dummies of politicians,” Dr.Colebatch refers to the examples of King Juan Carlos of Spain, who in 1981 moved effectively to end an attempted anti-democratic coup, the inspiring leadership of Denmark’s King Christian X during the war, and  the Governor-General of Australia, Sir John Kerr,  who in 1975 used the undefined and unjusticiable "reserve powers" to dismiss the Whitlam  Government and call an election.

Although Sir John Kerr's action was controversial, he reminds us that  “…it has never been seriously held by constitutional experts that he acted illegally.”  

There is no reason, he believes, for supposing that “the British monarch does not have similar reserve powers to intervene as a last resort in Britain (the powers are unjusticiable and cannot be defined or limited by a court because the circumstances in which they might be used cannot be foreseen), but this has perhaps been felt too delicate a matter to explore much.”

Recalling that Bagehot argued that the great benefit of a monarchical system is that it makes the ideals as well as the workings of government widely obvious, Dr Colebatch says  that “a  monarch without virtue, moral strength and the courage of convictions and conscience, or — which perhaps comes to the same thing — the ability to exercise them, undermines the system and institution.”

It would seem, he writes, that Grand Duke Henri believed that he could not decline personal responsibility for allowing fellow citizens to be killed, no matter how much political pressure was applied. 

He has been praised by Christian leaders around the  world for his refusal, most notably from  Metropolitan Kirill of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, and from The Pope.

Dr. Colebatch  particularly approves of this assessment of the Grand Duke's position by journalist Michael Cook:

"But even a Grand Duke is a man, not a machine. Had he signed the euthanasia bill, his fellow-citizens could easily have thought euthanasia is consistent with democracy and human rights. But it is not.… It cheapens human life and corrupts the medical profession. It has immense potential for abuse."

…a citizen intitiated referendum?…

Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker supported the bill, although it  was opposed by his Christian Social People's Party. The Greens and the Socialists voted with him. The bill passed by a narrow majority of 30 to 26 votes in the 59 member chamber.  

As a result of the Grand Duke's opposition, the Prime Minister then introduced legislation  to amend Article 34 of the Constitution to remove the Grand Duke’s power of veto. While the Prime Minister may express his conscience, it seems a Grand Duke may not.

Under Article  114, (note that the English version on this link appears to have  been superseded) the Constitution may be amended by the Parliament provided there is  a delay of at least three months before the second reading, and a  two thirds majority is obtained.

However, Luxembourg law allows either a minority of politicians or a petition by a minimum number of  citizens to initiate a referendum. Within two months of the first reading, one quarter of the members or 25,000 electors may require that a referendum take the place of the second reading in the amendment process.

Before Christmas, the Prime Minister  rejected a  call for a referendum to replace the second parliamentary hearing and vote on the issue of the veto. 

He said this was because one of those involved had failed to produce a certificate of voter registration. This would seem to be in relation to the stage prior to a petition.

Coincidentally, the question of citizen initiated referendums was the subject of a paper at the September 2008 ACM conference which had been addressed by Dr Colebatch.

This paper, entitled  “Australia — a democracy or just another ballotocracy?”, was  by Joseph Poprzeczny, a respected Perth-based freelance journalist and historical researcher.  He traced the interest in Citizen Initiated Referendums in Australia in the drafting of our Constitution, and in early platforms of the Labor Party. 

This is of relevance today. Why are the politicians proposing to hold a plebiscite on an issue which raises little concern in Australia, when Australians are not allowed to initiate votes on all sorts of matters of concern to them?  The plans to holda plebiscite or plebiscites on a politicians' republic could well rebound on the politicians.

…The Australian Constitutional Defender…

Both Dr. Colebatch’s paper on the danger of a politicians’ republic to the states, and Joseph Poprzeczny’s paper on Citizen Initiated Referendums are included in the current issue of The Defender.

This contains  a range of relevant  comments and expert articles which  make this  issue   compulsory reading for anyone interested in the nations’ constitutional future.

We are now in the process of sending The Defender to everybody on the ACM mailing list.

If you are  interested in seeing a copy, just send an email to ACM asking us to send you a copy of The  Defender. Please include  your name, postal address,  email address and your telephone number. 




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