August 16

The Commonwealth of Nations



In the Cane Toad  Republic, 1999, I noted that it was in Adelaide in 1884 that the term, “ Commonwealth of Nations” was used for the first time.  This was by Lord Rosebery who later became a British Prime Minister.  My observation was in a chapter mainly on the appalling ignorance among Australian republican leaders about the consequences of change to a republic on our membership of the Commonwealth. It became apparent that even the Attorney General of the day was not aware of the process. When ACM indicated what that process was, and that any member of the Commonwealth could veto our continuing membership, the ARM launched a series of personal attacks on me. Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke even denounced me as a liar on a national radio programme.  I produced a letter from the Secretary General of the Commonwealth confirming that our understanding was in fact absolutely correct. Sir Robert Menzies also writes of the veto in his memoirs.

My point was that the republicans had a professional duty to find this out, and then to adopt a contingency plan to avoid any veto. This was after all, a time when the then Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahatir had already blocked our membership of other important international bodies. The republicans were the ones who were pushing for change, and they clearly had not bothered to do their homework.  One of our readers, Jim Robson, who comes from Tasmania, some time ago  sent me this extract from an essay on the Earl of Rosebery written by Sir Winston Churchill: “And at the same time to dream of a glorious and abiding British Empire, freed to the utmost possible degree from European entanglements, was at all times his indulgence, and to achieve it his aim. He carried the story of Empire forward into a chapter only read with comprehension after he had long ceased to be an actor on the political stage. Who can dispute these somewhat unfashionable assertions in the light of his message to Australia delivered at Adelaide on January 18, 1883:

“ ' … These are no longer colonies in the ordinary sense of the term; but I claim that this is a country which has established itself a nation, and that its nationality is now and will be henceforward recognized by the world …. But there 'is a further question; does this fact of your being a nation imply separation from the Empire? God forbid! There is no need for any nation, however great, leaving the Empire, because the Empire is a Commonwealth of Nations.'  “Rosebery lived to see this phrase, which fell from the prescient lips of genius, become fifty years later the accepted statutory law which now to-day alone encircles the most numerous, the most diverse, the most widespread, voluntary, but none the less habitual, association of states and nations of which there is record.” Only Sir Winston Churchill could put it that way –that the phrase Commonwealth of Nations “…alone encircles the most numerous, the most diverse, the most widespread, voluntary, but none the less habitual, association of states and nations of which there is record.”   




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