Without a referendum, and with very little media reporting or even opinion polls, the United Kingdom and other European member countries have agreed to a revised European Union treaty which incorporates much of the constitution previously rejected by French and Dutch voters. Under it the members will hand over more powers to the European Union, and a foreign minister (called the High Representative) will be appointed. In addition, instead of a country presiding, there will be a European Union president.
The International Herald Tribune of 19 October 2007 reports that French President Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Brown have proposed Mr. Tony Blair as president. The view of most constitutional lawyers who have considered the question is that whatever effect this treaty may have on the British Crown, it can have no effect on the Australian Crown. This is because constitutionally the Australian Crown is an entirely separate institution from the British Crown.
The Realms do share the same Sovereign, which in law is no more than a personal union with a common succession. Accordingly British ratification of the treaty is a matter for the British, at least as regards Australian constitutional affairs. This is not to say that Australians may not have legitimate cultural, economic and other objections.
The sad thing is that the British government has decided that the people are not to be given the opportunity to vote on the treaty. The reason is obvious: the politicians know that in a popular vote the treaty would be overwhelmingly rejected. This confirms once again the wisdom of our founders in including the referendum as an essential element in constitutional change.
What a pity the High Court refused in the recent Work Choices case to accept that it should be guided by the peoples’ clear intentions expressed in previous referenda. What a pity too that the politicians did not submit the terms of the Australia Act of 1986 to the people for their approval. It could have been made very clear in the Australia Acts that the seven parliaments cannot change our constitution system without the approval of the people.