January 7

The law relating to the succession: religious restriction of little practical significance


The law relating to succession to the throne is in the news.

It's an opportune time for the monarchy to do away with gender prejudice, writes Margaret Fitzherbert in a considered opinion piece in The Age , 30 December, 2010. 

In the meantime, Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott argued recently that the religious restriction is of little practical relevance.

To return to Ms. Fitzherbert, she  says:

“Prince William's wedding and the new British government create an opportunity for change that is long overdue: overhauling the rules of succession to the British throne.”


"In 2000, The Guardian challenged Britain's succession laws in court, claiming they violated the European Convention on Human Rights. The claim was rejected.

"The paper's legal action was possibly intended to galvanise the then newly elected Blair government into action. If so, it failed. While it enacted extensive constitutional change, including a massive overhaul of the House of Lords, the Blair government quashed attempts to change the succession laws."

"This became clear when delightfully named Labour peer Lord Dubs introduced the Succession to the Crown private member's bill in 2004. He withdrew it after the government said it would block the bill. Lord Dubs's motion would have enabled the eldest child of a monarch to succeed regardless of gender, and allowed the monarch and his or her heirs to marry Catholics."

… religious rule of no practical significance…


[Continued below]

The proscription against Catholics succeeding to the throne is of little practical significance today.

The rule was introduced to block the return to the throne of King James II and his direct heirs who were under the influence of the French King Louis XIV, who was attempting to control all of Europe.

At that time The Pope was in alliance with King William III and Queen Mary II of England in opposition to Louis XIV. In the painting attributed to Pieter vand der Muelen  of the landing of King William III in Ireland, Pope Innocent XI is depicted blessing The King.

When he was delivering the 2010 ACM Neville Bonner Oration, Tony Abbott explained why the religious aspect of the Act of Settlement is of little practical importance.

If the Act of Settlement were ever to act as a barrier to a marriage to a Catholic by the heir to the throne, it would obviously be  repealed by the sixteen Realms.

…republican politicians not serious …

Although much criticized by the republican movement, no republican politician – while in office – has ever done anything to see to its repeal. 

Neither Gough Whitlam, nor Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, Kevin Rudd nor Julia Gillard has shown the slightest interest in even raising the issue with the other Realms. 

Nor did former minister Al Grassby, to whom I shall return.

What is clear is that  when the rule is finally repealed, it is likely that the republican movement will be disappointed to lose the Act of Settlement as a weapon against our constitutional system.

…silly arguments…

In the nineties most of their attacks on the system were exposed as ridiculous. Sir David Smith lists them in his magisterial treatise, Head of State, 2005, pages 189 to 192.

One was by Al Grassby, a former minister of the Crown and a passionate republican.  His book “The Australian Republic” was published by Pluto Press in 1993.

According to Grassby, the monarchy was responsible for the recession, one million unemployed and the exodus of our top scientists. 

( A few extra examples of some very silly arguments,  which must really embarass the republican proponents today, can be found in The Cane Toad Republic, 1999,chapter 2.  And incidentally, no republican has attempted an answer to Sir David's book. The reason is obvious. )

A statue was put up in honour of Grassby in Canberra. 

But Grassby had another sinister side. 

….Grassby's other side…

 Paul Sheehan wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald about a sequel to the TV “Underbelly” series on organised crime. The sequel is called “Underbelly: A Tale Of Two Cities”, ( see this column, " A tale of two statues").

He says this reflects a real-life tapestry of corruption which could be called "A Tale Of Two Statues". He says one statue, in the town of Griffith, is a monument to honesty. The other statue, in Canberra, is a monument to deceit.

The statue in Griffith was paid for by the local Rotary Club and commemorates the life and death of Donald Mackay, who resisted the Calabrian mafia who were operating around the town of Griffith. 

“For his anti-drugs campaign, Mackay was murdered by Robert Trimbole,” Mr. Sheehan states. 

"This was done by an “enforcer” for the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union." 

“It was then given extensive political cover by a Labor politician, Al Grassby,” he adds.

He points out that a taxpayer funded $ 72,000 statue of Grassby as "father of multiculturalism" was recently placed in Canberra’s Civic Centre by the ACT  Government at a time when evidence of Grassby's corruption, mafia links and treachery was widely known.


..smear campaign to protect murderers….


He continues “In the report of the Nagle special commission of inquiry in 1986, John Nagle, QC, found that Grassby had engaged in a smear campaign to protect the real murderers of Donald Mackay.

¨He wrote that ‘no decent man’ could have propagated ‘the scurrilous lies’ that Grassby distributed about the Mackay family. He described Grassby's performance as a witness as ‘long-winded, dissembling, and unconvincing, constantly driven to uneasy claims of defective memory’.

¨Grassby,” he says “was paid $40,000 by leaders of the Calabrian mafia to circulate an anonymous smear sheet claiming Mackay had been murdered at the behest of his wife and son after a family argument.”

“ In July 1980, Grassby went to a friend of mine, Michael Maher, the state Labor member for Drummoyne, and asked him to read the document in Parliament. When I asked Maher why Grassby had approached him, he told me: ‘Because I had the biggest concentration of Italians in Haberfield, Five Dock, Concord and Drummoyne. He thought I could play the Italian vote,’ “ Paul Sheehan adds.

…so why did the taxpayers fund this statue?….

Mr Sheehan writes that this was multiculturalism, Grassby-style.

“His career was littered with race-based politics,” he says. “He was a hardened liar who led a double life, both in public and private."

" And the ACT Labor Government put up a statue in his honour. When Donald Mackay's four children complained about this public insult, they were brushed aside.”

We are still waiting for the republican movement to admit that the claims made by Grassby and several other prominent republicans were foolishly untrue.

One assumes that the republican movement, led by intelligent people, must have known and knows today that what was being claimed was rubbish. 

Perhaps they could also join in the denunciation of the ACT Government's appallingly gratuitous insult to the memory of the late  Donald Mackay.



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