June 8

The Queen’s Birthday

The Crown is our oldest institution, dating from the first settlement.  It is the institution under which we received self government and under which we then agreed to unite, as the preamble to the Constitution Act says…in "one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown and under this Constitution." 

The Crown is not a rubber stamp; it is an important check and balance on the exercise of power.    It is not surprising then that The Queen’s Birthday is our first and oldest public holiday. As such it is a celebration of our history, our heritage and our great democracy.

To celebrate The Queen’s Birthday this year ACM has introduced its latest web based educational project, The Crowned Republic.

ACM has long played a leading part in the debate on constitutional change. Indeed its literary output easily exceeds that of all the other organisations in either side in the debate. This has been so effective that on one occasion the former Prime Minister and republican Bob Hawke conceded the “monarchists are winning the intellectual debate.” 

One great achievement, apart from running with over 50,000 supporters the most effective citizen based No case in the nation’s history, has been to establish  under international and constitutional law the status of the Governor-General as Head of State. The interesting point is that no constitutional or international lawyer of standing, in practice, in the academy or in the judiciary has been able to demonstrate otherwise.   

So much so the later Professor George Winterton finally concluded that the dispute was an “arid and ultimately irrelevant battle over nomenclature” (Quadrant , September, 2004.)

 …yet another republican stunt…

 But as with Australia Day, The Queen’s Birthday rarely passes these days without some sort of stunt from the republicans, who will do anything to avoid revealing what they are planning to do to our constitution and our flag. 

 The following, a letter of mine published in The Australian Financial Review on 26 June 2001, was about one of the republicans’ silliest stunts.   

The letter read: –  “Sir,  “Victorian Premier Bracks’ letter to The Queen to hand over Tom Robert’s Federation painting is as misguided (and as embarrassing) as demanding she return our Crown land.  “The painting is not her personal property. It is owned by the Australian Crown in trust for the Australian people.

 “That is why it is hanging – permanently – in Parliament House for all to see. And if anyone still doesn’t understand that the Australian Crown is separate and independent from the British Crown, remember that a Senator lost her seat because she didn’t appreciate this.

 “The lesson is – be careful of being dragged into the inevitable Queen’s Birthday stunts.”   The letter was published with a cartoon showing two royal corgis using their litter tray, the floor of which is covered with shredded paper.  On a torn piece you can just make out the words “Steve Bracks”.

The caption on the cartoon reads “Steve Brack’s letter to the Queen”.      

 …this year’s stunt…

   What will this year’ stunt be?  Rather than engaging in stunts the republicans should try to understand what it is they want to change.

 What were all those passionate republicans doing when they approved and released the Summit report last year which suggested we were still tied constitutionally to the UK?   I

nstead of engaging in these stunts, why won’t the republicans tell the people precisely what they are planning to do to the constitution and the flag, and how much it will cost?  Is it that the republicans are keeping their plans secret, or haven’t they the foggiest idea what they want to put in the place of our constitution and our flag?   

 …the oldest holiday for our most venerable and still important institution… 

 The fact is that fact Australians have enjoyed this holiday since 1788 when Governor Phillip declared a holiday on the birthday of King George III.  

George Mackaness in "Admiral Arthur Phillip – Founder of New South Wales 1728-1814" describes that event thus (as posted to the Australian Republic Unplugged site): 

“The fourth of June was the birthday of King George III, ‘their beloved sovereign’ as Collins describes him, The day was one ‘general rejoicing, festivity and forgiveness.’  “The Governor caused the Sirius and the Supply to fire three royal salutes; the transports still in the harbour and the battalion of marines fired volleys; the Lieutenant-Governor and all the officers, civil and military, waited on the Governor, who entertained them at dinner, with the band playing and much enthusiastic toasting and cheering.  

“Describing the toast of His Majesty's Ministers, Surgeon White cannot refrain from punning hope that these ‘may be Pitted against any that ever conducted the affairs of Great Britain.’ 

“‘Being "a day of forgiveness,’ the four convicts, Lovell, Sidaway, Hall, and Gordon, confined at Pinchgut awaiting banishment, were ‘fully pardoned,’ so that Phillip could write: ‘For the twenty four hours I believe there was not one heavy heart in this part of his Majesty's dominions.’  

“In the evening large bonfires – ‘we had plenty of wood,’ says Southwell – were lighted, and kept burning all night. With a supper tendered by the Governor to all the principal officers of the settlement, the festive day was brought to a close.’”   

Until 1936 the actual birth date of the reigning monarch was observed. (The Queen’s actual birthday is on 21 April.)    But after the death of King George V it was decided to retain the June holiday weekend, apart from Western Australian where it will be celebrated on 29 September. (This is because a June celebration would be too close to Foundation Day.)           


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