June 27

The wisdom of our Founding Fathers

I was asked by a television current affairs programme recently why the next Governor-General would be paid more than the Prime Minister.

I replied: “Because she is more important.”

 I demonstrated this in a light hearted way by pointing out that when the Governor-General goes on a State Visit to a foreign country, to honour Australia, he or she is entitled to a twenty one gun salute.

 “That is because she is the Head of State, “I said. “When the Prime Minister is received in a foreign country, he is only entitled only to a nineteen gun salute.”

I explained that the Australian Crown is more for the power it denies others, rather than the power it normally exercises.

Now republicans complain that the Prime Minister is not specifically mentioned in what they pejoratively dismiss as our "horse and buggy"  Constitution.

Actually he is, but only as one of "The Queen’s Ministers of State for the Commonwealth."

I see no reason why he should be specifically mentioned. After all, his constitutional functions are governed by convention, not the written text.  

 In not specifically mentioning him,  our Founding Fathers were probably saying what was said to the general in a chariot as he was cheered by the crowds during a formal Roman Triumph.

A slave would hold a golden wreath over the general’s head, and continually intone what is generally believed to have been these words,  “"Memento mori."

Or in English, "Remember thou art only a man."

So I suspect the Founding Fathers were saying this to our prime ministers: "Remember you are under the law, the Parliament and the Crown. Your authority is passing and you answer, in the ultimate analysis, to the people of Australia.

"So don't for one moment think you are more important than you are."

…the powers of the Governor-General..

The powers of the Governor-General are extensive. Most are exercised on the advice of the Ministers – but only lawful advice, which in itself is an important check.

The powers of the Governor-General are set out in the Constitution, which made Australia unique among the Dominions with the Governor-General as the Constitutional Head of the Commonwealth.

It was only relatively recently that it was realised that the Letters Patent pictured above were not needed.

Bu they were needed in other Dominions, including Canada and New Zealand, along with the Royal Instructions.

 At times, more frequently than is supposed, the Australian Crown exercises one of the reserve powers which our constitutional system places at its disposal.

(For examples, see the paper prepared by John Paul, “Examples Of The Use Of Vice-Regal Power In Australia Since Federation,” 22 August 1989 posted to the ACM site)

That is why republicans are wasting their time and ours in trying to graft a republic on to a constitutional system which is inherently based on the Australian Crown.

As Professor PH Lane, a leading constitutional lawyer, observed,  republicans would be better advised to propose a new constitution.

That is unlikely. The republican politicians and their movement  are unable to spell out the details of whatever republic they are trying to foist on to the nation -at the expense of the taxpayer.

…the salary of the Governor-General…

As Sir David Smith points out in his excellent book, Head of State ( Macleay Press, Sydney, 2005, reviewed in News Weekly, reprinted  here on the ACM site on 12 April, 2006), until the Whitlam government, Governors–General were treated shabbily, and were often left seriously out-of –pocket.

The current salary is  set before the Governor-General takes office, and is now fixed having regard  to the salary paid to the Chief Justice.

And under the terms of the Constitution, section 3, the salary “shall not be altered during his continuance in office.”

Once again, the wisdom of our Founding Fathers shines out from the text of the Constitution.

This means the politicians are denied  the possibility of using a possible an increase of salary in their relations with the Governor-General.

The Founding Fathers understood human nature, as many republicans today fail to. They understood how politicians will behave, and the temptations which can be offered.

That is why Sir David makes the strong point ( Head of State, pages 333 to 336) that a Governor-General should never be offered, and should never accept, further salaried employment by the government.


This is particularly so in relation to the government that had served under that Governor-General.as a public.

Sir David points to the inconsistency of most in the media in advancing this principle on one occasion, but on the only other occasion, actually falling over themselves in praise.


That is why, at least under the current practice of only appointing Australian residents as Governors-General, it is important that the Governor-General be at the peak of his or her career, and not ambitious for further career advancement.  


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