Will the Victorian government attempt to make Victoria a republic if it is returned in the State election on 27 November? And in any event, can a State do this? I have been asked these questions by supporters who have referred to a story by Paul Austin in The Age on 29 May, ” Brumby's 'class war' manifesto.”
This story was about a draft platform to be discussed at the State Labor Conference on 19 June. It opens “A re-elected Brumby government will push for Australia to become a republic, try to rewrite Victoria's constitution…”
This was a surprise, given the courtesy and respect Premier John Brumby has shown The Queen and members of the Royal Family. Of course he must be committed to the Labor platform which supports change to a republic, just as for many years members had to be committed to the former socialist objective. While Mr. Brumby has been most correct in his relations with the Crown, the same cannot be said about the Attorney General Rob Hulls, who seems obsessively determined to remove all symbols of the Crown.
…a plan to create a Victorian republic…
But is there a plan to make Victoria a republic? You have to go to page 170 of the 175 page ALP’s Draft Platform for the 19 June conference to find any reference to a republic.
This is essentially just the standard reference, much the same as you would have found in ALP platforms for many years:
“ Labor believes that modernising Australia’s Constitution entails a transition to an Australian Republic, with an Australian head of state, who can fully represent our traditions, values and aspirations as a nation. Nationally, Labor is committed to consulting with the Australian people, other political parties, the states and the territories as to the form that the Republic should take.”
“ Labor will promote community debate about the advantages and disadvantages of the various republican models. Labor will conduct plebiscites to establish support for an Australian head of state and the preference for different forms of a Republic. When a preference has emerged Labor will initiate an appropriate referendum under section 128 of the Constitution.”
Incidentally ACM has been alone in opposing a plebiscite since it was first announced principally because we saw that it could introduce a period of substantial constitutional instability without resolving anything.
You have to conclude that if there is a Labor plan to make Victoria a republic by itself, it is being kept very secret.
….can a state become a republic?
In 1993 the Republic Advisory Committee concluded that the States could remain monarchies while the Commonwealth became a republic. The then Attorney General referred to this “heptarchy “ as a constitutional monstrosity, and then went on to campaign for it.
The advocates of the 1999 politicians’ republic thought it would be easier to introduce their republic in stages. In my view, and Sir Harry Gibbs was inclined to this position, a change of this moment requires the support of the people of all the states.
What is the position then if, say the Victorian government attempted to make Victoria a republic? The principal barrier is in the Australia Acts, 1986 which require that the Sovereign be represented in each State by a Governor. (The Australia Acts were enacted by the British and all Australian Parliaments, and terminated all legal links with the UK.)
…premature legislation rushed through in 1999….
This barrier was to be removed by a proposal by the Federal Attorney-General in 1999 that all States and the Commonwealth pass legislation, but conditional on the referendum passing. ACM strongly opposed this as premature, but apart from some strong monarchists, few MP’s in any of the thirteen houses voted against the Australia Acts (Request) Act 1999. It was indeed premature and is now of no effect.
In addition to the barrier in the Australia Acts, any legislation in Victoria would under the State Constitution require a three-fifths special majority in each House. The better view is that a referendum is also required.
Indeed it would seem that, expressly or by implication, a separate referendum would be required in each State, except Tasmania. It is politically inconceivable that any State would attempt such a major change without a referendum.
Lawyers of course are not unanimous on these matters. It is not settled, for example as to whether we have one Australian Crown, or seven. Certainly the Crown has seven separate manifestations e.g., the Crown in the right of Tasmania in contrast with the Crown in the right of the Commonwealth.
Incidentally, when it was last proposed to establish the Northern Territory as a state, it was suggested by some that a vice regal office of governor would not be appropriate. ACM’s detailed submission warned that such a proposal was divisive and explained that this would be unacceptable legally and politically.