February 13

Why did our Ambassador do it?

Why did the Australian ambassador to the UN, Gary Quinlan do it?  Before his appointment as Ambassador in 2009, he had been the senior adviser on foreign affairs, defence and national security in the Prime Minister's office. 

He would have known that the Prime Minister had declared the Governor-General to be Head of State when she visited Africa. As a diplomat, he would know that Australian governments have long held out to foreign governments and international organisations  that the Governor-General is our Head of State.

…that cable….

So why did our Ambassador – on Australia Day and not April 1 – head his unclassified cable to Canberra  “United Nations: General Assembly — Address by Australian Head of State"?

It was about The Queen addressing the UN General Assembly. The Palace media release had said in passing that Her Majesty was Head of the Commonwealth and Head of State of 16 Commonwealth Realms.   Mr. Quinlan would have realised surely that this resulted from a press officer searching for a collective term, and not a juristic assertion. 

It is possible that  Mr. Quinlan chose the title as a joke and did not expect that the cable would be published in the national newspaper, The Australian (12/1).

As a Buckingham Palace spokesman explained the reference to The Queen as Australia's Head of State "was used in a collective sense to refer to the Queen's position in relation to the UN member states which are also Realms".

"It was not intended to refer to the constitutional definition of the role of The Queen in Australia in particular," the spokesman said. "The press release of January 22 is not a policy statement but an information bulletin to describe the forthcoming event."

…republican call for referendum on capital punishment….


The cable  was reported not only in The Australian but beyond.

Derryn Hinch, a passionate republican, took this up on Melbourne's high rating  commercial  radio station, 3AW as an argument for a republic. He courteously invited me to present the constitutional monarchist argument.  But note how the headining on a diplomatic cable can be used as an argument for major constitutional change. 

 The recording linked here is of callers to the station after my interview. To one caller who objected to another referendum when 1999 was so clear, he says the people must keep on voting every ten years "until they get it right."

And he is in favour of a referendum on capital punishment, which he supports. 

…unassailable case….

The question whether the Governor-General is Head of State has been subjected to continuing careful examination by experts, both in relation to international law and diplomacy and constitutional law and practice.  Sir David Smith's major work on this, Head of State, has not been answered by any work of similar depth.

The unanimous declaration by our Founding Fathers sitting in the High Court in 1907 (R v Governor of South Australia) was unequivocal. The Governor-General is the "Constitutional Head of the Commonwealth".  This surely seals the case.

…view held by all leading constitutional monarchists at the referendum…


All leading constitutional monarchists involved in the constitutional convention and the referendum campaign, both inside and outside Parliament, concluded in 1999 that :

“Our constitutional Head of State, the Governor-General, is an Australian citizen and has been since 1965”.

These words come from the  Official Yes/No Booklet  approved by all MP's and Senators supporting the No case ( mostly constitutional monarchists). This was distributed by the Australian Electoral Commission  to all electors across the nation.

The constitutional monarchist case could not have been clearer, and it was on this basis that the people voted. 

…Her Excellency….

To her credit, and no doubt that of her Official Secretary, Stephen Brady, Governor-General Quentin Bryce has declined to comment on our UN Ambassador's cable. 

In the meantime, she is still being criticised in sections of the media for her 2009 African visit. This is unfair it is her duty to undertake foreign visits as may be advised from time to time by her ministers.

Any criticism of the visit, which was obviously designed to further government ambitions for an elected seat on the UN Security Council, should be directed to her ministers. Her Excellency behaved in accordance with her constitutional position. 

…prime ministerial confusion…

The republican movement, who still refuse to reveal their plans for some sort of politicians’ republic and for a new flag, welcomed the  Prime Minister’s latest statement that  The Queen is head of state.  The politicians are unlikely to proceed with their call for a referendum if the movement  cannot even say what the referendum is about.

Moreover the politicians are well aware polling trends confirm that interest in some sort of vague undefined republic is now down in the low forty percent range. Polling on what are issues of concern demonstrates there is hardly any interest in this among the public.

As for the Prime Minister's apparent change of position on the question, I told Tom Dusevic of The Australian (13/2) that  the explanation was that Mr Rudd's office had probably been "careless" in saying that The Queen was head of state after he had already expressly declared  the Governor-General was head.

"Perhaps the Prime Minster believes we have two heads of state, or that they change from time to time," I said.



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