While celebrating the Queen’s extraordinary service in her seventy years on the throne and preparing to swear allegiance, too many politicians are wasting time plotting to do what their predecessors have always failed to do: to persuade Australians to say Yes to something they have firmly said No to.
Namely, to remove our oldest legal institution, the Australian Crown, the one part of our constitutional system which works efficiently and at minimal cost, with the Royal Family unpaid for their services. And just on that, do not believe the media untruth that British taxpayers fund the monarchy. The monarchy is in fact, self-funded.
Our politicians are not so effective that they can afford to waste more time on such a hopeless cause. In fact, I sometimes ask people if they can identify a serious national problem that, if it were not created by the politicians, has been not been made significantly worse by them. No one can ever think of one.
That the performance of our politicians is, with significant exceptions, seen as so poor, may well be because of the fact that among comparable countries, Australia has not only a ridiculously complicated voting system but also one wide open to fraud. The result is that our out-of-touch, captured, two-party system is over protected from the understandable wrath of the people.
Claimed to be superior to the Anglo-American first-past-the-post system, ours delivered government to a party with a record low 32 per cent of the primary vote with 600,000 fewer votes than when it lost the 2019 election. And we won’t know the final results for weeks or even months.
What stands out in all this swamp is the monarch who has selflessly given us leadership beyond politics, an absolutely essential feature of a successful Westminster system. Too many politicians claim that this can work just as well without the monarchical element.
Explain then why even the sophisticated French failed twice to make their Westminister republican facsimile work.
Those who would rush to tamper with the one part of the Australian constitutional system which is working well should reflect on a research finding that the reason why some countries are rich and successful is a question neither of geography, race, nor even natural wealth. In their landmark study, Why Nations Fail, MIT Professors Daron Acemoglu and James A. Morrison, conclude that the factor which determines success is a country’s political and economic institutions.
Korea is an excellent example. In that once homogenous peninsula, the North has ‘extractive’ institutions which concentrate power in the hands of a narrow elite to arrange governance to suit that elite. By way of contrast, the South has ‘inclusive’ institutions which are pluralistic, democratic and open, ‘engines of prosperity’ for the people.
Another example is between Australia and Argentina, which, at the time of the Federation, were the world’s richest countries. But significant differences in their institutions subsequently resulted in periods of brutal dictatorship and economic decline. Argentina now has a per capita GDP of less than half Australia’s. As a former Argentinian minister said on ABC’s Four Corners, there is one important difference between the two counties: ‘Australia has British institutions. If Argentina had such strong institutions she would be like Australia in 10 or 20 years’.
The Westminster system centres on a constitutional monarchy producing leadership beyond politics, including in those realms where the Crown acts more often through viceroys such as Australia, Canada, Tuvalu and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
In the latter two, the people followed Australia in referendums rejecting a politicians’ republic.
Our system of course depends on monarchs of quality, which the Windsor family has been extraordinarily successful in producing with the system flexible enough to remove someone perceived as inappropriate, eg., Edward VIII, Duke of Windsor.
According to a publication provided to Royal Military College Sandhurst cadets, while there are several tests of leadership, the one character trait a leader must have is being free from the slightest trait of self-interest.
In all these tests Elizabeth II passes with flying colours. As did her parents and her parents’ parents. When I was a boy, the great unifying wartime symbol of the nation and the Empire was King George VI, especially because of his willingness to share the burdens and dangers of his people. This was best demonstrated when it was suggested to the then Queen that during the Blitz, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret be sent to Canada just as other children were sent away from the capital. The Queen replied: ‘They won’t go without me, I won’t go without the King, and the King will never leave London.’
In Australia today and other realms, alongside the Queen, the viceroys – governors and governors-general – play much of the day-to-day role of the Crown. The Queen (who personally enabled our complete independence) sets the standards which the viceroys follow and only she can appoint or remove one. There is no guarantee how the Queen will act on advice which is questionable. In one case a vice-regal dismissal was abandoned in favour of a resignation, the process taking two-and-a-half months.
One courtier’s opinion is that a recommendation of dismissal blocks a governor-general from dismissing a prime minister. I disagree, relying on the position the Queen took on the dismissal of Gough Whitlam. As she pointed out, the Constitution vests this power in the Governor-General and it would be unconstitutional of her to act in that area.
Rather than wasting time on an unachievable politicians’ republic, our new government should restore something which might have prevented abuse during the pandemic – the proper examination we used to have of proposed regulations in the vice-regal-chaired Executive Councils as well as the disallowance power of upper houses.
They could also look into using the Royal Family internationally to advance our interests, especially commercial. This would be highly appropriate when the new Royal Yacht is launched.
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