Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


G-G's blind faith in Australia's constitution

  • 06 June 2008

The Queen's Birthday public holiday perpetuates the confusion the British monarchy brings to Australia's national identity. It is one of two days on which Australian Honours are announced. In an evolutionary step, these honours replaced the award of imperial honours to Australians. Yet not only are they still officially awarded by the Queen, Australians awarded such honours cannot escape their identification with the British monarchy.

The Australian Republican Movement aims to replace the constitutional monarchy by a republic with an Australian Head of State. Things have gone well for the Movement in many ways during 2008. The republican Labor Party platform sets out the steps that should be taken. It is committed to an initial plebiscite as the best step towards another republic referendum.

The merits of the move have been proclaimed by our new republican prime minister on several occasions. And those merits have been strongly endorsed by the 1000 Australians gathered at the 2020 Summit. Young Australians participating in the national Schools Constitutional Convention did likewise.

In contrast to the growing public support for an Australian republic, the British monarchy has suffered another PR crisis. A young Canadian Catholic woman has had to convert to Anglicanism in order to marry a member of the British Royal Family, as the British Act of Succession prevents any Catholic from doing so. This is further evidence of the outrageous discrimination built into the monarchy. Despite all this the republic may still take some time to come to fruition, probably a minimum of five more years, as several steps are involved. That says a lot about the innate conservatism of Australian society and politics and the forces at work. An explicit and implicit defence of the place of the British monarchy in the Australian Constitution is being mounted by the Queen's representative in Australia, the Governor-General, Major-General Michael Jeffery.

On several occasions recently Jeffery has proclaimed a very conservative view of Australian constitutional arrangements. In his view the Australian constitution of 1901 has made Australia a stable country. Not only is there no evidence of this relationship between constitution and society (it is a post hoc ergo propter hoc argument), but his view stresses a static version of Australian history that makes the task of all reformers, not just republicans, doubly difficult. In fact, Australia's constitutional story is one of continual, well-accepted evolution. It has had many elements. They include changes to both the style and titles of the Queen and to