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Iustem et tenacem propositi virum
Non civium ardor prava iubentium
Non vultus instantis tyranni
Mene quatit solida.

The man who is tenacious of purpose
in a rightful cause is not shaken from
his firm resolve by the frenzy of his fellow
citizens clamouring for what is wrong, or
by the tyrant's threatening face

                                                                     Horace, Odes .



Abandoned, bread turns mouldy. Neglected milk goes first sour, then rancid. Untilled fields grow rank with weeds, and unturned ministries, corrupt. Political corruption is a natural state, even as mouldy bread, and our nationality is of limited protection. We are human foremost, before we are citizens, and the human condition fails to respect national borders.


While the old adage "All power corrupts…" holds true, it fails to pierce to the core of the matter. In 1929 Lord Hewart, Lord Chief Justice of England, recounted one evening’s conversation between a distinguished Treasury official and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, after a rough time in the House of Commons in which the Department hadn’t gained its desired measures. Frustrated, the civil servant expostulated over all this parliamentary palaver:

    After all, what was the good of the House of Commons? And how perfectly useless was the House of Lords! Why should the work of the expert be always at the mercy of the ignorant amateur? Why should people be allowed to govern themselves when it was manifestly so much better for them to be governed by those who knew how to govern? "Seriously," he asked, "could not this country be governed by the Civil Service?" "Undoubtedly it could," replied the Chancellor of the Exchequer, "undoubtedly it could. And I am quite sure that you and your colleagues would govern the country remarkably well. But let me tell you this, my young friend: at the end of six months of it, there would not be enough lamp-posts in Whitehall to go round".

The Chancellor of the Exchequer was wryly referring to a popular method of executing bureaucrats during the French Revolution, by hanging them from convenient posts. As an emblem of political principle the lamp-post should probably be resurrected today, as a reminder that the greatest problem in politics has never been how to get the right people into power but how to get the wrong people out of it.


Any wielding of active authority over a complex mass of people, any imposition of government policy, excites resentments in disadvantaged quarters. These resentments slowly accumulate, and the consent of the governed begins to wane. Ruling a diverse society is like running a complicated engine: discontent is generated within its bowels as a byproduct, like heat, and slowly accumulates the longer the government operates, eventually leaking throughout the system. This will destroy the society, unless some means of shedding resentments can be found. Many limited ways are at hand; by carefully balancing the discomfort or by inspiring the collective imagination, by resorting to populist policies or indulging in "bread and circuses", by finding scapegoats for the discontent at home, or by manufacturing them abroad through nationalism. But the people will eventually get fed up, and want to change their rulers, whether these have been enlightened or rogues. Enlightened policies merely defer the execution, not commute it. Finally, more extreme measures will be required to retain power, or the grace to go quietly.

This basic principle of discontent, which infects the conflict of interest between constituents and their members, seems to have been forgotten by a disturbingly large number of people, but it’s central to achieving the republican ideal of government "of the people, by the people, for the people". Representative democracy both inflames the boil and lances it. Free and fair elections are a form of catharsis, a kind of bloodless revolution, a fresh start; a way of dumping heat. Parliamentary sovereignty allows this frustration and discontent expression, dragging members of the House– the ultimate authors of all executive and legislative acts– from their seats by ticking a box next to some other candidate’s name.


Towards the end of the 19th Century Karl Marx claimed "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles". His statement still has a bit of life in it, particularly if we remove the word "hitherto". Stripped bare of the ideological clutter of economic class and traditional "class struggle", the transactions of representative democracy itself can be seen to create two "classes" in perpetual conflict, the constituency and the elective oligarchy. A great challenge democracy poses to (sufficiently amoral) politicians is to devise some way in which the vast and temporary power, lent by the electorate, can be converted into a more permanent form before the original mandate is revoked. The greater challenge presented to the constituency is to devise some scheme to prevent its representatives from doing precisely this – from abusing their mandate by employing it against its lenders. Although this conflict of interest cannot be permanently laid to rest, electors must at least ensure that during it they retain the upper hand over their representatives, or else see their own sovereignty and rights destroyed.

A number of partial solutions lie at hand. One is having a written Constitution guarded by a strong judiciary, but two dangers exist, the first being that judges are confined on abstract grounds only to address justiciable issues, and on practical grounds need the Executive to be actually containable within the rule of law. So if the armed forces and police are politicised, serving their political masters rather than the law of the land, or the Executive’s grosser lawlessness is secret, or lawfully exempted from judicial scrutiny, or defended through further appeal to executive power wrongfully used, then these judges cannot fulfil their duties as guardians.

If the text is written too sparsely, these guardians’ capacity to intervene is impaired. But if the text is written too densely, then a judicial aristocracy will have been created. This is the second danger. Members of the constituency, in embracing the judiciary as their saviours against politician’s abuses, may be protecting their sovereignty from one oligarchy by sacrificing it to another – rather like the fairytale story of the Sultan who, on finding his palace infested with rats, invited in large numbers of cats, who killed the rodents but ended up infesting the palace themselves.

This arrangement would also end in destroying the members of the judicial aristocracy. If an unaccountable and supreme judiciary commited legislative or executive actions that outrage us, dragging politicians from their seats would become inadequate. To re-assert our sovereignty we would have to drag the judges from their benches, an act destroying the rule of law.

A Constitution that failed to enable frustration and dissent against political acts from being vented through constitutional means would be likely to invite unconstitutional action: if the consent of the governed is withdrawn from those in power, but cannot be reasserted through peaceful force, it invites the use of violent force. Lacking consent, a time comes when that force would be justified.

An alternative, partial solution to sacrificing popular sovereignty to the judiciary rests in the few residual powers now remaining with the Crown, for which the ancient form of ministerial responsibility remains available in an emergency. The Crown is a valuable modern instrument for the constituency, as a usually passive device that in rare crisis can become active to counteract abuses committed by politicians; a device that cannot itself dispense solutions but only reflect the crisis to the floor of the House or to the constituency itself to resolve, reaffirming the ultimate sovereignty of the people. Chifley enunciated the matter clearly when he said "To us, the throne in no way usurps the rights of the people. It is a symbol of the liberty of the people. With us, the prerogatives of the Crown have become the privileges of the people".

As well as its reserve powers, the Crown holds also hierarchical implications that uphold the rule of law, helping to preserve practical justiciability of grievances and rights of the individual. Servants of the executive, being servants of the Crown, have their hierarchies constrained in a remarkable way, whereby patently unlawful acts must be disobeyed, else the individual servants must answer personally for their actions. This potent device was traditionally employed in "Her Majesty’s" prisons to uphold habeus corpus, and in "Her Majesty’s" post offices to preserve the integrity of private communication. It remains in use in "Her Majesty’s" police, armed forces and courts of law, while the disastrous effects of its absence can be seen in contemporary US history.


A modern reading of Machiavellian doctrines, applied to a monarch in a parliamentary democracy, reveals that her own best interests are served by aiding the constituency over the elective oligarchy. By delivering up the wielders of active political power to the judgement of the citizens, she can preserve her own personal stake in the Constitution’s survival, a stake created and perpetuated by the hereditary principle. A constitutional monarchy therefore satisfies John Stuart Mill’s criterion for a well-constituted office, while an elective presidency fails it. For the Queen’s viceregal representatives a more complex arrangement is used, a power triangle, suspended from the permanent thread of her own discretion whether or not to sack her representative; a discretion bound up by her own self-interest in survival, and exercisable under the ancient form of responsibility, using Australian ministers and advisers. Her representative can be drawn from beyond the elective oligarchy, using whatever means of nomination we, the community, choose to establish.

As an ultimate guarantor of parliamentary government in sixteen independent realms throughout the world, she represents a human emblem above the disquiet of nations. The Queen is uniquely positioned to act as intermediary among her governments, behind closed doors, with rights of access unparalleled by any other official in the world by virtue of her constitutional place. What our prime ministers and premiers, governors-general and governors choose to communicate to her is up to them, but our just grievances with Britain, which inevitably arise from time to time, require communication if they are to be remedied. Discard the Australian Throne, and never again will we have this opportunity to speak and be heard through this special intermediary. The greater the grievances with Britain, as one independent country with another, the more important our links with the Palace become. Our choice is truly one of maturity: whether to sulk over past injustices, or ensure our complaints are heard in Whitehall through being understood in the Palace. Diplomats come and go, but the monarch remains.

Beyond the secluded corridors of power and parliaments assembled, the symbolism of the Crown can be employed in a more civilised manner than any nationalist emblem that would replace it. Governors and Governors-General serve as figures embodying our polity beyond party, around whom all sections of our community can rally, despite their partisan grievances. As distinguished personages, they can bestow the much-deserved formal dignity and recognition to charities and individuals that work with the poor, the hungry and the desperate, without demeaning these bodies with the "kissing babies" cynicism of re-election. And having no vested interest in elected office, they can embody the supremacy of the community over its politicians; serving as witnesses at the highest echelon of executive power who, in times of constitutional crisis, can force an issue to the people to decide.

All this is to be expunged in the name of an Australian "Head of State", despite the fact our Governor-General can easily fulfil that job description, and has already been accorded honours as such abroad. Only minor alterations need be performed before this figure is exalted properly, as a distinguished and distinctive Australian State figure, beyond the schisms of party and creed. Yet this is, in truth, inconvenient for our elected leaders; it abrades the gloss from their own temporary mandate. Hence we had a Prime Minister, on one hand extolling the virtues of a distinctive Australian "Head of State"… then on the other, going to Yizhak Rabin’s State funeral alone, leaving the Governor-General at home. The Prime Minister giveth and the Prime Minister taketh away.

In this era the Australian people are filled with a justified disillusionment with our politicians, a righteous disenchantment with the elective oligarchy. Yet at the same time we have in our hands a way of exalting our community over its elected assemblies, of emphasising that our politicians are supposed to be our servants, not our masters. And in tragic irony, it’s precisely this avenue of reform we are now being asked to lock off and destroy by becoming a republic.

What is the alternative? A genuine programme of reform:

  • Our communities’ links with Government House are direct, not reliant on a politician’s favour to communicate. Few Australians are aware of their right to petition the Governor or Governor-General, or of this viceregal official’s right to take up community concerns privately, urging them upon the ruling politicians behind closed doors. These links should be strengthened, not attenuated. The Carr Government’s attempt to close the New South Wales Government House was an attempt to destroy the ability of the community to have its voice heard directly by an apolitical figure willing and able to question the Premier privately. This is intolerable.


  • The existing protocol should be promulgated, formally recognising our Governor-General as being an appropriate figure to be accorded full dignity abroad as "Head of State", with an explanation of the distinct roles of Queen of Australia and Governor-General of Australia. Buckingham Palace has already recognised this role, and a formal declaration will protect the Governor-General from the real threat… an arrogant Prime Minister. If a formal declaration is made in conjunction with other Commonwealth realms, like Canada and New Zealand, any doubts that may linger among other countries over our arrangements can be easily dispelled.


  • Remove the power of viceregal nomination from the Prime Minister and bestow it upon a Convocation of State, an assembly of distinguished Australians holding high office through apolitical community hierarchies, within the 1930 guidelines. This assembly would draw up a list of candidates representative in spirit of the Australian people, while having no claim to an existing electoral "mandate". This would stabilise the mutual relationship between Prime Minister and Governor-General, remove the impetus for either figure to "ambush" the other, prevent unnecessary involvement of the Palace in local controversies, and give the Australian community– not politicians– the choice of who should be our viceregal Head of State. 


  • Enhance the ceremonial profile of our Governor-General within Australia, in line with Canadian precedents. Our Governor-General already has a distinctive Crown and Wattle emblem, although few Australians have ever seen it.


  • Designate the body of legal advisors with whom the Governor-General can privately consult. Although there is a long list of precedents of viceregal consultation with the Chief Justice, this clearly may cause problems if the matter under discussion subsequently comes before the High Court. Using a council of, say, retired Chief Justices, will also dilute the influence of the political opinions of any one judge on their advice. 


  • Amend the Laws of Succession of the monarchy, to remove the sexist and religious impositions upon the Australian Throne. The recent popularity of Lord Archer’s Bill in the British Parliament, and the enthusiasm of the Blair Government for constitutional refurbishment, has made it clear that London is amenable to suggestions of reform, and presumably Ottawa, Wellington, etc. will be as enthusiastic as we are on the matter. Under the Statute of Westminster (1931) the accord and concurrence of all of Her Majesty’s national Parliaments is required for this reform, on a co-equal basis.


  • As a fully independent sovereign country, we should be improving our communications and presence in the Palace, not severing them. The Palace has enormous potential as a diplomatic sorting-house of information, among the sixteen realms and the other Commonwealth countries – over fifty countries in total. The Queen’s Private Secretary in the late 1980s was an Australian, Sir William Heseltine. Her Majesty’s Press Secretary is currently an Australian, Mr Geoffrey Crawford. (Even the Queen’s Goldsmith is Australian – Stuart Devlin.) In 1988 Australian troops guarded the royal Palaces, to mark the Bicentenary. We should not be turning our back on this remarkable resource. 


  • Incorporate Aboriginal reconciliation . The precise nature of this reconciliation is far beyond the scope of this book, but it must be noted that the Canadian and New Zealand Crowns have a doctrine of a particular relationship with the indigenous peoples, whereby a special burden of the Crown is to act as guarantor of Government treaties with indigenous races. This burden has limited public expression apart from the Crown’s Courts of Law, but privately, if indigenous peoples have a direct right of petition to Yarralumla or the State Government Houses, their grievances can again be taken up by its occupant and urged upon an unwilling Prime Minister or Premier. The words of Jagera Elder and Australia’s first Aboriginal Senator, the late Neville Bonner, might then ring out with a fresh resonance:

I do not claim to speak on behalf of the entire Aboriginal community, but certainly I speak on behalf of my own vast clan [the Jagera], of those Aborigines with whom I have been in touch, and of those who have contacted me. And I warn those who advocate a republic: do not be mistaken in thinking that those of us who feel there is nothing to celebrate on the current Australia Day (26 January) would thus stand firm against constitutional monarchy for Australia. For, by a strange quirk, the "causes" are not necessarily joined… So in this, my own land, my absolute native land, I say: Here I stand, metaphorically, with woomera and spear in hand, in defence of Australian constitutional monarchy.


Rather than becoming a republic for the Olympics in a triumph of nationalism, the Centenary of Federation and the new Millenium should be celebrated by exalting community within our country and internationally. It would represent a victory for true democratic accountability at home, an acceptance of the synthesis of our heritage, our present multicultural complexity, and our future.

Even the venue of this celebration will exist at the right time and place, more dignified than the bread and circuses of the Olympics. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) will assemble in Brisbane for its 2001 meeting. Present will be over fifty of the world’s prime ministers and presidents, including all the prime ministers required to begin the reforms to the monarchy’s laws of succession, and Her Majesty the Queen. It would be a fitting time to declare formally to the world our reforms to the Australian Crown.

The undischarged burden of proof upon republicans has been to devise a way of dismantling the Crown that preserves and enhances these safeguards over the sovereignty of the people. But at this late stage of the debate it’s inadequate merely to remark upon their failure to do so. At the end of the 20th Century a more serious accusation must be levelled: that imposing a republican form of government upon the Westminster system doesn’t merely fail to enhance government "of the people, by the people, for the people" but is an actual betrayal of the republican ideal."The danger of royal absolutism is past; but the danger of Cabinet absolutism, even of Prime Ministerial absolutism, is present and growing." This is the real threat posed to popular sovereignty next century, and a failure to comprehend it is a failure to understand much of the 20th Century.

Over the decades and across the world, the bitter cycle of atrophy has been seen: fresh-faced idealism fades, as elected leaders grow corrupted by the conflicts of interest underpinning their power. Democracy stagnates, as politicians employ their transient authority to acquire permanent power. Discontent seeps up through the populace and cannot be dispersed, the wielders of active power having entrenched themselves. The government grows more repressive in reply to protests; halfhearted democracy is replaced by authoritarian rule, and a new dynamic equilibrium emerges, of mutual antagonism between the ruling cliques and the alienated majority. Eventually the equilibrium breaks down – usually violently – and the old cliques are overthrown unconstitutionally, to be replaced by a new order. Depending on who’s done the overthrowing, the new rulers are either military – khaki oppression replacing the civilian variety – or else popular, in which case we’re back to the fresh-faced idealism and the merry-go-round starts around again.

Up until now we’ve never had to go for a ride on this merry-go-round, although it’s a distressingly familiar pastime to citizens of most of the rest of the world. Yet in Australia this threat has been seen in recent years. The Keating Government engaged in legislative attempts struck down by the High Court, to entrench the status quo of established parties, to favour the incumbent government and silence community groups not represented within the system.To echo the words of Byers QC "There cannot be democracy if the voters are gagged and blindfolded". In the words of other protesting voices the Keating Government has engaged in "the politics of hate... In other words: ‘If you don’t agree with me, I’ll not only hate you, but destroy you’." "From the Australia Card through the political advertising ban and on, it has attempted to infringe civil liberties. It has threatened retaliation against those who campaigned against it in the last election campaign, and acted upon those threats."

We are now confronted by a Bill for a republic that can be only described as grotesque, its safeguards pathetic or non-existent, its structure a botched camel of an idea. But its hasty imposition upon us, and the demands of our compliance at the risk of ridicule, cut to deeper concerns.

In June 1993 the magazine Independent Monthly suggested a new coat of arms for the Australian Republic, supported not by the traditional kangaroo and emu but by a shark and a fat cat, with the Latin motto CUI BONO (translated, "For whose benefit?") written beneath. The republican campaign has been notable largely for the elbowing and pushing by people with vested interests in constitutional change: a former Prime Minister inciting nationalism, exploiting it to give flesh to his own antipathies. A number of legal "authorities" given free rein in the Press, fashionable figures determined to create a judicial aristocracy, to acquire for themselves lasting executive and legislative power over the nation which their otherwise unremarkable careers would deny them. A queue of faces drawn from the Sydney cocktail circuit, determined to be dining at the top table when the spoils of patronage are divvied out after the declaration of the Republic. These are hardly the emblems of a polity dedicated to the public good.

Rather, they are warnings of what is to come if we continue to walk this ideological road laid before us. Our society, like that of other Western societies, seems to be descending into a kind of 21st Century feudalism, ruled by oligarchs. The flow of conventional information is dominated by a handful of media barons. Economic rationalism has been imposed by our governments, privatising even essential services like prisons and telecommunications, despite the profound implications for personal liberty. Wielders of vast amounts of capital moving globally, making and crippling governments, have emerged. All these are developments potentially poisonous to the liberty of the citizen. It is no coincidence that many are also anathema to the traditions of Westminster, which holds that governments only deserve the allegiance and obedience of the people provided certain traditional rights and liberties are upheld. It is impossible in this context to ignore the phenomenal wealth of the ARM’s leading figures or the ways such wealth is capable of being misused in the service of active power in a republic. It would appear the ARM is emerging as the party for the 21st Century barons.

The most disastrous myth of the 20th Century has been the belief that politics is merely a form of economics with the numbers removed for easier reading; that governments can be dismantled and constructed with cold dispassionate logic. But humans are more than units of consumption and supply; we do not associate and dissociate our societies and alliances like beads upon an abacus. Humans will not deny their own desires when endowed with the power of office, or swallow their discontent when in the streets. A failure to understand this, and a desire to dismantle our polity’s safeguards in the name of greater "efficiency", threatens our future with arbitrary government by an entrenched oligarchy, leading to eventual tyranny. In this environment, the 21st Century barons leading the ARM could doubtless flourish.

Yet it is the monarchists who have been mocked and ostracised as, at best, "lickspittles" and "forelock-tuggers" to a "foreign" Queen and a quaintly outdated world view, at worst despised as little better than a traitor-class to our own country, our allegiance supposedly prostituted to foreign interests. Labelled "rednecks" by scribblers whose own intellectual qualifications consist of a black turtleneck skivvy and a half-read copy of Derrida, we’ve been obliged to endure the lofty ridicule of conformity.

Niccolò’s ghost[laughs]: You should have read a letter I wrote in exile – in exile, although within my beloved Florence, following the restoration of the Medici. [Quoting from his own letter to Francesco Vittori, 10th December 1513.]


    When evening comes, I go back home, and go to my study. On the threshold I take off my work clothes, covered in mud and filth, and put on the clothes an ambassador would wear. Decently dressed, I enter the ancient courts of rulers who have long since died. There I am warmly welcolmed, and I feed on the only food I find nourishing, and was born to savour. I am not ashamed to talk to them, and to ask them to explain their actions. And they, out of kindness, answer me. Four hours go by without my feeling any anxiety. I forget every worry – I am no longer afraid of poverty, or frightened of death. I live entirely through them.

Author: The disdain of the brave new world is endurable, because it’s neither brave nor new. Egotism and ignorance have been distinguishing traits of the modern republican movement in this country, traits also attendant upon the darkest periods of human history across thousands of years. The intellectual cowardice of the debate has been a refusal to address the implications of this history– the thought it may hold unflattering lessons about our own natures, which may demand precautions more stringent than glib assurances or maudlin appeals. Many diseases exist in the body politic, and will continue to exist in the centuries to come, being derived not from peculiar circumstances but through the fact of our own mortality. In Westminster’s constitutional monarchy and viceregal representations throughout the world, a defence exists to some of these distempers. Derived from centuries of history, an inoculation drawn from the human condition that causes the disease, the Crown is neither a perfect remedy nor protects against all disorders...and yet so successful has it been that it remains the emblem of half the world’s six oldest surviving democracies, and of others older than democratic government in many Western European countries. And at this time at the turning point of millennia, it also provides a partial defence against another plague afflicting the entire world, including my own country: nationalism. It is a sad indictment, that a foreign observer like President von Weiszacker can appreciate our Crown’s quality in providing some protection against that most despicable and virulent of modern diseases, while our own trite commentators cannot.

We are the free possessors of a free society, remarkable in the eyes of the world, beautiful and rare. But it is also fragile, as all free systems of human society are fragile, and an ancient archive of human experience has gone into constructing the greenhouse that preserves it.

Edmund Burke defined society as a partnership in every virtue which, as its end can’t be obtained except over many generations, becomes "a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born." The decision now before the people is not whether they want "an Australian as Australia’s Head of State". The wording of that question is dishonest and misleading; everything republicans want in the way of a distinctively Australian figure of State can be achieved already. Nor is the question merely one of whose face should adorn our coins. The true question before us is which political system best serves the trust placed in us, as the living tenants of the partnership among all generations of Australians, living, dead or yet to be born. Our audience is a multitude across the centuries, regardless how few they may be in our own time. And our choice will cast light or shadow across their lives.

[Author puts down his pen and sits, silently staring at the Ghost sitting opposite.]


Further background reading:

Greenwood, N.J.C, For the Sovereignty of the People (Australian Academic Press, 1999);

The following books and publications may also be of interest (see Sovereignty's bibliography for a full listing):

Bonner, N., "Why an Australian Constitutional Monarchy?", The Australian Constitional Monarchy, ACM, Sydney.

Burke, E., Reflections on the Revolution in France, this edition Oxford University Press, Oxford 1993;

Dicey, A.V., An Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (10th ed.), Macmillan, London 1959;

Hewart, 1st Viscount (Hewart, G.), The New Despotism, Ernest Benn, London 1929; 

Jennings, W.I., Cabinet Government, Cambridge University Press, London 1936;

Jennings, W.I., The Law and the Constitution (3rd ed.), University of London Press, 1943;

Machiavelli, N., Selected Political Writings (ed. and transl. David Wooton), Hackett, Indianapolis 1994; 

Smith, D., Australian Constitutional Monarchy, ACM Occasional Paper No.1, Sydney, October 1992;

Smith, D., Some Thoughts on the Monarchy/Republic Debate, 1992 Ernest James Goddard Oration, Brisbane 3 September 1992;

Waterford, J., "Keating's Quiet Power Shift", Independent Monthly, June 1993;

Windeyer, W.J.V, Lectures on Legal History (2nd ed.) Law Book Company of Australasia, Australia 1949.