A stupid argument for abolishing the Australian Monarchy

This article by a member of the Republican Movement in the Sydney Morning Herald puts forward one of the stupidist arguments I’ve ever heard for abolishing our Constitution Monarchy: Prince William cannot marry a Catholic, therefore we should have a President instead. Talk about a non-sequitur:

Succession to the throne is determined by a 1701 English statute. It…states that should Prince William convert to Catholicism or marry a Catholic, he will be ”for ever incapable to inherit, possess, or enjoy the Crown”. As the head of the Catholic Church in England has said, ”he can marry by law a Hindu, a Buddhist, anyone, but not a Roman Catholic”. [What’s that a quotation from?]

…[S]ection 116 of the Australian constitution [reads]: ”no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth”. There is a glaring inconsistency between this and the fact our monarch is known as the ”Defender of the Faith” as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. In person, Queen Elizabeth II professes religious toleration, but in law she represents a centuries old institution that maintains a special, privileged role for only one religion, and actively discriminates against another.

Okay, so the logical conclusion would be to change the law – something that the Brits themselves are considering, from what I have heard. Or even change the Australian law (something about “If the heir to the throne marries a Catholic, he can still be King of Australia even if he isn’t King of the United Kingdom” should do it). But it surely doesn’t follow that we should abolish the Monarchy! That’s like someone selling their car because it has a rattle somewhere rather than taking it to get fixed.

And the non-sequitur’s don’t end there either. The writer goes on:

Nor is being a monarchy a certain recipe for constitutional stability. That depends much more on the character of a nation’s people and the quality of their leaders. Nations with better drafted constitutions than ours, both republics and monarchies, have seen governments disintegrate through revolution or the unscrupulous exercise of power.

So? Surely this is an argument for leaving our constitution as it is, and working on improving our “character” and the “quality of our leaders”? To change the constitution when the problem isn’t the constitution is like a bad driver who changes their car in the hope it will make them a better driver.

All this excitement among the Republican camp is due to one fact currently in the news: the people of Australia like Prince William. They wouldn’t mind having him for a king. This is the worst news that they could ever hear. They thought Charles’ woes were playing directly into their agenda, but now the House of Windsor pulls an ace out of its pocket and follows up a wildly popular Queen with a wildly popular second-in-line to the throne.

Poor, poor Republicans. Reminds me of “The Dance of the Cucumber”, only replace Bob the Tomato with George Williams the Republican.

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “A stupid argument for abolishing the Australian Monarchy

  1. Talk about clutching at straws.

    As I said on my blog, I’m not greatly exercised by this issue, but for the fact that I think there are good pragmatic reasons for keeping the present system and I dread to think what damage to our stability might be done by changing it.

    However, there is one area where I think the monarchy is undermining itself in Australia (and possibly in some other developed Commonwealth countries too), and that is in allowing members of the royal family to act as unofficial British trade ambassadors in markets where they are in direct competition with Australia. If anyone out there has any influence in high places, I’d ask the G-G to mention it to the Queen on her next visit to London.

    • Tony Bartel

      Actually, it would be inappropriate for the Governor-General to mention it. In relation to Australia, the Queen acts on the advice of the Australian Prime Minister. It would be his responsibility to mention it.

      However, in relation to Great Britain she acts on the advice of the British Prime Minister, who would almost certainly advise her that the royal family should continue to advance British trade interests, even at the expense of Commonwealth countries. And really, this is fair enough as the British government picks up the tab for maintaining our monarchy.

      To this extent, I think the monarchy is a great asset for Britain. Not so for Australia, as it is not primarily associated with our country.

      So we have a Head of State who promotes the interests of another country ahead of our own. There is a solution to this problem, but not one Herr Schutz would like.

      • Yes, the PM would be more appropriate, I agree, Tony.

        Incidentally, a joint committee of the British parliament has just (19.1.10) issued a report stating that the Act of Settlement that forbids the Monarch from marrying a Roman Catholic is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. I think if Labour were to be re-elected in the upcoming elections (admittedly a slim possibility, it would seem), we might expect reforms to be promulgated in this area, which would be interesting (to monarchists, anyway).

  2. Peregrinus

    Couple of points:

    1. There isn’t a separate Australian monarchy. As the Australian constitution explicitly states, Australia is “one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland”. Whoever succeeds to the UK throne under UK law will, under the Australian Constitution, be the monarch in Australian.

    2. “Queen of Australia’ is (since 1953) a “style and title” conferred upon the monarch by an Act of the Federal Parliament “for use in relation to the Commonwealth of Australia and its territories”. There is no constitutional necessity for this title.

    3. Whether or not the Queen has, or uses, this title, she is monarch in Australia by virtue of being Queen of the UK.

    4. Hypothetically, were Prince William to marry a Catholic and forfeit his claim to the UK throne, and were the Australian Parliament, following the death of his grandmother and his father, to pass an Act giving him the title of “King of Australia”, that would allow him to call himself the King of Australia. It would not, however, make him monarch in Australia; under the Constitution, whoever sits on the UK throne is monarch in Australia, and the G-G would be the representative of that person, and not of King William of Australia.

    5. To displace this, a constitutional amendment would be required, providing for an Australian monarch established by and depending on Australian law, and with its own rules of succession, etc.

    6. That would be the abolition of the existing monarchy in Australia, and the creation of an entirely new one.

    7. Were a new Australian monarchy to be created in such circumstances there is no obvious reason, despite his many charms, why Prince William should be invited to occupy it. (Nor, quite possibly, would he be willing.) To be honest, were the existing monarchy to be abolished in these or any other circumstances, it’s very unlikely that any new one would be created to replace it. (Not even on the Schütz model, I’m afraid!)

    But all this is moot. The issue really comes down to, can Australians stomach a monarchy which embodies such invidious discrimination? The answer, so far, is “yes, they can”. And, the pleas of George Wilson notwithstanding, I don’t see that changing any time soon. Of the various issues about the monarchy that concern Australians, I think this one comes fairly low down on most people’s lists.

    The quote you are wondering about, incidentally, is from Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, in an interview at the time of the present Queen’s golden jubilee in 2002.

    As for changing the law, successive British governments have considered and rejected or deferred the idea. Under the terms of the Statute of Westminster, any change to the succession requires the consent of the parliaments of all the Commonwealth realms in which the UK monarch is head of state, which is quite a few. Many of them would be annoyed to have to spend parliamentary time on such a matter; they have their own, more pressing, parliamentary agendas. And there is a fear that not a few Commonwealth parliaments would, if required to confront the issue, consider making a more radical change so as to ensure that they did not have to deal with such matters in the future. UK governments generally consider the crown’s links to other countries to be advantageous to Britain, and do not wish to jeopardise them.

    • Well. That sums that up very nicely, thank you Perry. I guess we will do the usual Australian thing and worry about it when it becomes a problem then?

      Thanks for the source of the quote, by the way. I wonder why it wasn’t acknowledged?

      Was Murphy O’Connor right though? Knowing what I do about interfaith and interchurch marriages, I think there would be a problem with the future King of England marrying anyone but a baptised and confirmed Anglican. Not a legal problem, more of a religious a problem, at least as long as the Church of England is the established Church.

      • Peregrinus

        Well. That sums that up very nicely, thank you Perry. I guess we will do the usual Australian thing and worry about it when it becomes a problem then?

        If then!

        I don’t think this particular law is defensible. On the other hand, if I were drawing up a list of the Top Fifty Public Policy Issues that Australia Needs to Tackle, I don’t think this would be on it.

        Thanks for the source of the quote, by the way. I wonder why it wasn’t acknowledged?

        Was Murphy O’Connor right though?

        Yes. He correctly states the law. Though he was inclined to object to it more as an invidious restriction on those in line for the throne rather than as discrimination against Catholics.

        Knowing what I do about interfaith and interchurch marriages, I think there would be a problem with the future King of England marrying anyone but a baptised and confirmed Anglican. Not a legal problem, more of a religious a problem, at least as long as the Church of England is the established Church.

        Um. The present Queen, when heiress presumptive, married a baptised and confirmed Orthodox Christian. He conformed to Anglicanism shortly before the wedding, but it has been reported that he has since reverted to Orthodoxy, and there hasn’t been much public fuss about that. King Edward VII married a Lutheran, as did his mother Victoria. No fuss in either of those cases. William IV, George IV. George III and George II all married Lutherans. George I was born and raised a Lutheran, and married one. In fact, since the Act of Settlement, only George V and George VI (and of course Prince Charles) have married Anglicans.

        And yet, if William were to wish to marry a Catholic, I think this would still be an issue (and, for some, not just a legal issue).

        • Peregrinus

          Worth adding, though, that at least part of the reason why the Great Australian Public is unbothered by this law, indefensible though it is – part of the reason why [i]I[/i] am comparatively unbothered by it – is precisely because of the practical irrelevance of the monarchical institution. Nobody cares that Wales cannot marry a Catholic without renouncing his right to the throne because, basically, nobody cares about Wales, or cares whether he ever becomes king. This indifference isn’t something that monarchists should be deriving any comfort from.

          • Kiran

            Au contraire, it is something I derive a lot of comfort from. Because strong feelings change constitutions.

    • Tony Bartel

      My understanding of legislative interpretation is that the preamble does not form part of the Act, or in this case, a part of the Constitution.

      The phrase about being under the crown of the United Kingdom is apart of the preamble, and so not a binding part of the Constitution.

      It is also my understanding that since the Balfour Declaration (not the one about Palestine) and the Statute of Westminster, the Crown is constituted separately in each dominion (know country) that retains the monarch.

      The preamble to the Statute of Westminster says that to change the law of succession it would be necessary for each of the dominions to pass the legislation. The British Parliament could not do it on its own. Of course, as this is in the preamble, it is not legally binding, but does reflect an assumed constitutional convention.

      Ultimately, if the Australian parliament changed the laws of succession, it would probably lead to an appeal to the High Court. And who knows what their decision would be?

      It would probably be far preferable to change the laws of succession by a constitutional amendment. But they are notoriously difficult to pass.

  3. Paul

    I’m firmly in the “who cares” camp. I don’t support a hereditary monarchy, because hereditary anything seems silly to me. For example, what happens if the inheritor of the crown is severely mentally disabled? It doesn’t bear thinking about what may have happend in the past to prevent this happening.

    On the other hand, I think most people can’t be bothered to make any change unless it is forced on them. Traditionally, monarchies are overthrown by wars or revolutions, and the monarchs are shot or beheaded. If no war or revolution has happened (eg in most European countries: Spain, Holland, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark etc) the countries remain monarchies. I lived in Belgium for a while and never heard much about the King, except at election time when he had to choose a “formateur” to try to cobble together a coalition government in their weird political system.

    The only countries I know have become republics without a war are India and the African ex-colonies, but there were probably other reasons operating there.

    My disclaimer is that I don’t know much history. eg I’ve always wondered if William of Orange is the same William van Oranje that they talk about in Holland and Belgium.

  4. Matthias

    Paul ,William of Orange was the elected Stadtholder of the netherlands and with the Glorious Revolution became King of Great Britain along with his wife MaryII.His ancestor was William the Silent (of orange) who led the Dutch against the Spanish.Interesting that although William was a hereditary Prince of Orange as was his father -William II and grandfather( i think the one above) they were elected to the office of Stadtholder.
    If you go over to Cranmer’s blog you will see a comment about a UK parliamentary commitee that is saying that the Act of Settlement is wrong. It could mean that the next monarch may no longer be Supreme Governor of the CofE-that’s if there is much of it left.

    • Paul

      Thank you very much Matthias. I’ll follow up what you said.
      Another related idea (I hope this doesn’t sound insulting to Jewish people)…..

      My understanding is that the British Prime Minister appoints the Archbishop of Canterbury. About 30 years ago, a Jewish Labour politician was being talked about as a potential leader, and I would have liked him to win, if only to see him appoint the Bishop. I’m sure he would have made a fine choice, but somehow it would have shown the oddities in the system of an established church. I think there are many Anglicans who would be happy to disentangle themselves from politics.