It’s often said that the Crown is at the heart of our constitution and monarchists wear t-shirts which proclaim “Keep the Crown”. However, what does that actually mean?
Most people would equate the Crown with the jewelled headpiece worn by monarchs and would know little or even nothing about what is termed the constitutional or legal Crown.
In a legal sense, the Crown is the legal embodiment of executive, legislative, and judicial governance in the country. In other words, our laws and our judicial officers, our parliamentary system, our defence and security services, all property owned by the state plus much more is vested in the Crown which itself is vested in the sovereign who is termed the living embodiment of the Crown and, as such, the personification of the state.
Because our constitution has been established ‘under the Crown’, Australia has automatically inherited the myriad of conventions and precedents pertaining to the Crown of the United Kingdom and over time these have been fashioned to suit the conditions peculiar to this country.
The Crown is totally independent of political control. It derives its legitimacy solely from the Australian people and its authority from the Australian constitution.
Accordingly, Australia’s entire system of governance derives its legitimacy from the Crown which is represented by the sovereign.
Our sovereign is, of course, Queen Elizabeth II. The previous sovereign was George VI and the future sovereign will be Charles III (or George VII if he takes that name). The sovereignty, whoever is king or queen, is an uninterrupted line which stretches back for many centuries, hence, the King is dead long live the King. The moment the Queen’s father died, she became Queen. This is a part of our system which ensures continuity and stability. There is no election and no hiatus. Governance under the Crown continues on without interruption. This is an important facet of our system of constitutional monarchy.
However, many Australians who recognise the benefits of our system of constitutional monarchy, are concerned, even repelled, by the fact that the monarchy is hereditary and is not elected. It seems to go against an ingrained sense of ‘tall-poppy syndrome’. However, having a monarch who is not elected is essential to our particular system of governance because it means that the monarch is above party-politics. Not being elected, the monarch owes no favours to any supporters or financiers because there is no election to be backed. The monarch does not need to debase himself or herself to gain votes and can perform his or her duties in an absolutely independent fashion without fear or favour solely in the interests of the people.
As the physical embodiment of the Crown, the Queen is both an individual human being as well as a legal and constitutional entity. In Australia the Queen is Queen of Australia by right of the Australian constitution and by act of the Australian Parliament. She takes formal advice only from her Australian ministers. Once appointed the Governor-General, as her representative, assumes the role of the monarch in the country and becomes what one may term the executive head of state. Our constitution does not mention the term ‘head of state’ because that definition applies more to presidents of a republic than to our system where we have a sovereign acting through a Governor-General, with a prime minister who is head of the government.
The Governor-General, acting on behalf of the Queen, ensures that the system of governance runs smoothly and that the constitution is abided by. He or she also performs ceremonial and community duties. The Governor-General often questions bills put to him or her for Royal Assent (approval) and will not give Assent until satisfied. These matters are never reported on and meetings with ministers are always behind closed doors otherwise the media would have a field day sensationalising and building up confidential discussions into constitutional crises.
The Prime Minister runs the government. He or she is the most actively powerful and influential person in the country. It is the Prime Minister who makes decisions and it is the Governor-General who ensures that those decisions are constitutional.
In this regard the difference between a constitutional monarchy and a republic is that under a republic there is no Crown only the state which is an undefined entity created by and controlled by the Parliament.
Many people consider that since the people elect the Parliament, why should not Parliament have full control over the constitution and the governance of the nation.
However, the Parliament is not comprised of individuals representing electorates, but predominantly of groupings within political parties. Each political party has an agenda, or platform, the basics of which are declared to electors, but which may be amended or changed entirely dependent on those who control the party. Once elected, the voter has no further legal say. The elected member is free to make his or her own decision on any bill that comes before the Parliament, mostly voting in accordance with instructions issued by the political party to which he or she belongs.
Political parties are susceptible to being influenced by major donors and ministers themselves are often available to business representatives on the basis that they purchase hugely expensive places at party fundraising functions.
Not being engaged in party-politics and not looking at an election down the track, no one can buy favours from the sovereign or her representative, the Governor-General, whose sole purpose is to ensure stability and continuity.
Bill Shorten; the Labor Opposition minister, is a Republican. He has promised to remove the Crown from the Australian constitution. Once the Crown is removed then so is the stability and the continuity it provides, removed.
A republican constitution will be based on the state which is controlled by politicians, themselves controlled by their political parties which in turn are influenced by big-business and influential backers.
It is because the Australian constitution is based on the Crown that Australia has had unparalleled political and economic stability for over a hundred years. The aberrations to our governance are the result of gross mismanagement by our political leaders thirsting after the popular vote rather than administering the nation in accordance with their mandate.
We have seen, in Australia, the continuous removal of Prime Ministers as politicians seek a winning remedy to remain in power. We have seen a lack of control and organisation often resulting in a state of chaos. However, the only constant factor throughout the political situation is the Crown as represented in Australia by the Governor-General.
If the Crown is removed, we could well see chaos pervading our constitution as well.