Saturday, January 26, 2019

No 'captain's picks' in an Australian republic

Thankfully, there will be no Imperial knighthoods awarded this Australia Day. On Australia Day 2015, the then Prime Minister Abbott made his “captain’s pick” and appointed Prince Philip a Knight of Australia. The public exploded and the Australian Republic Movement’s webservers melted down. Prime Minister Morrison has now chosen the next Governor-General without any consultation. The captain’s picks continue.

Captain's pick, our next Governor-General, David Hurley
IN JUNE 2018, the Australian Republic Movement called on Prime Minister Turnbull to give Australians a say in the appointment of the next Governor-General, rather than it being a “captain’s call”. In August 2018, the A.R.M. appealed to Prime Minister Turnbull’s successor, Prime Minister Morrison, to immediately rule out a captain’s call on the next Governor-General.

Australians currently rely entirely on the Prime Minister’s judgement in the appointment of Governors-General. When Governor-General Peter Cosgrove’s five-year term ends on 28 March 2019, Prime Minister Morrison can simply advise the Queen who he wants to take the role.

This is just what he did on 16 December 2018 when Prime Minister Morrison announced after he had received permission from the British monarch, that retired General and former Chief of Defence Force and current NSW Governor, David Hurley, would be Australia’s 27th Governor-General.

Hurley was the Prime Minister’s sole pick for Governor-General. This means three of the past four Governors-General have been men who are retired Generals.

The Hurley appointment comes despite Labor having urged the Federal Government to extend Peter Cosgrove’s tenure, so whichever political party holds power after the next Federal Election can then make the decision on filling the role. Instead, Prime Minister Morrison announced Governor-General Cosgrove will stay on until 28 June 2019, when Governor Hurley will officially take over. This is to enable both men to retain their current positions for the duration of the March 2019 NSW State Election and the Federal Election expected in May 2019.

When Peter Cosgrove became Governor-General on 28 March 2014, he automatically became a Knight of the Order of Australia by virtue of his appointment. Australian historian James Curran wrote in the Canberra Times, 31 March 2014, that:

In the symbolic landscape of Australian civic culture, Tony Abbott’s restoration last week of Australian knights and dames perhaps stands as one of the most pompous, pretentious, nostalgic and self-indulgent prime ministerial decisions in a generation.’
The Order of Australia is an order of chivalry established on 14 February 1975 by Queen Elizabeth II, to recognise Australian citizens and other persons for achievement or meritorious service. Before the establishment of the order, Australian citizens received British honours. In the Australian honours system, appointments to the Order of Australia confer recognition for outstanding achievement and service. The Governor-General is Principal Companion/Dame/Knight (as relevant at the time).
The last AKs awarded were on Australia Day 2015 to Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston (retd) and His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. The reaction at the time from Australians on all sides of politics showed that Imperial honours are divisive and out of touch with a modern, multicultural, egalitarian Australia. Our identity is Australian, not colonial anymore. The re-establishment of the Imperial honours was done quickly and without consultation by Prime Minister Abbott with his Federal front bench, let alone the first two recipients. Imperial honours are divisive and are out of touch with modern, multicultural, egalitarian Australia.

Fortunately, the next Governor-General will not automatically become a “sir”.
In December 2013, Prime Minister Abbott, who had been the former director of Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy, had ruled out restoring the British tradition of knighthoods and dameships. Within three months, he had done a complete about-face and reintroduced an outdated and unwanted style of honour to Australia. The honour was to be known as a knight or dame in the Order of Australia and would be the nation's highest award.

At the time, the Prime Minister said he believed this was:

“... an important grace note in our national life.”

On 19 March 2014, on the Prime Minister’s recommendation, Her Majesty The Queen approved amendments to the Letters Patent for the Order of Australia to reinstate appointment of knights and dames of the Order of Australia.

On 27 March 2014, when Prime Minister Abbott introduced the archaic British aristocratic titles above the Australian national honours system, Australians flooded the Australian Republic Movement with such overwhelming numbers the Australian Republic Movement server was on the verge of crashing.

David Morris, National Director of the Australian Republic Movement, stated at the time:

Since Mr Abbott’s announcement about ‘knights and dames’, our annualised membership growth rate has spiked to about 5,000 per cent. Many are re-joining, having previously been members. Many are people who say they voted for Mr Abbott’s Government but are dismayed by his personal decision, apparently made only in consultation with the Queen.

Under the new system, the retiring Governor-General Quentin Bryce became the first dame and her successor, Peter Cosgrove, the first knight when he was sworn in as Governor-General on Friday 28 March 2014. Also appointed at the same time was Governor of New South Wales, Marie Bashir.

Abbott’s new system allowed the Queen to bestow up to four knights or dames per year on the recommendation of the prime minister to recognise extraordinary and pre-eminent Australians for their service to Australia or humanity.

It was Prime Minister Gough Whitlam who axed knighthoods in 1975, only to watch Malcolm Fraser reinstate knights and dames a year later.

Then, in 1986, Prime Minister Bob Hawke abolished the category all over again. John Howard is understood to have rejected the idea of reinstating knights and dames on the grounds the endless chopping and changing was undermining the dignity of the honour.

On Australia Day 2015, Prime Minister Tony Abbott's 2014 decision to restore imperial knighthoods became even more bizarre when he used the Australia Day Honours List to award the second and third AKs in the restored Knight of the Order of Australia division to His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston (retd). One was the Chair of the Council for the Order of Australia and the other… well, the husband of the British monarch.

Grandfather Royal, Prince Philip, received his AK for his contribution to Australia throughout the Queen's 62-year reign and it was his due to his long life of service and dedication Prime Minister Abbott “picked” him to be honoured by Australia. Special mention was also made of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards in Australia, which he said had positively influenced the lives of hundreds of thousands of young Australians.

In the lead-up to Australia Day 2015, there had been no media about the awarding again of any Australian Imperial honours. The Australian of the Year awards had been well publicised, but not the possible “knights and dames” appointments.

The reaction from the Australian people was largely satirical and fundamentally bemused.

As a palace spokeswoman said at the time:

Knights and dames in the Order of Australia are approved by the Queen on recommendation of the prime minister. We wouldn't comment further on the process.”

On 2 November 2015, two months after coming into office, the first significant policy change for the new Turnbull Government was to call it a knight on titles when he announced that the Queen had approved his request to amend the Order's letters patent and cease awards at this level. This was after Cabinet had, at his suggestion, agreed that the titles were no longer appropriate in the modern awards system. The formal removal by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of one of Tony Abbott’s most unpopular captain’s picks resolved a national embarrassment.

The 2014 announcement by then Prime Minister Tony Abbott of a return of knighthoods for Australians echoed of a bunyip aristocracy continuing to chip away at modern Australia. Monarchist teacup warriors seemed to be again recycling Australia back to a past that no longer reflected twenty-first century Australia.

Abbott did a great thing when he reminded Australians what elitism really looks like and succeeded in highlighting that the concepts of both a royal family and royal honours are elitist nonsense, which jars with life in Australia.

So this Australia Day, before you tuck into your lamb chops (or vegetarian sausages), please take a moment to consider if our identity today is Australian and our national honours are thoroughly Australian, then surely it’s time to make the case for Australia to have a head of state that is one of our own. Not someone from the other side of the world.

Fortunately, we can all sing:
Australians all let us rejoice
For we are young and free
We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil
Our land is not girt by “sirs”

It’s all just so ridiculous.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Australian republic leadership elected for coming battle

As Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex were putting the final touches on their successful Australian tour, the republic movement last week voted in the leadership team it hopes will sever Australia’s constitutional ties to the British monarchy.

Peter FitzSimons, a prominent media figure whose signature headscarf serves as a red rag to his critics, was elected to a further two years as chairman of the Australian Republic Movement, with mental health advocate and former Australian of the Year Patrick McGorry joining the group’s ­national committee.

The last referendum on a ­republic, held in 1999, was soundly defeated after republicans could not agree on whether an Australian head of state should be appointed by the parliament or ­directly elected by the people.

Matt Thistle­thwaite, a Labor MP who would be the minister ­responsible for a republic under a Shorten government, said the growing support for a republic suggested Australians were able to separate their fondness for the British royals from our constitutional arrangements.

“If we become a republic, the relationship between the average Australian and the royal family will not change one bit,’’ he said. “They will still come to Australia regularly, they will still be welcomed here and they will still ­appear on the front cover of our gossip magazines and newspapers when they get married and have kids.’’

Newspoll surveys show that since April 2011, the month William and Kate were married, support for a republic has grown from a low ebb of 41 per cent to 50 per cent.

Labor supports a two-staged vote on a republic, with a non-binding vote on the threshold question in a first term of government, followed by a referendum to decide a republican model.

The elevation of the republic to an election issue, albeit a second-order one for most voters, is a triumph for the ARM, which under FitzSimons has rebuilt its membership base and finances, and ­quietly campaigned to put the ­republic back on the political agenda.

In last week’s elections, Fitz­Simons received about 75 per cent of the vote of ARM members. “I think we need more Peters rather than one fewer,’’ ARM national ­director Michael Cooney said. 


Monday, October 01, 2018

Time to replace Queen’s Birthday with our own Citizen’s Day public holiday

On the fourth Queen's birthday holiday this year, it’s time we replaced this outdated occasion with a day that celebrates Australian achievement.
Queen Elizabeth II turned 92 on Saturday, 21 April 2018. I’ve asked before, when will she be allowed to put up her feet? 

Most 92 year olds are long retired, but not that trouper the Queen. My grandmother will be 93 later this year. She's a hardy soul but there's no way she would be up to the frantic pace needed to be a world leader. Even though retirement plans for many people keep going further and further beyond 60, Queen Elizabeth II has still well and truly exceeded this.

I’ve written before that it has always seemed absurd that Australians acknowledge the birthday of Queen Elizabeth II at a completely different time to her actual birthday. Around Australia, the Queen's Birthday public holiday is held on the second Monday in June — except in WA and Queensland. WA had their Queen’s Birthday holiday on Monday, 24 September 2018, and in Queensland on Monday, 1 October 2018.

Earlier this year, I wrote on how Queensland had become a little less "Queenie" with the move of the Queen’s Birthday holiday from the second Monday in June to the first Monday in October in 2016, as no one seems to have noticed the move.

But what actually happens on this day?


While the date of the Queen’s Birthday public holiday has changed repeatedly in Queensland in recent years, a bolder reform would have been to change the holiday completely.

Michael Cooney, Australian Republic Movement National Director, said recently

 Australia should replace royal birthdays with a public holiday of our own … a new ‘Citizens Day’ holiday in September to strengthen Australian citizenship. This could build on existing activities for the anniversary of the Australian Citizenship Act in September 1948. What better way is there to celebrate the best in our country than with a new Citizens Day public holiday? A new day, dedicated to democracy, freedom and the law would be a modern, unifying Australian institution.”

The difference between citizen and subject has often been glibly said to be that a citizen has rights whereas a subject has privileges. A subject owes their allegiance to a sovereign and is governed by that sovereign’s laws whereas a citizen owes allegiance to the community and is entitled to enjoy all its civil rights and protections. The difference between citizen and subject lies in where an individual places their allegiance: subjects (to a sovereign) and citizens (to a state; to a republic).

On 26 January 1949, the legal concept of Australian citizenship was created with the enactment of the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948. Before then, at common law, to be a British subject, one simply had to be born in any territory under the sovereignty of the British Crown. From 1949 onwards, every person who was a British subject by virtue of a connection with the United Kingdom or one of her Crown colonies became a British citizen. However, citizens of other Commonwealth countries retained the status of British subject and were known by the term Commonwealth citizen.

From 1949 to 1982, a person born in England would have been a British subject and a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, while someone born in Australia would have been a British subject and a citizen of Australia. During this time Australian passports had on the front ‘BRITISH SUBJECT Australian Citizen’.

The status of British subject was retained in Australian law until Part II of the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948 was removed by the Australian Citizenship Amendment Act 1984 which came into force on 1 May 1987. Australia severed its final legal ties to Britain by enacting the Australia Acts of 1986. However, it must be said, we have yet to sever our final symbolic ties to Britain as represented by our head of state being the British monarch.

Bolstering of Australia’s citizenship program in the 1990’s occurred first with the Australian Citizenship Amendment Act 1993which incorporated a preamble into the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948 to recognize that citizenship is a common bond of rights and responsibilities for all Australians, and replaced the oath of allegiance with a Pledge of Commitment, and the Australian Citizenship Act 2007.

The final stage in the process of becoming an Australian citizen is making the Australian Citizenship Pledge. It usually happens at a ceremony when new Australian citizens make a public pledge of their commitment to Australia. All new citizens have the choice of making the pledge with or without the words 'under God'.

From this time forward, under God
I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people,
Whose democratic beliefs I share,
whose rights and liberties I respect, and
whose laws I uphold and obey.

You’d think one birthday would be enough for the Queen. Australians who are out there making a difference in their communities every day don’t even get one day in their honour — let alone four!

Surely, this must be the most irrelevant and outdated of public holidays. The Queen’s Birthday holidays don’t remind us of anything good about our country. At worst, they tell us Australia’s head of state gets the job by inheritance and that Australians are subject to a foreign crown – the opposite of democracy and liberty.

Monarchist's can prattle on endlessly about how retaining the monarchy brings stabilty and is cheaper than having a home grown head of state and the like. But when you boil it all down, you can't escape the fact there's something a little unnatural about a grown child of, shall we say, 230 years, still electing to live in mummy's back bedroom.

Deciding to pack our bags and finally leave our Buckingham Palace nursery room isn't being rude to the Queen. It's just the natural order of things, and she's reportedly acknowledged as much to past prime ministers. How many more Ashes tours must we endure with the Barmy Army taunting us with their song God Save Your Queen? Time to cut the apron strings, assert our independence, and let one of our own people serve as head of state. 

Citizenship is for all Australians.

It is a commitment of loyalty to Australia and its people and their shared democratic beliefs, laws and rights.

It is a bond uniting our culturally diverse society.

Australia today, is one of the world’s great nations, with a bright future that must be 100 per cent in the hands of the Australian people. We are ready to move on from our colonial past and become a fully independent nation with fully Australian national institutions, including our own Head of State.

It’s time we established a Citizens Day public holiday.