As far as a republic is concerned there is never a better time than now. It is an exciting time with the federal leaders of both major political parties being supporters of an Australian republic, the Greens leader Bob Brown introducing a bill into the Senate that will allow a plebiscite to be held at the next election on support for an Australian republic, and the Governor General announcing earlier this month while on tour in Africa she agrees with Prime Minister Rudd that Australia will become a republic.
Recent public opinion polls and the 2020 Summit show there is a groundswell of support for an Australian republic. Indeed, the majority of the Year 11 and 12 student delegates to the School’s Constitutional Conventions held from Townsville to Brisbane in late February 2009 voted in favour of the creation of an Australian republic. On 18 March 2009, 122 Year 11 and 12 students from across the country came together for the 14th National Schools Constitutional Convention in Canberra to debate the topic A new Constitutional preamble for Australia? This is an important debate for Australia's up and coming generation to engage in as it goes to the heart of how we identify ourselves as Australians.
In February 2009 the Legal, Constitutional and Administrative Review Committee (LCARC), Queensland Parliament called for submissions to assist with the developing of the text of a draft preamble for the Queensland Constitution. The preamble to any Queensland Constitution needs to include a statement on the sovereignty of the people of Queensland.
By letter dated 17 May 2001, the then Premier asked the LCARC of the 50th Parliament to consider Recommendation 7 of the Members’ Ethics and Parliamentary Privileges Committee report No.44, namely:
That the Oath of Allegiance taken by members of the Legislative Assembly be reviewed, within current constitutional arrangements, as part of the consolidation of the Queensland Constitution and that such review take into account the aspirational statements contained in the previous Members’ Ethics and Parliamentary Privileges Committee’s Statement of Commitment.
The members’ Oath of Allegiance was then contained in Section 4 of the Constitution Act 1867 (Qld). In its report on the issue, the committee recommended that the Queensland Constitution should be amended so that members of the Queensland Legislative Assembly should be provided with the option as to whether to swear or affirm allegiance to the Crown, or only to the people of Queensland. During the previous term of the Queensland Parliament, the then Premier announced that the Government would change the legislation requiring Parliamentarians to take an Oath or Affirmation of Allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen, and instead allow Members to elect to swear or affirm their allegiance to the Parliament and People of Queensland. In August 2005 the Constitutional and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2005 was introduced into Parliament by the then Premier which contained amendments in this regard. Similar reforms have been enacted in New South Wales, Western Australian and the ACT.
In November 2004 the LCARC report A Preamble for the Queensland Constitution? recommended against the adoption of a preamble due to “the possible need to modify any preamble if Australia moved to a republican system of government”. On 19 May 2005 the Queensland Government’s response to the report A Preamble for the Queensland Constitution? supported the LCARC recommendation. It appeared the main justification for not adopting a preamble to the Queensland Constitution was the concern over the community debate regarding a republican system of government in Australia and yet in August 2005 the Queensland Government introduced the Constitutional and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2005 that allowed members of parliament the opportunity to swear or affirm allegiance only to the people of Queensland. This Bill was not debated or passed prior to the 2006 State election an as a result the Bill lapsed.
It appears the LCARC is strongly convinced a change to an Australian republican system of government will occur in a relatively short timeframe. The LCARC sense of inevitability is impressive. Referring to the sovereignty of the people of Queensland in a preamble to the Queensland Constitution is in keeping with public sentiment. If the Oath of Allegiance to the Queen is considered such an archaic and outdated procedure that is not in keeping with modern parliamentary practice or with public opinion that the Queensland Government would adopt a position that is grounded in republican sentiment then why would the inclusion of reference to the sovereignty of the Queensland people in a preamble result in the removal of support and development for a preamble?
Amending the Oath of Allegiance to the Queen is in keeping with public sentiment and is an action the Queensland Government is bound to by its promise to alter the legislation requiring an Oath to the Monarch. The current Oath is outdated and has little meaning to the majority of Queenslanders.
Advice from the previous Chief of Staff, Office of the Premier was that a decision about whether to re-introduce the Bill into the House would be made in due course. In early 2008 it was advised that should it be determined that the proposed legislative amendments are supported a Bill would be introduced into Parliament as soon as practical after that time.
It has been over a year now since the Rudd Federal Ministry took an Oath to Australia, its land and its people rather than to Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors. There has been no public outcry or sense of disappointment about the change. It has been overwhelmingly positively received throughout Australia. This constitutes evidence of support for the required Queensland legislative amendments.
One of the first activities for members of the 53rd Queensland Parliament will be swearing an Oath of Allegiance to the Queen. The question is whether Queensland's elected representatives should have an allegiance to the monarch of a foreign country or to the people who elected them. All members of parliament need to support the amendment of the Oath of Allegiance to the Queen through the enactment of legislation to implement the parliamentary committee’s recommendations and the intent of Constitutional and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2005. The Oath of Allegiance to the Queen is an archaic and outdated procedure that is not in keeping with modern parliamentary practice or with public opinion.
What is needed is reform of the Queensland Oath of Allegiance to give members of parliament an additional choice of oath - one that does not include the Queen. Members of the Queensland Parliament will be required to swear or affirm to be "faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty and her heirs and successors according to law". They need to consider adding when swearing or affirming - ”and I will acknowledge the will of the people of Queensland in all deliberations”. This is not an Oath and therefore does not conflict with the constitutional requirements of members of parliament.
With reference to the text of a draft preamble for the Queensland Constitution the Queensland Government needs to lead by example and implement a preamble that begins with “We, the People of Queensland“ and includes a statement on the “sovereignty of the people of Queensland”.
Three cheers to the coming republic!