Article Index

Governor-General and Governors Without a Sovereign 

While accepting the considerable, indeed central role of the Crown in our history and our constitutional system, it is sometimes argued that we could retain all the benefits of the Crown while dispensing with the Sovereign.   Many, if not most of the forms of republics proposed at the 1998 Constitutional Convention and since then purport to do this. This is particularly true of the minimalist models which may even go so far as to retaining the name of Governor-General. One model proposes that the role of appointing and dismissing the viceroys be the responsibility of a council of eminent persons, acting on political advice, instead of the Sovereign. 

The proposition that the Crown could effectively be retained without keeping the Sovereign is completely fallacious. This is not merely because we would lose the impeccable standards set by Queen Elizabeth II, however fortunate we have been to know these during her reign, which, incidentally, has extended over more than one half of the life of our Commonwealth.

Her Majesty’s dedication, her personal standards and her sense of judgement are celebrated, and rightly so. Indeed, a viceroy in a quandary as to what behaviour would be appropriate could do no better than ask himself or herself:

“What would The Queen do in a case like this?”

The fundamental, unavoidable and insoluble problem for such republican models is that without The Queen, there can be no Crown. And not only would the offices of the viceroys who are above politics disappear, so would the fountain of honour, including the ceremonial role of the viceroy who is, and is seen to be, above politics, so would the fountain of justice with Her Majesty’s and not some politician’s judges, so would The Queen-in Parliament and  the Crown as the auditing executive, so would the Crown as the employer of the public service, rather than the governing party, and so would the Crown as the Commander in Chief - in sum, the whole vast institution which is above politics and which has been with us from the beginning would vanish. This institution, which has been with us since the settlement in 1788, under which we received self government under the Westminster system, under which we federated and under which we became independent ,  would disappear forever.  And there would be no vacuum. All of this, in every aspect, would fall to the political class.

Perceptive observers who understand this hav attempted to construct some sort of faux Crown not so much to fill the void, but to protect it from the political class. This has revolved around some collective entity.  But the two principal models proposed  in Australia and Canada could not function as the Crown. Neither the vice regal appointments council of the eminent, consisting of gender balanced selected former viceroys and chief justices, as has been suggested in Australia, nor a college consisting of the 150 Companions of the Order of Canada, as suggested for that Realm, could possibly replace the Crown.  Either would perform the functions of appointing or electing the president, and removing him - and there is no guarantee they would do either well. But they would not replace the Crown. The proponents do not, for example propose, that the army should owe allegiance to the council or to the college, or that Her Majesty’s judges should become their rotating eminences’ judges, or the judges of the college of companions.

These proposals recall that of the Abbé Sieyès who wished to create a “grand elector” in the French 1799 constitution for the Consulate. This was designed to replace the   monarch he had helped first make constitutional, and later shamefully despatched to the guillotine. As Walter Bagehot observed, it was “absurd… to propose that a new institution, inheriting no reverence, and made holy by no religion, could be created to fill the sort of post occupied by a constitutional king in nations of monarchical history.”   So in an Australian republic, the new republican office of the president, whether or not appointed by a council of the eminent, and whether or not elected, could never replace the Crown as an equally  vast institution above politics. Indeed this is not even suggested. Instead the proponents choose to ignore the issue.

The question therefore has to be asked of all these proposals to graft a minimalist republic onto our constitutional system, where would all of the powers, and protections of the Crown - apart from the appointment and dismissal of the viceroys, fall?  Into whose lap? The answer is of course, the politicians’ lap, the same politicians who are already concentrated in the closely linked and controlled executive and legislative arms of government. In the American republic, the politician in the executive and the politicians in the legislature are at least quarantined and isolated  one from the other, the founders believing ,rightly, that the resulting adversarial relationship, however rigid,  would act as a check and balance against the abuse of authority. They were aware of truth of Lord Acton’s dictum before he enunciated it: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  

As Canadian Professor David E Smith notes, in a minimalist republic a powerful executive would become that much more powerful.   And that was written before he  had the opportunity to examine the specific terms of the model presented to the Australian people in 1999. This was famously criticised as offering the only known republic where it would be easier for the prime minister to dismiss the president than his cook. 

The alternative model, that of filling these offices by election, would merely turn the incumbents into politicians.

The consequence of the vice regal offices being cast adrift would not  be that they would be endowed with an alter ego, becoming separate  Crowns themselves . They would not have -and could not have - two bodies. We, and the judges, the armed forces and the public servants, would and could owe them no allegiance. They would become republican sinecures to be filled either by servants of the politicians or by even more politicians.  In their ceremonial and other roles  the public would know that they were either politicians or servants of politicians, and treat them accordingly.

Proudly Supported by Australians for Constitutional Monarchy
Web Development by J.K Managed Solutions