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Head of State – who needs one?

By John Hargreaves - 21 August 2017 7

Queen Elizabeth II

So the argument at the last referendum around having a republic foundered on how we choose our Head of State.

At the present time our Head of State is the Queen of Australia. She is not elected by anyone, let alone Australians, she can’t vote because she is not actually a citizen, and she doesn’t live here. Indeed, when Parliament is officially opened, her surrogate the GG does the stuff.

Our Constitution has QEII as our Head of State and any notion of a republic has to entertain her departure as our Head of State.

Funny isn’t it that an Australian can’t be Head of State in that Australian’s own country. One can’t have aspirations for one’s grandkids that maybe one of them may be up for the job.

Also, one can’t be the Head of State unless one is the head of the House of Windsor and the Head of the Anglican Church. What happened to the separation of Church and State?

Too bad if you are an Aussie Catholic.

All the monarchists will tell you that our system ain’t broke so don’t mess with it. I reckon not having an Australian as a Head of State is an insult to every Australian in the land. That makes it broke in my book.

The Republicans (of which I count myself in normal times) will urge for an Aussie Head of State.

But why do we need one at all? What do they actually do? We pay heaps for HMQ’s deputy and get what?

The salary level has conventionally been commensurate with that of the Chief Justice of the High Court. The salary of the Chief Justice of the High Court is determined by the Remuneration Tribunal; from 1 July 2013 the base salary is $526,070. The Governor-General’s salary is set to moderately exceed the estimated average salary of the Chief Justice over a notional three-year period. In setting an appropriate salary, consideration is also given to any pension received by incumbents for previous employment.

This is in line with the precedent established by Sir William Deane in 1995, who asked that his salary as Governor-General be set to take into account the non-contributory pension he received under the Judges Pension Act 1968 after retiring from the High Court of Australia. In 2003 Major General Jeffery took the decision to donate his military pension to charity during his term of office as Governor-General. The outgoing Governor-General, Dame Quentin Bryce’s salary was set at $394,000, a lesser amount than the $415,690 received by the then Chief Justice of the High Court.

The incoming Governor-General, General Peter Cosgrove will receive a salary of $425,000. The salary has been set after considering the Commonwealth-funded military pension he already receives. Does anyone believe that Sir Peter has a military pension of only $100,000 a year? Yeah right!

But apart from opening fetes, doors and envelopes, giving state dinners to visiting dignitaries and opening parliament what does the GG (let alone HMQ) actually do for the money. And don’t forget the GG and the PM both live in two public housing properties. The GG in Government House and Admiralty House in Sydney and the PM in the Lodge and Kirribilli.

Well they chair the Executive Council and sign off on all legislation. Once in a blue moon, they sack a democratically elected PM. Get that! An un-democratically appointed representative of a foreign monarch gets the power to sack a democratically elected PM!

And we cough up over $400,000 for the privilege! Hello!!!

The same can be said of State Governors and the Administrator of NT.

But did you know that in the ACT we don’t have our own representative of the English (or Australian) crown looking over our shoulders? We share this dubious honour with the Commonwealth through the GG and through the Self Government Act.

The feds have overridden a piece of ACT law just as they did with the NT. So that oversight is enshrined in Commonwealth law and part of the enabling legislation for both territories. The sad bit for the NT is that they have an Administrator as well.

But apart from that piece of same sex marriage legislation struck down because the feds reckon that marriage is the purview of the feds and not the states, the sky hasn’t fallen in since self-government here.

Visiting Heads of State and other important people (like HMQ last time) are welcomed by the Chief Minister or a ministerial representative, or by the Speaker. The same could happen at the federal level.

The Executive Council is an anachronism as well. In the ACT, legislation once passed by the Assembly becomes law once it is on the Legislation Register. It doesn’t need an autograph from some non-elected patronising demagogue who claims authority from the ruler of a country the size of Victoria and who has not sworn allegiance to the people of Australia. Indeed one who requires some elected officials to swear allegiance to her and her offspring.

We just need a parliament which has real teeth to rein in an over ambitious dilettante, a narcissistic egomaniac and a warmongering opportunist and we’re fine.

The referendum for the republic should just ask one question: do you want one? After that, the details of removing the reference to any Monarch or GG are just “delete clauses (insert here)”.

Once we have done away with the Monarch and the GG, the states should follow suit.

I’m happy to live in the People’s Republic of the ACT and again note the sky hasn’t fallen in. We have had only one majority government since self-government and all the rest were minority (read compromise – and blackmail – ridden) parliaments.

And just to rub it in a bit, we have been scandal free all that time. Shame about the States and NT.

Just sayin’.

What’s Your opinion?


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7 Responses to
Head of State – who needs one?
Mysteryman 10:54 am 23 Aug 17

Holden Caulfield said :

Mysteryman said :

An un-democratically appointed representative…

You seem very stuck on the idea that the GG has power but isn’t elected. Funny though, I don’t recall you complaining this much when another former Labor man Bob Carr was parachuted into a cushy senate seat, and subsequently made Minister for Foreign Affairs, without ever being elected. Were you as outraged by that? Or does the fact he was a Labor politician like yourself make it ok?

Yeah, nah, probably the fact that that’s how the senate works in the event of a vacancy; the party wins the seat, not the individual, as in the reps.

I understand perfectly well how casual vacancies work. But John’s issue seems to be that someone unelected has power – which is exactly what happened with Bob Carr.

Holden Caulfield 9:05 am 22 Aug 17

Mysteryman said :

An un-democratically appointed representative…

You seem very stuck on the idea that the GG has power but isn’t elected. Funny though, I don’t recall you complaining this much when another former Labor man Bob Carr was parachuted into a cushy senate seat, and subsequently made Minister for Foreign Affairs, without ever being elected. Were you as outraged by that? Or does the fact he was a Labor politician like yourself make it ok?

Yeah, nah, probably the fact that that’s how the senate works in the event of a vacancy; the party wins the seat, not the individual, as in the reps.

Blen_Carmichael 5:46 pm 21 Aug 17

Who needs a Head of State, John asks. Well, who needed self-government I should ask, given the proposal was defeated in not one but two plebiscites, but federal Labor foisted it upon us. Now our glorified town council has been expanded to include 25 members – what were you saying about $400K being a waste, John?

>>But apart from that piece of same sex marriage legislation struck down because the feds reckon that marriage is the purview of the feds and not the states…

Reckon? Reckon? Section 51 (xxi) of the Constitution states:

“The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to marriage.”

Express provision is a bit stronger than reckon. And if a state or territory’s laws concerning a Commonwealth head of power clash with a federal one, you only have to refer to section 109 of the Constitution to see whose legislation is negated to the extent of the inconsistency.

Mysteryman 2:56 pm 21 Aug 17

An un-democratically appointed representative…

You seem very stuck on the idea that the GG has power but isn’t elected. Funny though, I don’t recall you complaining this much when another former Labor man Bob Carr was parachuted into a cushy senate seat, and subsequently made Minister for Foreign Affairs, without ever being elected. Were you as outraged by that? Or does the fact he was a Labor politician like yourself make it ok?

Holden Caulfield 10:27 am 21 Aug 17

I’m very much pro-Republican and hadn’t ever thought of dismissing the role of GG altogether.

Presumably, such an approach would require some pretty heavy-handed work on the constitution, which perhaps may be the undoing of an idea worth pursuing.

Good thought piece, though. Thank you.

Philip Howell 9:41 am 21 Aug 17

The republican model which comes closest to abolishing the head of state is the Advancing Democracy proposal at http://www.advancingdemocracy.info. It merges the position of G-G and Speaker while either abolishing Crown powers or transferring them to the House of Representatives.
The result is a head of state whose only role is the impartial management of parliamentary debates.

bikhet 8:50 am 21 Aug 17

What a dog’s breakfast! A curious mix of royalty-bashing, tall-poppy syndrome, republicanism and whinging about the ACT’s relationship with the federal government. JH does, finally, get around to what I think is the real point of the piece – does Australia need someone recognised in the constitution as the head of state?

This is a worthwhile question, even though if we don’t have one de jure we will have one de facto – the head of government.. I don’t have any real opinion on this and would be interested to see the arguments for both sides. The various heads of state of the commonwealth and the states don’t really act as the heads of the executive as in the USA, so that’s wouldn’t be a good argument in favour of one or the other.

As a post script, the claimed lack of scandal in the ACT isn’t due to the lack of a head of state, more the lack of a body with the authority and/or willingness to investigate properly. Bring on an actually independent commission on corruption and see what unfolds.

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