Royalty protects us from tyranny

Thursday
06:14:43 AM
May
22 2008

Royalty protects us from tyranny

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David Barnett - Did Kevin Rudd really need to make his discourtesy call on the Queen to tell her, in person, who it was that he wanted to be the next Governor-General of Australia? And if he felt it necessary, did he need to canvass publicly the republican issue on his way to Windsor Castle? And having done so, did he need to make a petty point by refraining from the customary formal bow? How fearless of him. Perhaps that was why during his round the world odyssey he didn't drop in on Japan, where they bow all the time. But since he has decided to ignore the resounding decision of the Australian people in 1999 that we should stick with a constitutional monarchy, and to tell us he would be moving in about a year to break our formal ties with Britain, one might reflect on the role of monarchies in general and on ours in particular in the 21st century. And yes, the monarchy is a ridiculous institution. A hereditary government made sense once, when the countries that were to develop into nation-states formed around great warriors, and nation-states are far from ridiculous. They are where people want to live: countries where the language, the system of writing, religion and culture are shared. The First World War finished off the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Cold War broke up the Soviet Empire 20 years ago. The saga of the Olympic torch is not about human rights, but national identity. They want to be Tibetans, not Chinese. Monarchs could hold together disparate countries because they were held to derive their authority from God. It was an uneasy arrangement that began to erode in 1215 with Magna Carta when King John agreed that the law should prevail over the will of the sovereign. The absolute primacy of the people was determined in 1701 by the Act of Settlement when Parliament set terms for the monarchy. So today nobody believes the Queen derives her authority from God, and nobody pretends that she does. So from where does Elizabeth Windsor derive her right to be Queen? From nowhere divine, or even genealogical. Our Royals are not terribly clever. They ride horses well, and preside at functions with great aplomb. They are colourful, and brave on those occasions when they are allowed to be. Put in those terms, the case for seeing off the Windsors and moving on is overwhelming, surely. No. It surely is not, and those points about how ridiculous a hereditary head of state is are not arguments about ending it, but for keeping what we have got. For the Queen, who must be addressed as Ma'am, whose private scraps of chit-chat must remain private, who must initiate conversations if they are to happen, exists to keep out the tyrant. She reigns, but does not rule, because parliament allows her to, that is to say with the consent of the people. While she or her heirs and successors are there, there is no space waiting to be occupied by a populist, dangerous demagogue. There is no room for Adolf Hitler or the Ayatollah Khomeini. You cannot get elected, and then hang on by hook and by crook, which is the great risk with the American presidential system, where the head of state is elected separately from a parliament, and has his own power base on which to build his ambitions. If you are looking for political stability, for human rights, for the rule of law, for the maximisation of human happiness, you find it in western and northern Europe where kings and queens survive, or down in our corner of the globe. You find it in Japan, where they were allowed after the Second World War to keep their Emperor, by American occupiers who were able to see that if the allies had not deposed the Kaiser after the First World War there would have been no Second World War. But shouldn't we in Australia have our own Australian head of state? Yes, of course we should, if that is what we want, and of course we do. He (or with the appointment of Quentin Bryce she) is called the Governor-General, and is appointed by the Queen, acting on the advice of the Australian government of the day, which means the GG has no independent political power. He is there, for our political convenience, with the consent of Parliament. If the Brits have politically neutered their monarch, so have we. Our Queen is our constitutional device for ensuring that our head of state, the GG, cannot supplant a government made in the Parliament and headed by a prime minister. Without the Queen, how would we choose our head of state? Elect him, either at large or by a parliamentary vote, and we sail into perilous seas. The GG will immediately have political power at the expense of prime minister and Parliament. Appoint the prime minister's predecessor? Find me a prime minister who thinks that would be a good idea. Kevin Rudd's behaviour when he went to see the Queen was uncouth. Showing due respect is an important part of the whole charade of royalty, for to make constitutional monarchy work, we all have to pretend that the royal person is truly special. But what is truly unforgivable in setting out to overthrow the 1999 referendum is Rudd's failure to grasp the complexities and risks involved in rejecting the decision of the Australian people. He is placing symbolism above common sense, regardless of the grave implications for our political system, and for our long-term hold on a decent country. Does that mean that he is also, in fact, dumb? (“The Canberra Times”)

Source by La_circolare_spigolosa


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