Monday, November 12, 2007

Keneally attempts to revive interest in the Republic

As if it were not enough for me to lock swords with authors who write about the "Republic of Heaven", Thomas Keneally (Australian Irish author and amateur pope) has decided it is time to revive interest in that old furphy, the Australian Republic in today's edition of The Age.

Seems as if he is still under the illusion that we Aussies are "subjects of Britain", just because Britian and Australia happen to have the same monarch. Although he complains that "at embassies Canberra, foreign diplomats quite correctly toast the Queen of Australia", he seems to interpret those toasts as toasting the Queen of Great Britain. Our allegiance is to the former, not to the latter. So we are subjects of the monarch of Australia, not of Great Britain. There is an important distinction here, methinks. Being subject to the Monarch of Australia is hardly being "subjects of Britain".

I don't think I am being pedantic here. There is simply nothing in our law that in any sense indicates that we are subject to the nation of Britain.

He pontificates that "the very last of the avowed Queen's men, John Winston Howard, will soon be passing from power by electoral defeat or party handover." I am sure that Kevin and Peter will hope that Keneally is right, but surely this is a somewhat premature declaration?

More than that, although he concedes that neither Peter Costello nor Kevin Rudd is likely to agree to bringing the option of a directly elected president to a referendum, he remains hopeful that this model will succeed. True to his Irish nature (what IS it about the Irish? -- I put that in for you, Peregrinus!), he not only wishes to be free of the authority of the Monarch, but he also wants to be free of the authority of Parliament. Keneally is not just a democrat, he is a a demagogue. He declares that
The president would be elected to exercise the reserve powers only. He or she would be above politics and thus would often attract a larger endorsement from the people.
Who IS he trying to kid? How can a popularly elected president EVER be "above politics"?

The one thing he is right about is that there will be "a bit of a barney" when and if the issue of a republic is ever raised again. The republican party will never be united in the model they wish to be adopted. In the meantime, the status quo will continue to exist. We will have a Monarch of Australia for some time to come. I predict that the Monarch will even one day be a king.

14 Comments:

At Tuesday, November 13, 2007 5:17:00 am , Blogger Ttony said...

As a disinterested outsider (I am unlikely ever to become an Australian, much as I enjoy my brief visits to your country) can I ask you to consider the religious aspects of the Monarchy vs Republic debate.

"The character of kings is sacred; their persons are inviolable; they are the anointed of the Lord, if not with sacred oil, at least by virtue of their office. Their power is broad - based upon the will of God, and not on the shifting sands of the people's will... They will be spoken of with becoming reverence, instead of being in public estimation fitting butts for all foul tongues. It becomes a sacrilege to violate their persons, and every indignity offered to them in word or act, becomes an indignity offered to God Himself. It is this view of kingly rule that alone can keep alive in a scoffing and licentious age the spirit of ancient loyalty that spirit begotten of faith, combining in itself obedience, reverence, and love for the majesty of kings which was at once a bond of social union, an incentive to noble daring, and a salt to purify the heart from its grosser tendencies, preserving it from all that is mean, selfish and contemptible." (Dr John Healy, early 20th Century Catholic Archbishop of Tuam, Ireland)

 
At Tuesday, November 13, 2007 8:16:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

Yes, Tony, it has not escaped my attention. Why otherwise would Pullman be so interested in a "Republic of Heaven" rather than the "Kingdom of Heaven"? It seems that kings are out of favour today, even if they really ARE God.

 
At Tuesday, November 13, 2007 11:50:00 am , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

“More than that, although he concedes that neither Peter Costello nor Kevin Rudd is likely to agree to bringing the option of a directly elected president to a referendum, he remains hopeful that this model will succeed. True to his Irish nature (what IS it about the Irish? -- I put that in for you, Peregrinus!), he not only wishes to be free of the authority of the Monarch, but he also wants to be free of the authority of Parliament. Keneally is not just a democrat, he is a a demagogue. He declares that
The president would be elected to exercise the reserve powers only. He or she would be above politics and thus would often attract a larger endorsement from the people.
Who IS he trying to kid? How can a popularly elected president EVER be "above politics"?”


Well, since you ask . . .

The President of Ireland is popularly elected, and is above politics, so this can be done. And it certainly does not result in a government “free of the authority of Parliament”.

To make this work, at least if the Irish model is to be closely followed, would require a few more constitutional changes than simply crossing out “Queen” and “Governor-General” whenever they appear, and putting in “President” instead. Unlike the Australian constitution, the Irish constitution explicitly recognises the existence of the cabinet, assigns the bulk of executive authority to it, and makes it accountable to parliament. The President has a small number of powers which she can exercise independently, of which the principal ones are the power to refer a bill to the Supreme Court to determine its constitutionality, and the power to refuse a dissolution to a prime minister who has lost the confidence of Parliament. Most other executive powers are not exercised by the President on the advice of the cabinet; they are exercised by the cabinet. The President cannot address Parliament, or the nation, without the prior approval of cabinet. And this seems to work well. But if an Australian president were not to take over the functions currently, by political convention, exercised by the cabinet, I think the Australian constitution would have to be amended to recognise the role of cabinet, and the accountability of cabinet to parliament.

When the Irish presidential office was designed, in the 1930s, part of the concern was to prevent a President from doing a Mussolini, and appealing to the people above the head of Parliament, or from doing a Hitler, and combining the posts of head of state and head of government in one person. The political threats that were to the fore in the 1930s have receded somewhat, but the institutions designed to meet them have lasted well. The presidency probably enjoys more prestige now than it did twenty or thirty years ago, when it was seen as a retirement post for an aged pollie.

The system does have the huge advantage over monarchy that no attention at all is paid to the husband and children of the President. Apart from living in a rather nice house in the middle of a public park, they live a very ordinary life, go to ordinary schools, have ordinary jobs, and (in the case of the children) date who they like, and screw up in the usual adolescent fashion, without the media paying a blind bit of attention. Most people could not name the husband of the President, or tell you how many children she has.

(Trivium of the week; the current President of Ireland was my tutor in my third and fourth years in college. The immediate past President of Ireland was my tutor in my first and second years. Am I not well connected?)

 
At Tuesday, November 13, 2007 12:55:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Well connected indeed, Peregrinus.

But I wonder two things:

1) would Australians be willing to see such a macro change to their constitution as giving cabinet an official place in our constitution? And executive powers?

2) Would the result here in Australia be what you say it is in Ireland? I find it very hard to imagine the situation you speak of regarding the spouse and children of the President.

 
At Tuesday, November 13, 2007 2:45:00 pm , Anonymous Tony Bartel said...

What do you mean "attempts to revive interest in the Republic"? It is well known that the majority of Australians think we should be a republic. Its agreeing on the model that is the problem. The monarchists recognised this in the last referendum by not campaigning for a monarchy, but by campaigning against parliamentary appointment as the politicans republic, cynically joining forces with the direct election advocates of the republic to defeat the constitutional amendment.

Monarchists are willing to play both sides of the argument. They love the monarchy and the institution its represents. But when they are forced to concede that it has lost the loyalty of the Australian people, they do not then try to regain that loyalty or argue for the monarchy itself, but bleat on about how difficult it is to change the constitution. If people want to defend the monarchy, they should defend the monarchy. But to spread a fear campaign about the abuse of power is already to admit that the cause has been lost in the hearts and minds of the Australian people.

Anything can be made to work, and equally any system, even our current one, is capable of being corrupted by the abuse of power

I myself prefer the parliamentary appointment of the president, but really, a president, however appointed is a better option than a head of state whose ultimate loyalty is not to our country but to a foreign power.

.

 
At Tuesday, November 13, 2007 4:49:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

1) would Australians be willing to see such a macro change to their constitution as giving cabinet an official place in our constitution? And executive powers?

That’s the kind of thing that would have to be canvassed in a debate if such a model were to be put to the people. I don’t know what the outcome of that debate would be.

My own instinct would be to favour the change (even independently of any monarch/president question). The power of cabinet and its accountability to parliament are realities of the Australian constitution; I see no great merit in having a constitutional document which ignores them, as the present document does. Over the years there has been a substantial accretion of power to the cabinet, and from the cabinet to the prime minister, and the position in Australia today is that the most powerful person in the Australian government is not mentioned at all in the constitution. His powers are undefined and, therefore, potentially unlimited. And this cannot be a good thing.

(For the record, cabinet does have a mention in the Australian constitution (as the “Federal Executive Council”). But, reading the constitution, you would get the impression that the Governor-General decides who will be in cabinet, what department each minister will hold, and how long cabinet will hold office. The only connection between cabinet and parliament is that any cabinet member appointed to head a government department must be, or become, a member of one of the houses of parliament. There is no mention at all of the prime minister.)

2) Would the result here in Australia be what you say it is in Ireland? I find it very hard to imagine the situation you speak of regarding the spouse and children of the President.

Why not? The spouse and children of the Governor-General live lives largely untroubled by media intrusion.

The problem in the UK is that the royal family does have constitutional significance. Its members have their own titles, their own offices and staffs, in some cases their own funds, voted by Parliament; they stand in varying places in line to the throne. They occupy public, if largely honorary posts, as colonel-in-chief of this or that regiment, as chancellors of universities, as patrons or presidents of charities, sporting bodies, academies of arts or sciences. And of course people are both repelled and fascinated by the idea of inherited privilege and inherited duty. At one level most of this is pretty trivial, but it is enough to justify public interest and media scrutiny. None of this applies when you have a head of stated elected for a fixed term.

 
At Tuesday, November 13, 2007 8:53:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Tony, it is not quite accurate to say that I "love the monarchy and the institution it represents". I have a deep affection for Queen Elizabeth II, but no great affection for her offspring. I don't particularly love the institution of the British monarchy, and yet I find the history of that institution fascinating.

In fact, rather than loving "the" Monarchy, I love "monarchy" as a system of Government. And to a large degree that is pure romanticism on my part. I adore the utter anachronism of such an institution. I share the opinion of John Healy that the first Tony quoted above.

In this "scoffing and licentious age", monarchy keeps alive
- a "spirit of ancient loyalty",
- a "spirit begotten of faith, combining in itself obedience, reverence, and love",
- an "incentive to noble daring", and
- a "salt to purify the heart from its grosser tendencies"
thus "preserving it from all that is mean, selfish and contemptible."

And I do find the republican system to be just that: mean, selfish and contemptible. There is nothing of nobility or honour or colour or magic or delight in the system of presidency.

I support the monarchical system (in general, not in specific) because in this way we can preserve some small beauty in the world.

Not awfully practical, I admit. But that's precisely my point.

 
At Wednesday, November 14, 2007 7:29:00 am , Anonymous Tony Bartel said...

Thanks for your honesty about what you really see of value in the monarchy. That is obviously a heartfelt opinion. My difficulty is not with sentiments such as these. The problem is that the monarchists cannot and do not take these arguments to the Australian people. Instead they throw up the bogeyman of constitutional change as destabilising our system of government. As if we are not capable of developing a stable system of non-executive presidency such as is found in Ireland, Germany, Finland, Israel, and India for example.

In other words, if people want to campaign for the monarchy, that is fine. This is a democracy and all opinions can and should be canvassed. But the campaign should be for the monarchy, outlining its benefits, its nobility and its mystique. At the moment though, for the monarchical movement, monarchy is the love that dare not speak its name.

The irony in all of this is that while the monarchy is being preserved, the Westminster system of government has been eroded in this country over the last forty years. The use of party whips to enforce a voting discipline that would never be tolerated by British MPs, the erosion of the independence and impartiality of the civil service, the use of tax payer funded advertisements to promote the government of the day, the presidential style of campaign run by our political leaders and the blatant bribery which takes place with election spending promises have all undermined the integrity of our system of government. Both of the major parties are complicit in this. If you want to fight against all that is mean, selfish and contemptible, here is the real place to start. Where is the leader who will not appeal to the base instincts of self-interest, but rather to the noble instincts of the common good. Or perhaps I am the real romantic idealist :-)

 
At Thursday, November 15, 2007 8:07:00 am , Blogger Ttony said...

As I said above, my quarrel is not with Australia, which will choose its own path, but with the idea that the choice between Monarchy and Republicanism is purely a political choice: there is a religious dimension to the manner in which any State chooses to govern itself, especially when the alternative choice is revolutionary. I'd just like to hear (from either side) a choice made from a specifically Catholic point of view, rather than an Irish or British point of view.

(Either way, we still support Cardinal Pell for Westminster!)

 
At Thursday, November 15, 2007 2:13:00 pm , Anonymous Tony Bartel said...

Gaudium et Spes (The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) deals not so much with systems of government as such, but with what good government should entail - respect for human dignity, fostering the common good, building up of the moral order etc.

"The concrete forms of structure and organization of public authority adopted in any political community may vary according to the character of various peoples and their historical development; but their aim should always be the formation of a human person who is cultured, peace-loving, and well disposed towards his fellow men with a view to the benefit of the whole human race." (GS 74)

It specifically does not favour one system of government over another, but rather gives a broad endorsement of democracy when it says:

"It is clear that the political community and public authority are based on human nature, and therefore that they need belong to an order established by God; nevertheless, the choice of the political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free decision of the citizens." (GS 74)

Note: the "order established by God" referred to is not the divine right of kings, but the necessity of political leadership and authority in the ordering of human affairs.

On the basis of GS I do not really believe that you could argue that there is a religious dimension to a monarchy that is specifically more Catholic than a presidential republic.

In fact, one might even argue that an Australian presidential republic is positively mandated by Catholic moral teaching as it is called for by the character and historical development of the Australian people (O.K, my tongue is firmly in my cheek on that one).

Nevertheless, a move to a republic in Australia is not revolutionary, in the sense of overthrowing an order established by God, but more a natural consequence of our history and evolving national character.

 
At Saturday, November 17, 2007 7:25:00 am , Blogger Ttony said...

I don't think you've got the point I'm aiming at: it's about whether Monarchy is, objectively, better than any alternative system. It doesn't mean that a Republic is bad: just not as good (Archbishop Healy's point).

 
At Saturday, November 17, 2007 11:40:00 am , Anonymous Tony Bartel said...

I do not believe that you can say a monarchy or a republic is objectively better as an abstract argument. Certainly I can see nothing Catholic moral teaching that would lean that way. Rather both systems need to be evaluated by what they accomplish in terms of ordering human society.

I for one, given my cultural upbringing and the society in which I am raised, do not think that monarchy is necessarily bad. I just do not think it is appropriate for Australia, as an independent nation, to have a head of state whose ultimate loyalty is not to our country but to a foreign power. In this case a republic is the better option. If I lived in Sweden, Denmark, Spain, or Great Britain, I would probably be a great supporter of the monarchy.

But as I said, this is not a theological argument, and I do not see how, given what GS teaches about the ordering of government, one could make a theological argument from a catholic viewpoint.

 
At Sunday, November 18, 2007 1:48:00 am , Blogger Ttony said...

As luck would have it, there was an artcle in today's paper which points out the sacramental nature of the Coronation. Try this, and then reread the piece I posted at the top of the comments section by Archbishop Healy.

 
At Sunday, November 18, 2007 5:01:00 pm , Anonymous Tony Bartel said...

All I can say is that there is a direct contradiction between what Archbishop Healy says:

"Their power is broad - based upon the will of God, and not on the shifting sands of the people's will."

and what the Catholic Church teaches:

"the choice of the political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free decision of the citizens."

I guess you have to choose between an obscure Irish bishop and the teaching of an ecumenical council :-)

But the question about the coronation does raise an interesting point. Whatever was the case with Elizabeth, a future monarch could not be crowned the King or Queen of Australia by a similar ceremony conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, as this would be unconstitutional, the establishment of a state religion. This does not affect the succession, as the monarch reigns as soon as the previous monarch dies, not by virtue of their coronation. But it does raise the point that the coronation has absolutely nothing to do with our constitutional arrangements in Australia. In any case, to promote this quasi-sacramental understanding of monarchy in the Australian context would be the kiss of death for the monarchy in Australia. But as I said before, monarchy is the love that dare not speak its name in this country.

 

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