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Head of State: The Governor-General, the Monarchy, the Republic and the Dismissal.

HEAD OF STATE: The Governor-General, the Monarchy, the Republic and the Dismissal.

by David Smith

(Sydney: Macleay Press, 2005).

Reviewed by Philip Ayres

Hardback: 358 pages

Sir David Smith was Official Secretary to five governors-general: Sir Paul Hasluck, Sir John Kerr, Sir Zelman Cowen, Sir Ninian Stephen and Mr Bill Hayden. He has also been a Visiting Fellow in the Research School of Social Sciences and in the Faculty of Law at the Australian National University. So he is well qualified to write on the subjects covered by his latest book.

Many remember him as the man who read the proclamation dismissing the Whitlam Government, for which he was subjected on that occasion to a nasty and unjust blast of sarcasm from the sacked prime minister.

In this book Sir David reviews the momentous events leading up to that day, nailing in the process (one would think for good, were it not for the inability of those nostalgic for the Whitlam years to face facts squarely) the canard that the governor-general is not our head of state.

The role of the governor-general as Australia's head of state is demonstrated from the Constitution and from numerous examples in Australian history, not the least of them the sacking of the Whitlam Government. The Queen was not consulted on the morning of 11 November 1975 about the action Sir John Kerr was about to take, nor should she have been, for Sir John was the head of state.

David Smith demonstrates the truth of this by reference to Australian history from Federation to the present.

What then is the role of the Queen of Australia? "The Queen is mentioned many times in the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia, yet she has only one constitutional duty, and that is to appoint the Governor-General on the advice of the democratically elected Prime Minister. It is a duty which she performs as Queen of Australia. All of the other constitutional duties which the Queen performs in the United Kingdom or in other Commonwealth monarchical countries as head of state are in Australia's case performed by the Governor-General. In this respect Australia's Constitution is unique, thanks to the skilful and far-sighted drafting of our founding fathers."

Today's Australian republicans, while wanting to remove the Queen from the Constitution, cannot agree on what would replace her. Some of them would like to set up a politicians' republic with a parliament-appointed president, but they know that Australians will never approve the creation of a presidency that is not elected by direct vote of the people. But then a directly elected president would have more popular authority in that position than the prime minister, who is not democratically elected to his office. The consequences for political instability are obvious. This is the bind Australia's republicans now find themselves in.

The book devotes other chapters to the roles of the State governors, the republican referendum, and the dismissal of the Whitlam government, correcting the distortions and untruths put about by the media and by Whitlam himself on the events of 11 November 1975. It is a valuable contribution to any discussion of the subjects it treats.
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Author:Ayres, Philip
Publication:National Observer - Australia and World Affairs
Date:Jun 22, 2006
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