Lewis Holden comments on constitutional scholar Steven Spadijer’s new book, which has proven conclusively that the Queen is Australia’s head of state.
Paul Keating’s recent comments on the Queen’s visit to Australia remind us of a time when Sir David Smith took a very different view about just who was the head of state of Australia. In an Australia Day speech in 1991, Sir David Smith said:
“The absent monarch is represented by a Governor-General who performs all the duties of the Head of State.”
~ Quoted in George Winterton, ‘Who is Our Head of State?’ (1 September 2004) Quadrant 60. For the full quote, see Steven Spadjer’s book)
However, once Keating announced his plan for an Australian republic in 1995, Sir David Smith’s position changed: by 1996 he was stating that Australia already had a head of state of its own — the Governor-General. The Queen was just “the Sovereign”.
A key to Smith’s claim was his definition of the term “Head of State”. According to Sir David, a head of state is defined by whether they can appoint the head of the government, the Prime Minister. This suits the argument being made because, as we know, it is the Governor-General who appoints, and can dismiss, the Prime Minister. Steven has shown that this argument is nonsense, and this post is a precis edition of his arguments.
Firstly, there appears to be nothing to back the contention that the defining power of the head of state in a monarchical constitution is the power to appoint the Prime Minister. Nothing. As mentioned above, it appears this definition of “head of state” is simply self-serving.
Secondly, in the Constitutions of monarchies that use the term “head of state” – Sweden, Spain, Luxemburg, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Thailand, Bhutan, Bahrain and Jordan, among many others – the title appears often in the context of honorific and symbolic duties. It appears that the real defining power of heads of state in monarchies is to be the apolitical personification of the nation state, “a symbol of National Unity”, as several foreign Constitutions which use the title term it.
Thirdly, even in the Commonwealth, members where the Queen is head of state and defined as such in their constitution – the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Niue, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and the Cook Islands – the Governor-General explicitly has the power to appoint the Prime Minister.
The power to appoint the Prime Minister cannot possibly be the ‘defining’ Head of State function, as the function is neither a necessary or sufficient condition for any Queen to be granted the title in the Constitutions comparable or analogous to Australia’s.