Of Monarchs, Presidents and other Nincompoops…

I am not an avid reader of obituaries, but this one caught my eye in the paper this morning: Key figure in republic debate: GEORGE GRAHAM WINTERTON Constitutional Expert, 15-12-1946 — 6-11-2008.

And in this obituary, I read the following comment of the late Professor Winterton:

He said afterwards that he would “like to think people would decide this issue on its merits as opposed to emotions and questions of affection for the monarchy. But the reality is (that) the identity of the monarch is a factor … along with any perceived crisis in the monarchy.

“If we had an absolute nincompoop on the throne, people would want change.”

Of course, the one factor most in favour of our current Australian system of Constitutional Monarchy is precisely the fact that if there were “an absolute nincompoop on the throne” it wouldn’t matter one jot. The machinery of government would continue as usual (ie. being run by the absolute nincompoops we have elected and sent to Canberra rather than the absolute nincompoops in Buckingham Palace in London).

Whereas, were we to be a republic, with a popularly elected president, I could just about guarentee you that we would indeed be governed by an head of state who would be, if not an absolute nincompoop, a person who would at least occasionally displays the traits of nincompoopery, and who would have a much greater effect upon our nation than our current in absentia monarch. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at American politics…

Which is just another way of saying “the nincompoop you know is better than the nincompoop you don’t.

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0 Responses to Of Monarchs, Presidents and other Nincompoops…

  1. Past Elder says:

    I would say the key is not in whether the head of state is an elected president or an unelected monarch or that strange confusion of both, an elected monarch, but in whether that head of state however constituted is also the chief executive officer as distinct from a prime minister.

    God save the Queen!

  2. Schütz says:

    I don’t know if we actually have a “chief executive officer” in our system of Government. Others will correct me. Perry, any ideas?

    As I make it out, we have a prime minister who is the head of Government, and we have a monarch, who is the Head of State. Neither of these are really a “CEO”. Then we have this thingy in between called a “Vice-Regal Representative”, ie. the Governor General, or GG for short. He, or as is the case at the mo, she is the one who fulfills the duties of the monarch on a day to day basis, but, as Gilbert and Sullivan said, or rather, sang, the ‘pleasures of a GG’ are many and the duties various though never too onerous.

  3. Tony Bartel says:

    The Executive Power of the Commonwealth of Australia is vested in the Queen but exercised by the Governor-General (Australian Constitution).

    Therefore, the Governor General is the Chief Executive officer. However, the Governor General may only exercise that power on the advice of the Executive Council (which is made up of the members of Cabinet).

    The de facto CEO is of course the Prime Minister who is the head of Cabinet.

    For Americans it is rather confusing, as legislative and executive functions are not clearly separated.

    The executive, through the Ministers of the Crown, are answerable to Parliament.

    It has been clear since the Glorious Revolution that supreme power is vested in Parliament and that the legislative provisions of Parliament bind both the the executive and the judiciary.

    In Australia, the power of Parliament is limited by the Constitution. In the United Kingdom (and in New Zealand too I think) there is no written constitution, and there are, therefore, no limits on what Parliament might enact and in what way it may bind the executive and the judiciary.

    One important step in establishing the supremacy of Parliament was the Reformation. Henry VIII new that he could not establish the break with Rome by his own command, so he used Acts of Parliament to legitimise the rupture. Of course, if Parliament could change the whole spiritual foundations of society, Parliament could do anything.

    To get back to the point under discussion, the Executive power is vested in the Queen and exercised by the Governor General, but there is no clear separation of legislative and executive power as in some other systems of government. This has both its advantages and disadvantages, but after much rambling that is a discussion for another day.

  4. Joshua says:

    Most important of all:

    If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    Our system of government, an absentee monarchy or crowned republic to use two common phrases, has worked extremely well.

    Never forget that Australia’s Eastern States have had responsible, democratic parliamentary government for about 150 years (W.A. only got it in 1890, having been settled later and more slowly), and the Commonwealth of Australia as a a federation under the Crown has existed for just over a century: and while so many lands have suffered wars, revolutions, dictatorships and the like, our nation has remained free.

    I think it excellent and wise to stick with the status quo, which has stood the test of time, rather than indulge in dangerous and usually emotive and facile fantasies about some republican form of government that could easily tilt in an unpleasant direction.

    It seems to me that New Zealand and Canada have much the same set of things to be thankful for, and also wisely refrain from changing their system of government.

  5. Past Elder says:

    Quite right. It’s a parliamentary form of democracy as distinct from what we have here in the US.

    The key to the US system is the “separation of powers” laid out in the Constitution.

    It’s not at all confusing to Americans. They just don’t know about it! Which is appalling. The British and Canadian PMs, the two we are most likely to hear about unless special efforts are made, are more or less taken as the British and Canadian “presidents”.

    Though as Tony Blair could well tell you, the difference between a president and a prime minister is a hot topic at home, since was accused by his detractors of trying to make one into the other!

    What might really be confusing to Americans is PMs from countries that have an elected head of state President too, except you never hear about them!

    And I’d agree, the parliamentary thing works well for those who have it. All systems have their plusses and minuses. Sometimes looking at our political life, I wish we didn’t have to wait the scheduled four years to just have a vote of No Confidence and call elections, as well as having the campaigns for the elections drag on and on for a year or more!

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