The Westminster Crown and The Referendum in Australia
An Address to the Swinton Circle In Parliament House, Westminster
on the 3rd May 2000
Philip Benwell MBE
THE REFERENDUM IN AUSTRALIA:
On the 6th November 1999 the People of Australia voted to retain its Constitution of Government in the Westminster Tradition under The Crown and rejected a republic despite years of 'indoctrination' as the media sought to convince Australians into accepting change.
For the republicans to win, they needed to obtain a Nation-wide majority of votes plus a majority in a majority of States which means that they would also need to carry four of the six States.
The final result was a not simply a loss for the republicans, in political terms it was a devastating defeat securing the Monarchy in Australia for at least a generation for not only did they fail to win a simple majority nation-wide, they lost ALL of the six States with four rejecting change by very decisive margins.
There were many reasons for this not the least of which was the fact that, despite difficulties in comprehending the legal complexities of constitutional issues and particularly the concept of an absent Monarchy, Australia is a free and democratic nation and the People realised that this is due solely to our system of Government by Constitutional Monarchy and that change could well lead to political instability
Even emotive cries by republicans that change would be in 'the National Interest' and that the dawn of a Republic at the dawn of the new millennium would automatically eradicate all problems and would ease us all into a utopian Society fell on deaf ears, so secure were the People in the existing system and so confident were they in the checks and balances provided by The Crown.
A HERITAGE UNDER THE CROWN:
When a boy living in the East, I would hear so many people roué the day the British left and it was only in later life that I came to appreciate that of all the Empires since the Romans, it was the British who left so much behind them.
The other empires of history - Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch and German left behind a legacy of hatred and bitterness whereas Britain left behind education, civil administration, law and stability and security.
Admittedly most countries corrupted the Westminster system by removing The Crown and then watched as their democracy disintegrated.
However if Britain did nothing else it gave to the nations of Australia, Canada and New Zealand and the other Realms, English law and the Westminster system of Government encompassing a myriad of rights and freedoms. By far the best legacy that could ever have been bequeathed to us or indeed to any of the nations it once ruled.
It is thus that today, together with New Zealand and Canada and indeed those other outposts of settlement we are proud to share in this glorious heritage. A heritage of language. A heritage of culture and above all, a heritage of parliamentary democracy under The Crown.
Many people in the Realms appreciate this heritage and realise its significance and importance but I question how many in this, our 'Motherland', are today even aware that our shared constitutional heritage is based on the Ten Commandments adopted by Alfred the Great over a thousand years ago as his Constitution.
How many would be aware that it was also Alfred who began to put down on parchment much of our early Common Law guaranteeing "the ancient liberties of the English people" and so entrenched did these laws become that William the Conqueror was forced to accept Saxon Law as the Law of Norman England.
"Magna Carta" of 1215, together with the later versions, secured "the ancient liberties of the English people" and successive Kings had to affirm the Charter with several of those who abused the rights of the People being removed in one way or another.
The last of the Kings who were removed was James II who, through his total disregard of Parliament, was defeated in what is termed The "Glorious Revolution" of 1688-9 and was replaced by his daughter and son-in-law who reigned as William III and Mary.
Before his coronation, William III was required to assent to a "Declaration of Rights" which went further than simply engraining the 'ancient rights and liberties of the People' for it provided a check on the Authority of the King by ensuring that Members of Parliament be freely elected and enjoy free speech unimpeded by Royal power or threats.
The Constitution and the Monarchy we have inherited is and always has been 'under God'. Even the Coronation Service, which dates back to the pontificate of Egbert, (Archbishop of York from AD 756 - 66) the anointing rather than the actual enthroning was the most important part of the Service with the Bishops anointing the King in the tradition of Samuel anointing Saul and David. (Samuel also said unto Saul, The LORD sent me to anoint thee to be king over his people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the LORD.)
It is thus that at the Coronation of our own Queen, Elizabeth 11, forty eight years ago, Her Majesty entered into a pact to rule 'under God' in accordance with the laws of the United Kingdom and of those counties, such as Australia, of which She is Sovereign. (Archbishop: "Will you solemnly promise and swear to govern the Peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Pakistan, Ceylon and of your Possessions and the other Territories to any of then belonging or pertaining, according to their respective laws and customs?" The Queen: "I solemnly promise so to do") Her Majesty has never, ever broken this Promise.
The Instructions of Her Majesty's forebear George 111 to Governor Phillip reveal the essence of his Christianity when he enjoined Phillip to simply “endeavour by every possible means to open an intercourse with the natives and to conciliate their affections, enjoining all our subjects to live in amity and kindness with them”.
Regrettably this lies forgotten in dusty history books but not the acts of individuals who murdered aborigines for reasons of greed or fear.
It was this heritage of Christianity and democracy that our founding Fathers decided in their wisdom to continue and expand upon when they created a Federation of the six separate Colonies recognising their existence as States based on the British Crown for they realised that it was only through the Crown that the Westminster system of democracy can be complete.
The document that they wrote is one of the only Constitutions in the World reliant upon God. Not just any God, but the Almighty God. “Whereas the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and under the Constitution hereby established".
Following a series of Conferences in the 1920's and the resulting Statute of Westminster in 1931 (adopted by Australia in 1942) what was once the Crown of Great Britain Ireland and possessions and dependencies has separated into Constituent parts so that the Crown pertaining to Australia is now uniquely the Australian Crown.
It was a Crown that politicians quickly realized in 1975 was far from being merely symbolic but which held very real and substantial powers exercised by the Governor General and although since that time our politicians have done everything within their power to diminish the Monarchy into a cipher-like status, it nevertheless continues to provide a final check and a final balance against the excesses of our politicians.
Since Federation in 1901, there have been twenty Referendums putting forward 42 questions to change the Constitution.
Only eight have been approved by the People. Two additional questions have been put at Referendum regarding military conscription for overseas service during World War I. Both were rejected.
Our Constitution is a very simple document. It does not need to be lengthy or complicated for its essence is that we are a Federation UNDER The Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and it is through The Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland - not through The Crown of Australia or through the Commonwealth - that we, in Australia, inherit those 'ancient rights and liberties of the People'. However, once The Crown is removed then the integrity of our Constitution is left open to interpretation by politicians and the judiciary.
It is like a House of cards. Remove The Crown and it all comes tumbling down.
THE MONARCHIST -V- REPUBLIC CAMPAIGN:
Following the adoption by the Labor Party in 1990 of a proposal to make Australia a republic and particularly in an increasingly abusive environment against the Monarchy, the Australian Monarchist League changed direction from being an organization interested in historical matters to the defence of The Queen and the integrity of The Crown. Over the past years we never ever swayed from this stand and never ever compromised our position on The Queen.
Once they had recovered from their defeat the Republicans and the media excused their rout on such inane factors as "the people got it wrong" and "the question was unfair" and immediately switched over to support the direct election model they enthusiastically opposed during the campaign, excusing their about face saying that this was what the 'People' actually wanted.
However the recent royal visit, together with the massive vote for the Monarchy at the Referendum strongly disproved this notion and also clearly showed how wrong politicians, the media, public relations and the pollsters were in their reasoning. This is because they mix almost exclusively with the yuppie, arty, intellectual and social sets who had mostly jumped onto the Republican bandwagon for various reasons, mostly unsound, and were as far removed from the People as Zimbabwe is from democracy.
What the fight in Australia was essentially all about was the notion that The Crown is the very essence of our being as a free nation. Without The Crown there can be no democracy.
Without the Crown a thousand years of development from the time of Alfred the Great is washed away and this brings me to the matter of concern that now faces us in Australia and those other British Nations and that is the dilution of Westminster Democracy and the weakening of the benign influence of The Crown through the primacy of Europe.
Australians, and indeed all Subjects of The Queen, have, I believe, a right to speak on Europe for the issue of sovereignty and English Common law affects all those of us who were once a part of Empire.
When Macmillan first publicly mooted membership of the Community in the early sixties, the Dominions expressed great reservations not only with regard to their own status as economic partners of Britain, but also with regard to the special relationship they enjoyed with the 'Mother country' as Dominions. They breathed a sigh of relief when de Gaulle vetoed Britain's application.
However their relief was short-lived when Britain kept on applying. They could not understand why London which only a few decades ago was at the heart of the greatest empire of modern history was humbling itself in its haste to sit submissively at the table of Europe.
Subsequent assurances regarding safeguards for the Dominions were later proven to be inaccurate to say the least and countries such as Australia and New Zealand were cast aside and forced to locate and build up their own markets.
I think that it would be a fair thing to say that most people in Britain were of the opinion that membership of the European Economic Community was what the name says; membership of an Economic Community and on this basis were quite happy to have closer trading relations and removal of border controls.
However it is clear that there is today widespread concern throughout the Kingdom now that people realize that trade was just the first stage of the creation of a political empire in which Britain would just enjoy the status of a member State.
So much time has now passed since Britain was accepted into membership of the Union and I ask you what benefit has it all actually brought? I believe that I am correct in saying that Britain has never ever made a profit out of Europe. In fact it is able to sustain the cost of its membership only because of its own global economy. I do not intend to go into the many problems that have been faced since Britain turned its back on its responsibilities to the former Dominions other than to say that Britain and more especially people from this House of Parliament, have only themselves to blame.
However what is of great concern to us and indeed to all those Realms who have The Queen as their Sovereign is the undermining of English Common Law in favour of the laws of Europe and the constant dilution of the Westminster tradition of Government under The Crown.
English Common Law, Magna Carta with Habeas Corpus, the Bill of Rights, Westminster and indeed all those other laws, traditions and principles which have been handed down through Empire and to which the majority of the democratic nations of the free world owe their existence must remain superior to all other laws if Westminster democracy is to survive in this our 'Mother Nation'.
In Australia the fight that we have gone through was, as the press would have it, not a fight to maintain the tradition of Royalty but was rather a battle to retain the very essence of our Democracy.
Westminster has never survived once The Crown has been removed.
There is no former British Colony that has a true democracy under a Presidential system and I believe that Westminster in Britain will likewise not be able to survive under the Presidency of Europe.
Not far from this place at the Guards Cenotaph in St James Park I have read the words "Feel with them in the fight for the World's Freedom"
I ask what feeling did those politicians have when they blindly sacrificed Britain and the Commonwealth for the Treaty of Rome?
Australians have fought for Britain since the Sudan and I ask, for what then did so many give their lives when today our politicians are continuing to sign away the very things for which they shed their blood?
LESSONS TO BE LEARNED:
It is important that those who are against political integration into Europe are not swayed by such phrases as 'inevitable', 'against the National interest', 'old fashioned', 'against the trend' and even 'anti British'. These are words very cleverly designed by media and PR and influenced by their irrational hatred of Monarchy, to throw doubt into the minds of whoever reads or listens to this verbiage.
Rupert Murdoch's own flagship newspaper the Australian admitted that for ten years it has been trying to 'influence' the Australian People to accept a republic and it is clear that one of the major problems in the world today lies with the media hiding behind their hackneyed poisoned pens, no longer reporting news but distorting facts to create sensation.
However blame must always rest with the People for it is to the People that these scribblers are pandering to as they crave for sensation after sensation.
Governments and politicians have in a sense abdicated their responsibility to lead and instead follow the trend established by the media, thus giving an immense credibility to their fabrications
Thus, in Australia, we saw reporters floating the idea that to 'be mature' Australia must rid itself of its ties with Britain. They talked not about the Crown of Australia but about the 'English Queen'. They said that a republic 'was inevitable'.
Over a period of time people - even diehard Monarchists - began to believe these canards.
This is why we saw a majority of politicians, most business leaders and nearly all of the 'elite' promoting a republic. Many genuinely believed that this was what the 'People' wanted, never for a moment appreciating that they were all duped by a huge public relations campaign.
Fortunately in Australia the media targeted the elite rather than the ordinary People, for they rather arrogantly supposed they would follow like sheep and fall into line.
There is probably very little difference between the working man and woman in Australia than in the United Kingdom. One must always remember that they are essentially traditionally conservative and resist radical change and look on The Queen as a symbol of decency and respectability in an increasingly amoral world.
SAVING THE NATION:
One of the great fallacies of the debate on Britain's future in Europe is that there is no alternative role. As Britain is one of the leading economies in the world this seems to be rather obtuse reasoning.
Admittedly there is cause for the British Realms to maintain its rage at being turfed out to face the world whilst watching from the sidelines as Britain debased itself before Europe time and time again. However so many years have now passed and the affection of the People in the Realms to the 'Mother Country' is sufficiently strong enough to re-build a new cultural and economic relationship.
If to be in Europe means the loss of even one iota of Britain's sovereignty and the erosion or dilution of our Common Law, then for its own sake and for the sake of the Realms Britain must withdraw from Europe at whatever the cost. Money can always be replaced. Britain's sovereignty and a thousand years of Common law and constitutional development cannot.
UNITED UNDER THE CROWN:
It was clear for some time that the Republic debate in Australia was but a symptom of a far greater malaise?
Once we, in the former Colonies, were a part of the British Family of Nations comprising those far flung corners of Empire which Britain populated with her sons and daughters. Those Realms which have so much in common with the 'Mother Country'. Nations now fully independent but who share the same heritage, the same language, the same law and the same Crown.
There was a time when one was proud to be British. It did not matter whether you had any English blood in you or not. To be British meant quality and security and was something to be aspired to and we from the former Colonies will never understand why Britain turned its back on us as it sought with rather humiliating persistence to enter Europe.
In 1984 our Governments agreed that the British, the Australians and the Canadians would now term the Citizens of each other as 'Aliens' and this crude terminology has done much to dispel any thought of Britain as the homeland once visitors are made to queue whilst those against whom they fought alongside Britain - at Britain's request - walk blithely through the special EEC Gate. With the recent decision of the High Court of Australia terming Britain a 'Foreign Power', our two nations are now as remote from each other as we could possibly be.
The 1984 Act had its beginnings in the British Nationality Act of 1948 about which Robert Menzies, that great icon of post empire politics, spoke in this very City of London in 1948. He warned that the "very unnecessary Act of separation performed by British Parliaments and States brings new hope to those who would destroy us and new confusions in the minds of our friends".
He also made a very appropriate comment which is most pertinent to the situation we find ourselves in today. He said "We cannot hack away at the foundations and then express surprise when some day the house falls".
Today there remain just the three nations of Canada, Australia and New Zealand who were essentially settled by the British and who remain under The Crown but we who should be one, are ourselves divided. Was it not Abraham Lincoln who, quoting from the bible, said 'A house divided against itself cannot stand'
It is now time that the rapport that once existed between the Peoples of these countries is re-established so we may be joined together once again as one Family united under The Crown.
Philip Benwell MBE
London 3rd May 2000