Legal expert Steven Spadijer has proven conclusively that the Queen is Australia's head of state, yet the ACM ignores his full and exhaustive legal proof and continues to claim the Governor-General is Australia's head of state. Lewis Holden comments on why this "reframing" is happening.
"REFRAMING" THE HEAD OF STATE DEBATE
Strangely, the ACM has returned to its old theme of claiming that the Governor-General is Australia's Head of State. This comes just months after I wrote a series of posts here at Independent Australia, based on a book by Steven Spadijer, which conclusively pulled the claim apart. Spadijer's work was so thorough I could not see any way through it. That, it seemed, was the reason why they didn't want to debate Steven. They knew he'd done his homework.
It seems the ACM has found a way through: ignore the book and keep making the same old claims, and hope no-one notices. In their most recent post, they make their case again on just two flimsy points:
- A decision of the Australian High Court in 1907 declared the Governor-General to be the "constitutional Head of the State"; and
- The Governor-General's powers come from the constitution, not from the Queen.
On the first point, Steven very clearly refuted the 1907 precedent, by doing exactly what the ACM didn't: reading what the case law actually says to get the proper context. Basically, the ACM is quoting the case out of context (the term "state" in the above sentence was actually referring to a State of Australia, not the Australian state per se) and ignoring other precedents from the same court that show the Queen is Head of State. The relevance of the precedent is so transparently thin that it's safe to assume the ACM does actually understand that it's got little to go on.
On the second point, it's hard to see what relevance of this statement has, apart from being a half-arsed attempt at responding to something republicans have said (strangely, they accuse us of being obsessed with the debate over who the head of state is, when it's clear to us that it's the Queen). The ACM had previously claimed the key power of a head of state was the ability to appoint the head of government (a nonsense argument anyway). They've now abandoned that position.
The real question here is why is it these easily researched facts apparently bounce off the ACM? Why are they apparently ignorant of what the 1907 precedent they cite actually says? Why does the debate over who the Head of State is matter so much to the ACM that they keep bringing it up?
I think I've figured it out. It's all about what's called "reframing" the debate. As we know, supporters of an Australian republic frame the debate in terms of who Australia's head of state is. They argue that an Australian citizen should be head of state of Australia.
This is based on the assumption that it's well understood that the Queen is Australia's head of state. The public at large seem to understand this — it's very hard to find anyone outside of the monarchist groups prepared to claim, with a straight face, that the Queen is a fair dinkum Aussie.
There are three reactions to the republican head of state frame. The more traditionalist monarchists – such as the Australian Monarchist League and other groups – argue it doesn't matter that the Queen isn't an Australian. This is a principled position for which they deserve credit.
Otherwise, they say that the Queen is an Australian and therefore Australia has its own head of state. They base this largely on the fact that, legally, the Queen has the title "Queen of Australia". This argument in itself is flawed — no-one thinks the Duke of Edinburgh is Scottish because of his title, and given his patronising comments towards Scots, I doubt they would either! Again, this is a principled position based on some (albeit shaky) reasoning.
Then there's the ACM's rather strange line that the Governor-General is head of state, therefore Australia has its own head of state. Well, it looks strange to republicans; in actual fact, it's not. Most of us think it's crazy to leave the Queen in an awkward position where she's neither head of state of Australia or occupying another position of constitutional relevance. If she's not head of state, what is the Queen? (The ACM says the Queen is just the "Sovereign". Exactly why they'd relegate someone they admire so much to a secondary position of no constitutional importance is, again, baffling).
The ACM's line isn't that strange when you think about it in terms of the way the debate is framed by republicans. They know that to defeat an Australian republic, they've got to reframe the issue as a non-event, to do that they need to show the Governor-General is head of state. It would be a genius strategy if it weren't so transparently dishonest. The bad news is that the argument appears to get traction among younger monarchists.
The good news is that by attempting to reframe the debate, the ACM is actually accepting the argument that Australia ought to have an Australian citizen as its head of state. That's exactly why the other monarchists groups hate the claim. What does this mean for Aussie republicans? Well, you could just point to the threadbare claims made by the ACM, the flagrant disregard for the facts. But that will just bounce off. Instead, it's wiser to call out this sophistry for what it is.
Claiming that the Governor-General is head of state is a clear attempt to try and screw the scrum. We've got to keep reminding the public that that's the ACM's goal — not to illuminate or educate. Our best weapon is to speak truth to power.
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