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Australia Needs it’s own Monarch

Tomorrow Prince William will marry Kate Middleton. If we don’t change anything he will probably become the King of Australia at some future time, so I think that now is the time to start discussing the options.

Walter Block makes some interesting points in favor of longer terms for politicians and for having a monarch to get a long-term view of the national interest [1], he’s not the only person to make such points, but he makes them in a better way than most. Of course the problem with this is the long history of kings not doing what’s best for their country – part of the ownership rights to property is the right to destroy it, so a monarch who owns a country therefore can be considered to have the right to cause the wholesale death of their subjects. There are some examples of “President for Life” political leaders demonstrating this at the moment. Even with a monarch who is generally a nice person and who has controls to prevent the worst abuses there is the possibility of Control Fraud.

In the Constitutional Monarchy system that doesn’t happen because a constitutional monarch has little power (no official position of power). But there is still the issue of whether the monarchy is any good.

Charles Stross wrote an interesting post about the apparent human need to have a leadership figure [2]. So getting rid of a monarch tends to result in a president getting the trappings of a king, and if things go wrong (as they often do) then they get absolute power until the next revolution. It seems that having one person who is the head of government and the head of state (as done in the US for example) is a bad idea, they can start to think that it’s all about them. I don’t think that the US is at risk of getting a “president for life” in the near future and I don’t think that Australia will do so if we become a republic, but that doesn’t mean that the republican system works well. I think that the Australian system is working better than the US system and I will generally vote against any changes that make Australia more like the US. As long as the House of Windsor provides monarchs who are as sensible as Queen Elizabeth 2 I will vote in favor of the continued rule of the House of Windsor in preference to an Australian republic (if Prince Charles ever becomes king I may support a republic).

A Way of Improving Things

I want to have an Australian monarch. Someone who will live in Australia for most of the time (as opposed to a distant monarch who visits once a decade if we are lucky). Protocol should dictate that the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers are forced to show ritual respect to the monarch, bowing etc, and no touching. A separation between the person who performs most of the ceremonial functions and the person who actually makes the political decisions should help constrain political egos. When a Prime Minister feels the need to suck up to someone more powerful it would be better to have that person be an Australian monarch than the US president.

Tradition has it that monarchs have to be descended from other monarchs (although there are cases of elected monarchs as happened in Danish history). An election for a monarch probably wouldn’t work well in a modern political environment, so we need someone with royal ancestry. One possibility is to have a spare descendant of our current Queen become the monarch of Australia, I think it’s quite likely that given a choice between remaining a UK prince or princess for the rest of their life and becoming the monarch of Australia there would be someone who would take the latter option and I expect that the Queen would consent to that arrangement if asked (she would have to prefer it to a Republic).

Another possibility is the fact that Mary the Crown Princess of Denmark has more children than the Danish monarchy requires [3]. As she was born in Australia it seems likely that her children will have more interest in Australia than most royals and a skim read of some tabloid magazines indicates that her family is quite popular. I expect that if a Danish prince or princess was invited to become the monarch of Australia then this would be acceptable to the Queen of Denmark.

In an ideal world there would not be such a thing as a monarchy. But as we don’t get to have ideal voters and therefore our politicians are far from ideal it seems to me that the constitutional monarchy is the least bad system of government. Don’t think that I am in favor of a monarchy, I just dislike it less than the other options.

Finally the Queen is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. I think that it would be good to have a separation between church and state and therefore anyone who is in a leadership position of any religious organisation should be considered unsuitable to be the monarch.

12 comments to Australia Needs it’s own Monarch

  • Catherine

    Another option is a non-executive head of state (like our Queen) where the role is neither hereditary nor permanent. Take a look at the German system for an example.

  • etbe

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_President

    According to Wikipedia the German president has the power to issue pardons, this is a major thing and can be used as a chilling effect on prosecutions of powerful people – why go to the effort of convicting a rich person who will get pardoned when the police and public prosecutors could convict multiple poor people for the same effort? I want a monarch who has strictly ceremonial duties.

    However I do think it’s reasonable for a monarch to be able to pass a law to a constitutional court instead of immediately signing it, and to lead negotiations when there is no clear parliamentary majority.

    The German chancellor appears to have more status than I want our Prime Minister to have – but I don’t know how things really work there.

  • This is the first time I have seen a honest, real argument from somebody I consider smart supporting monarchy.

    I live in Mexico, in a continent where no (local) monarchies have existed for many hundreds of years (yes, we still have many Dutch and UK colonized islands, and a little country called Canada which shares a queen with you). My country has had two emperors (both very short-lived)… And while I do share your point that head-of-state should be separated from head-of-government (as it is in most European constitutional monarchies, as well as in republics as France, Italy, Germany, Russia and Israel — And many more, I’m sure, although I don’t know about the many subtleties), I see absolutely no benefit in having a royal family, with all the needless spending it implies (as you have to provide a luxurious environment not only for the Head of State but also for the successors and the whole social surroundings). Also, even the fittest monarch today might be a crazy lunatic 20 years from now (or the successor, or…), and there are very seldom ways for the people to vote a dinasty (or a monarch) down…

  • etbe

    Gunnar: I’m glad that you don’t totally disagree with me. ;)

    Now can you cite an example of a country with a President/PM type of government where the President has only ceremonial duties? The most casual examination of the German system reveals that their President has more real direct power than our Queen and more than I desire.

    In regard to the cost, the house of Windsor owns clear title to a lot of land and allows the UK government to manage it and take all revenue. That revenue apparently exceeds the civil list payments to the royals – so if they stopped being royal but weren’t stripped of their possessions then it would be a financial net loss in the short term. In the long term the main financial issue is tourism, Australian TV showed some people from your country visiting London for the royal wedding – that’s giving money to the UK. A royal wedding is a lot better than a Grand Prix or other major event for getting tourist money.

    The civil list payments are something like a pound per citizen per year. If my theory about constitutional monarchy constraining political egos is proven correct then that cost is absolutely nothing compared to the costs of bad decisions that can be prevented. The cost of maintaining the royal family for a year is a fraction of the cost of building a bridge, tunnel, highway, or port. It’s just nothing when compared to the government revenue for a first-world country.

    Also let’s not assume that an Australian monarchy would have the same expenses as the UK monarchy. The UK civil list payments were first arrived at when the monarch had more power than they do now and the UK isn’t a full democracy (their upper house has people who inherited their position and people who were appointed as church representatives) – if nothing else those factors would change the way things work. But also smaller countries that have a monarchy tend to be less expensive, the Netherlands for example appears to have a much less expensive royal family.

    You make a good point about someone being a crazy lunatic in the future. One thing that mitigates that is the prohibition on constitutional monarchs from being involved in the political process. A monarch who became mentally unstable would probably be trolled into clearly stating their opinion on a matter of government policy and thus being removed. I believe that this prohibition is done through tradition in the UK, for an Australian monarchy I’d want it in the constitution. But also if someone has no real power then it doesn’t matter so much if they go nuts. If you have a monarch who spends all their time in their palace and doesn’t bother anyone else then you have the crown prince or princess do all the ceremonies and life goes on.

    A constitutional monarch of the type I desire would have some power through access to important people, but a monarch who went mad would find that the sane politicians and business leaders would stop listening.

    PS I’ll note again that I actually don’t want a monarchy, I just dislike it less than the other options. Maybe in a few hundred years we will have moved on enough to not need such things.

  • Dean

    Just as a sidenote. The civil list is planned to be abolished, the queen instead will get a percentage of the crown estate revenue.

  • Jeremy

    The current system seems to work fine. What we essentially already have in Australia is a republic. This has been the case ever since the option of appealing to the Privy Council was removed, leaving the High Court of Australia as the highest court. The executive is democratically elected (even if the House of Reps is a gerrymander favouring the major parties). Any remaining reserve powers (albeit very limited and small) rest with the Queens representative in each state/the commonwealth, who is put in place by the elected politicians in any case. Indeed, special legislation had to be passed so the Queen herself could give royal assent to some legislation in a ceremony on a visit to Australia. If I recall, this was directly relating to legislation such as the Australia Act where final last ties with Britain were eliminated.

    The potential for a referendum on this matter is somewhat like a ‘get out of jail’ card for politicians. It’d be a great distraction if parliament would like to get something through that is potentially unpopular. Britain has no more influence over Australian politics as say the premier of Queensland would have over Victorian politics. At times it would seem that the US has a greater influence than Britain. The role of the Queen is purely symbolic, though as you point out does help constrain political ego.

    The British taxpayers pay the bulk of costs associated with the Monarch (including living and security costs), a cost we’d have to bear if we had our own Monarch or president. That seems to be an arrangement we benefit from. The other thing I wouldn’t look forward to is a US style presidential election. With three levels of government, the last thing we need is a forth layer that needs to be elected.

  • etbe

    Dean: Why?

    Jeremy: I think that an Australian monarchy if promoted correctly could easily pull in more tourist money than the upkeep expense. But the amounts of money involves are too small to be worth worrying about.

    Remember when they messed up the copyright laws for a supposed $50,000,000 benefit to the country? That was about enough money to buy a beer for every Australian who’s old enough to drink – so we lost a lot of “freedom as in speech” for only a tiny bit of “free as in beer”!

    The US presidential elections are messed up in every way. If we were to get a president then it would probably be best to just rename the Governor General position. NB Democracy doesn’t require that everyone get elected, just that the people who make the laws and have executive power are elected.

  • Brendan Scott

    Well, actually Australia already does have it’s own monarch – currently Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia. If (eg) England changed its succession laws, we’d end up with a different branch of the Royal Family to them being our monarchs. (Eg if the Brits repeal primogeniture = succession of eldest son in priority to all daughters as they’re talking about doing)

    Constitutionally speaking, the ‘point’ of a monarch is to separate the legislature from the executive. However, in our Westminster system, the role of an independent Executive is quite limited (since the Executive (ie the Queen or, in our case, G-G) is supposed to act on the advice of the Prime Minister). It is probably (?) for this reason that there is more of a 2-party system in Westminster systems as compared to the US system where the President is independent of (and needs to work with) the legislature.

  • Hmmm… Well, I lived in Israel for some years. Israel’s government follows the British style – The president there is a honorary role, used for representing the State, and not elected among the population but among the House of Representatives (on a five-year term IIRC). Of course, Israel does not have inheritable parliamentary seats, nor seats belonging to a religious institution.

    As for the role of the Queen for you: Well, in your post you mentioned she visits Australia once a decade or so. And I guess she visits much less than that the African members of the Commonwealth. What’s the use of having a Head of State that has never (in 50 years or so she has been the queen) been to many of the countries, where the reality is so deeply different from hers?

    You say the costs of monarchy are not so big… I have no data to back it up, but I simply find it extremely hard to believe. Remember monarchy is not only the queen, but the princes, the duches, the counts, the whatnot (that I don’t even know how to spell, I fear ;-) ) Yes, people visit the UK and go to royal places. When I was to London, I went to Buckingham – But that’s not related to having a living queen in there – it’s just part of the city’s sights. You mention that people from my country went to “see” the wedding – I guess they were already in the UK, or added just a point or two to the decision of UK vs. Elsewhere…

  • Jeremy

    There’s still the possible issue of resentment. If you bring in some royals from overseas or even select at random or popularly elect an Australian, people are going to be pretty peeved that someone is getting special treatment. Yes, the British royal family do have such treatment but it is now embodied in tradition. Being born into the royal family may be extreme luck, but no different to being born to any other wealthy parents. So keeping the British royal family as the figurehead of Australia does help to avoid any issue of resentment.

    (Though there was an Aussie bloke who the tabloids reported a few years ago as the true heir to the throne).

    Also you mention it’s not the ideal solution. In which case it’s probably better to wait until their is a better solution or risk creating complications in the meantime.

  • etbe

    Brendan: Are you saying that we don’t automatically have the same succession as the UK? That strikes me as quite silly but also convenient for achieving my goals. ;)

    What do you mean by “executive” in this context? My understanding is that the executive role involves things such as deciding whether to use a B2 or commandos to get OBL – and that’s the last thing I want to have a monarch doing!

    Why do you think we need executive political power separated from the legislature? Having all executive power with the PM who is elected by other MPs seems to work well to me.

    According to Wikipedia our Governor General can appoint judges among other things, I think that needs to change.

    Gunnar: Regarding the costs of lesser royals, we don’t need to have that many. The UK has a fairly complete aristocratic system that includes titles being awarded to various politicians etc.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_monarchy

    The current Dutch monarchy is worth studying in this regard. The stipends for royals is about E1,295,000 which is not taxed (and is about $AU1,763,000) and there are official cars, a couple of palaces, and shared use of a plane. The size of the royal house was recently limited by law because it was felt to be too big. The Dutch monarchy is clearly cheaper than the UK monarchy, so it seems obvious that something a lot cheaper than the UK monarchy is possible.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Governor-General_of_Australia

    The Australian governor general is currently being paid $394,000. I don’t think that a monarch would need any more than that – after all with free travel, accommodation, and food there isn’t much left to spend money on!

    Jeremy: I agree that electing an Australian would never work (even though it did for Denmark centuries ago). I don’t think that the royals are lucky. I agree that selecting a random royal from another country, but selecting the second in line for the UK throne or a royal who is of Australian descent should give a suitable traditional element to it.

    The ideal solution is to have everyone be very well educated and more psychologically sound than is common for the current population. That seems unlikely to happen for the next few hundred years (if ever) so I think we need an interim solution.

  • Éric Araujo

    As a Frenchman, I have to say that this talk about monarchy with pragmatic arguments about politicians’ ego and and economic considerations is fascinating.