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Governor-General and the Australian Constitution

The Governor-General and the Australian Constitution

Recent events surrounding the accusations levelled against the Governor-General of Australia, although disquieting, have proven that Australia's system of constitutional monarchy has, as always, worked and worked well.

Amidst the controversy, the machinery of government proceeded smoothly and without interruption despite the standing aside and now the resignation of the Governor-General, Dr Peter Hollingworth.

It was the Labour Prime Minister James Scullin who, quite rightly, insisted in 1930 that the decision of the Australian Cabinet on the nomination of the Governor-General was paramount. However, it later became convention that responsibility for later nominations fell into the sole prerogative of the Prime Minister.

The reasoning of those Australian Labour Party leaders, in particular, who are now asserting that the process is flawed and that the flaw is somehow related to the constitutional monarchy is not only totally unsound but fails to take into account that there have been five Labour Prime Ministers since Scullin, all of whom jealously guarded their prerogative rather than opening the nomination process to wide consultation.

There is no constitutional impediment to prohibit any Prime Minister from consulting with his or her Cabinet or with the Leader of the Opposition prior to submitting a nomination to the Queen. This consultation did occur. It is unfortunate that the possibility of later accusations arising against Dr Hollingworth was not disclosed then, but there is no reason to suppose that involving the public, Parliament, or anyone else, would have done so either.

Those who argue for involving Parliament or the electorate are guilty of attempting to mislead the public. They are motivated by a desire for a republic, but are not honest enough to say so - nor are they able to admit that this whole unfortunate situation has little if anything to do with the monarchy-republic debate in Australia - except that the republicans saw an easy target and subjected the Governor-General to merciless attacks until he resigned. The President of the Australian Council of Civil Liberties has described this as a witch-hunt.

Dr Hollingworth's appointment was widely welcomed at the time. It is only with hindsight that it may have been unwise. In any event republics do not necessarily handle similar events with anything like the flexibility of the Australian (or indeed New Zealand) Constitution. We might recall the serious allegations made against Dr Kurt Waldheim and President Nixon. As a result of the former, the President of Austria was ostracized at home and abroad for most of his term, and the latter, the government of the USA was destabilized for a long period. To suggets that electing the Governor-General would have prevented the Hollingworth episode is simply incorrect. The beauty of the system is that good candidates are appointed without having to secure political support - as would be required for any elected system. The great majority of people thought that Dr Hollingworth was a good candidate

Dr Noel Cox Chairman Monarchist League of New Zealand Inc.

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