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An Australian should be Australia’s head of state

By David Swanton - posted Wednesday, 3 May 2017


Perhaps every parent’s most fervent wish for their children is that they are healthy and well educated so that they can have every opportunity to realise their dreams. If a child aspires to be an executive of a new national high-tech company, captain a national sporting team, be an academic or pursue an interesting career, they should have the opportunity to do so.

In many countries, including Australia, a child’s aspirations are unfortunately limited. If an Australian child aspires to reach what many would consider to be the pinnacle, in a national sense, of being the country’s head of state, she or he is unable to do so. Sadly, and embarrassingly, it is not possible for an Australian to be Australia’s head of state.

According to the Australian Government, Australia is a representative democracy and a constitutional monarchy with Australia's head of state being the Queen of Australia. Her official title is Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of Australia and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth. She is also the Queen of the United Kingdom and other realms.

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As the Queen is not Australian, there is a perceived, and probably a real, conflict of interest in performing her duties, even if they are mostly ceremonial. It cannot be said with any conviction that the Queen is unequivocally and fully committed to Australia. Such a commitment is surely a desirable if not necessary quality for a country’s head of state.

Australia can do better than continuing with the British monarchy. The monarchy is, in reality, a class-based system of institutionalised nepotism that discriminates on the basis of religion, gender, age and family (descent). Invidious discrimination of this nature must be rejected. The logical alternative would be that an Australian should become the Australian head of state, appointed or selected on merit.

Religious bias was highlighted in the Queen’s most recent Christmas Broadcast, itself an anachronistic reference to a time when the majority of her subjects may have fallen under her Church of England, of which she is supreme governor. She concluded her speech with a reference to the Christian Christmas story. She was of course speaking, although not proselytising, as a head of a religion that has fewer numbers in Australia than Catholics and those who do not have a religion.

Religion, or lack of it, is a personal decision for each individual. So why would Australians want their head of state to discuss her beliefs? To those who think that this should occur, they should ask themselves whether they would want that if the head of state was not of their religion, or if atheism, Catholicism, Buddhism or Islam instead dominated in Australia.

This religious link to our head of state has historical origins that are reflected in the Australian Constitution. The Constitution’s current preamble, notes that the people, ‘humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God’, agreed to unite ‘under the Crown of the United Kingdom…’. It is embarrassing and humiliating that any country should humbly rely on anything. It is galling that this thing is an imaginary ‘Almighty God’ (from a scientific perspective, there is no evidence), the existence of which is only believed by those who have been indoctrinated or acculturated in that belief system. Indeed, it is divisive and ridiculous to include a reference to any religious figures in what is essentially a legal document.

Notably, the Queen’s Christmas Broadcast made no mention of Australia or Australians. If she was making that speech in her other capacities, and we can suspect she was, then perhaps Australia needs a head of state who better promotes and supports Australia. Of what relevance was her speech, coming from a non-Australian who does not live in Australia, to Australians? A head of state should be to an independent sovereign nation what a spouse is to a partner: fully committed, supportive and favoured over all others.

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The religious bias is further highlighted by the fact that while the British head of state can now marry a Catholic, a Catholic cannot be head of state. The Queen’s role, and that of her heirs, disenfranchises those who are not members of her church. It is unlikely that a future monarch would not be a member of the Church of England, given the high levels of early childhood religious indoctrination that would be expected to occur in the royal household, and that generally occurs throughout the world. Interestingly, one can only imagine the constitutional anxieties that would arise if the British monarch chose to convert to Islam, and then to atheism, change their gender or even to marry a gay black person. While there would be consequences for changing religion, the latter is currently permitted.

The Queen acceded to the throne because she had no brothers and was the eldest child of the previous monarch. It is now rightfully the case that male-preference primogeniture does not apply after the date of effect of the Perth Agreement. However, the sexist nature of the British monarchy still remains, as the Perth Agreement has not properly rectified the line of succession, and the husband of a Queen regnant is generally titled differently to the wife of a King. This sexism is unacceptable in a modern, egalitarian world, and does nought to promote equality of the sexes.

Absolute primogeniture, the determination of an heir as the eldest sibling in the one familial line, is also unacceptable. There is no merit in one family’s descendants having a monopoly on a significant national position, just as there is no merit in age, gender or sexual identity determining the most appropriate head of state. And what if the eldest sibling were to have a criminal record or intellectual impairment?

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About the Author

David Swanton is an ethicist, PhD scientist and director of Ethical Rights. He is also ACT Chapter Coordinator for Exit International.

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