On May 6 2004, the NSW Carr Labor Government introduced the Constitutional Amendment (Pledge of Loyalty) Bill 2004. This Bill seeks to amend the NSW Constitution Act by removing all references to the Queen from the Oath of Allegiance that all MPs and Ministers must take under the State Constitution, as well as the removal of references to the Queen in the Ministers’ Oath of Service.
NSW MPs have been swearing the constitutionally required Oath of Allegiance to the Crown since 1902. Bob Carr and his Government in this latest attempt at republicanism by stealth again show absolute contempt for our NSW history, heritage, and constitutional arrangements. In mid-January 1996, the newly elected Premier, Bob Carr, removed the office and home of the Governor of NSW from the historic Government House. Despite continued outrage from both republicans and monarchists the people of NSW have found themselves powerless in their requests for Mr Carr to return the Governor to Government House. Earlier this year the Carr Government removed the Crown from the historic Coats of Arms in our NSW courts.
The new proposed Act is an even worse action than the changes to Government House because the Carr Labor Government is introducing a serious alteration to the NSW Constitution without consulting the people of NSW. It is being bulldozed through the NSW Parliament despite the strong ‘No’ vote against a republic in 1999 and the clear provisions entrenching the Crown in the Federal and State Constitutions as well in the Australia Act 1986. Indeed to change the Oaths of Allegiance to the Queen in the Federal Parliament, the Federal Constitution would require an amendment through a proper process of consultation with the people by a referendum!
The Bill is being proposed by republican MPs who have all sworn allegiance to the Queen upon election to parliament and are only able to take their seats because of this Oath to the Queen. The new Bill proposes that NSW MPs should pledge their loyalty to Australia, the same Australia whose 1901 Constitution established itself under the Crown. Australia and NSW are still Constitutional Monarchies headed by the Governor-General and Governor of NSW respectively. This proposed Bill is not compatible with the status of NSW as a constitutional monarchy – a status so recently affirmed by the people of NSW in November 1999. Furthermore if the Bill is passed we will be left with the anomalous situation of NSW Members of parliament swearing different Oaths of Allegiance to the NSW Judiciary, both of whom are serving under the same Crown.
Labor proponents of the new Bill argue that MPs and Ministers owe their allegiance to the people that elect them, not to the Crown. This belief is based upon a misunderstanding of the function of our system of responsible government. Republicans are confusing responsible government – accountability to the electorate through the parliament – with loyalty to the Crown. There has never been any incompatibility between the two – no either/or choice to be made. Responsible government and a democratic franchise under the Westminster system have always been perfectly compatible with loyalty to the Crown. This is a necessary check and balance on the functioning of our NSW State Government.
Nigel Greenwood in his book For the Sovereignty of the People takes up this argument by suggesting that Australians do not appreciate the significance of Oaths of Allegiance and the insignia of the Crown. The Crown and the swearing of Oaths of Allegiance are there to remind MPs and Ministers elected by the people of NSW that they are given their authority by the Queen of Australia (the role played by the Crown in our Federal and State Constitutions). The Oath of Allegiance to the Queen is a promise of loyalty, honesty and integrity and a warning to those Ministers and MPs that they are personally liable and responsible for their actions under the Crown which cannot be bought or ever act politically. This idea encapsulates the notion of Ministerial responsibility and ensures that it is checked by authority which is vested in the Governor of NSW who daily plays out her Constitutional and ceremonial duties above politics. Leadership above politics as vested in the Crown is an absolutely essential ingredient of our Australian constitutional arrangements. Clearly Labor republican politicians are aiming to remove the checks and balances provided by the Crown through removing their Oath of Allegiance to it.
In 1933, Irish MPs removed their Oaths of Allegiance to the Crown as a step towards Irish republicanism. Premier Carr is once again using dictatorial privileges as part of a process to diminish the importance and role of the Crown. It is unfortunate for the democratic future of the State of NSW that Mr Carr appears to have the numbers in the Lower and Upper Houses of the Parliament to bulldoze through this outrageous alteration to the Constitution.
Australians for Constitutional Monarchy (ACM) will continue to do whatever possible to ensure allegiance to the Crown is a prerequisite for NSW politicians. We call upon NSW MPs and Ministers to strongly oppose this undemocratic, unconventional and unconstitutional example of creeping republicanism. This Bill highlights the Carr Government’s lack of focus on major issues such as NSW hospitals and public transport. Republicanism by stealth should not be tolerated. The traditions and heritage of our NSW State Parliament, which have served us so well, must be preserved and fought for. Let the people of NSW be consulted on the decision, as when they voted to keep their constitutional heritage in November 1999. We urge all NSW citizens to urgently oppose the Constitutional Amendment (Pledge of Loyalty) Bill 2004 through the media, local communities, local Members of Parliament and in any other ways available to protect the democracy of NSW.
The Bill is currently scheduled to be debated in the NSW upper house prior to the winter recess.
This article was first published in Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy's e-newsletter, Hot News.
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