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July 13, 2020

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Am wading in here after one helluva long absence, as I am an American born in the U.S. but raised in Australia between the ages of 3 and 12 (to an Australian mum and American father), so if there are no Aussies among the commentariat, I'll have to suffice. (And if there are and I get anything wrong, please correct me because I’m commenting around my job right now.)

The 1975 crisis happened after we left to return to the States, so TBH, I actually don't know that much about it. But it is my strong guess that one of the reasons how it could have happened the way it did (and I'm sidestepping why for now) is that there is an issue in Westminster-style governments that has long lingered, and had to have been the impetus for why Canada was eager to "patriate" its constitution in the early 1980s - namely, that the actual Westminster parliament in London could technically amend, and indirectly adjudicate, the constitutions of what you could call the "core" of the Westminster democracies – Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. This also raised the question (one that still lingers to this day) on exactly how truly independent these countries are.

For the Canadian imbroglio: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriation

Ostensibly, Canada wanted to clear up the ambiguity regarding their constitution precisely to gain for each of the 10 provinces the right to intercede in questions of amending the Canadian constitution, which they technically did not have up to that point. But I also have to believe that they were eager to do so from the late 1970s because of what they saw happen in Australia. Without that full power, a host of things could come up – including the final say on replacing a prime minister, which is what happened in Australia when Gough Whitlam got the boot for Malcolm Fraser at the behest of the Governor-General at the time.

So what I’m still not certain of, is whether or not Australia has technically patriated its constitution from the actual Westminster in London. I haven’t seen anything either way.

I realize this whole thing must seem bewildering to the Americans here, but this is how Westminster governments roll. Having said that, there’s a lot to recommend Westminster governance for.

(BTW, the dummy Oz uni depicted in the Monty Python Bruce Michael Baldwin sketch was Woolomooloo University and its well-renowned “Depaatment of Philosophy.”)

It has been a while (my God, 30 years?!?) since I was in Australia. But at the time, when the discussion arose about whether to remain a nominal monarchy or become a flat out republic, one regular feature emerged. The members of the military (and the police forces, as I recall) took the position that "My oath is to the Queen. If they go with a republic, I will have to reconsider my career choice. If not emigrate." Which seems a bit extreme, but they did not appear to be engaging in hyperbole.

If that attitude remains, and is spread widely in those professions, Australia would have a bit of a problem to address. It's doable, of course. But not something you want to ignore when making the decision on how to go forward.

Thanks. wj. Australia's relationship to Britain is a complicated one beyond the political relationship of the Commonwealth, and it stems from the "cultural cringe" that Australia had in relation to its former colonial master before World War II which persisted even post-war, and which I believe still lingers in some pockets of the society to the present.

This "cringe" was the sense that Australians unconsciously saw themselves as living in a far-flung post of the Empire, and had to measure their country against Britain. Australians, in order to truly consider themselves highly educated, had to go to Britain for graduate study, with Oxbridge as their eyes on the prize. Australian literati and other intellectuals had to leave Australia in order to further their career prospects. (Germaine Greer has often talked about how her main career goal as an undergraduate was to get out of Australia as soon as she could.) Australian entertainers had to leave the country in order to make better money in Britain - the irony of which was that a fair number of them had been born there, and had left with their families post-WWII for Australia on assisted passage - the so-called Ten Pound Pom scheme. (For exactly what that entails, with a partial list of some famous Ten Pound Poms: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Pound_Poms)

Throughout this whole nexus, there was a palpable sense that Britain was a finishing school of sorts for Australians, one which many resented once they realized how different they actually were from the British, but was unconsciously reinforced by them as so many never appeared to realize that other cultures could serve as a model or touchstone for a more distinctive Australian identity.

So it is my sense that the legacy of the cultural cringe was making itself felt in the attitudes of some senior officers in the military during the republican debate. (As late as the 1970s, the different branches of the British military still, on occasion, seconded officers to the commensurate branches of the Australian military.) Manifested politically, it could mean that there are still technicalities within the Statue of Westminster 1931 that Australia needs to clarify and act upon. (For what that means: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statute_of_Westminster_1931)

Sorry folks, if you are wiki-ing Ten Pound Poms and the Statue of Westminster 1931 - my closing parentheses (brackets for you British English users) are interfering with the horses as far as taking you to the direct links. They take you to the "Wikipedia does not have an article by this exact name" pages, which then you have to scroll for.

Apologies to all.

sekaijin, thanks so much for posting that. One aspect of the Whitlam affair that I have seen speculation on, but seems to be totally absent from the released papers, is US/CIA involvement. The wikipedia has a short section, but a lot of conspiracy theorizing, linked to the fact that Whitlam withdrew Australian troops from Vietnam. Apparently, this was a totally home-grown crisis.

Thanks lj. Like pretty much every conspiracy theory, this one has to be taken with more than a few grains of salt, though given how the CIA had its fingers in so many pies at that time, it probably also isn't entirely out of the realm of possibility.

But what still makes it ultimately implausible was that Australia drew down from Vietnam along the same timeline of Nixon's Vietnamization scheme, and that given the smaller though no less crucial scope of Australian operations in Vietnam, they would draw down to a point where so few troops would be there to be operationally significant. Australian personnel presence in Vietnam on-ground reached a peak of 7,672 at most, with a total of 60,000 having served throughout the entire American direct-combat phase of the war. (For the full rundown: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_history_of_Australia_during_the_Vietnam_War )

In short, their dwindled presence reached meaninglessness a lot faster.

If Nixon was torked off at Whitlam, he had ample time to do so before the former resigned.

My sense is that domestic politics played a way bigger role in Whitlam's downfall. He rescinded the White Australia policy that the assisted passage scheme was ultimately a part of, and ended the long-standing scheme of "placing" indigenous children with white families - the notorious Lost Generations policy that amounted to state-sanctioned kidnapping.

Now without distracting from the main post, here’s still a lingering, CIA/Vietnam-era conspiracy theory: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disappearance_of_Harold_Holt

I would be very interested to hear from any of the UKers in the hive here (Nigel, GfTNC, and any others) if they happen to be versed in any way on the Westminster statue and the relationship of the actual Westminster to the Commonwealth Westminster governments.

Hmm. I guess " 'Stralia-'Stralia-'Stralia" just doesn't vibrate anyone's vindaloo much.

I am not from a Westminster system country, but I find it a bit odd to consider the discussion between the Governor General and the St. James's court to be off-limits. The Governor-General is, after all, the representative of the Queen, and the Queen of Australia is the reigning monarch. It would seem natural that the two are in discussion.

Australia is an independent country, and Queen Elizabeth is its queen, as a separate person from the British Queen. As such, it seems only prudent that the Queen pays attention to Australian politics. As far as I understand, her most important political job is to advise her prime ministers, who, naturally, do as they wish. So, I find it difficult to understand how the governor general could represent the Queen without being in close contact with her and the court. Unfortunately, that court includes Englishmen. That is always a problem with personal unions.

Presumably, Australia could remain a monarchy and get rid of the English by simply getting an Australian monarch. For example, I am pretty sure Prince Harry, who is momentarily unemployed, would be available to reign as the king. It has always been an English custom to send sons who contract inappropriate marriages to Australia. :-)

Thanks, Lurker. This is another ambiguity about Westminster systems that still want to retain a strong connection by way of having the British monarch be their head-of-state - they don't like the meddling, but are inviting inevitable meddling when a question of possible constitutional import comes up. So definitely, it's hard to imagine how the Queen would not have had correspondence with the GG at that time.

Given how Britain has assiduously worked to diminish its actual standing in the world in the name of asserting its imagined standing, it would help tremendously if the seat of the Commonwealth, to the extent that it still stands for anything, were shifted from London to Delhi (though probably not right now given who they have in power there, and which even in better times could open another can of worms with Pakistan). The better side of countries like India anymore have greater influence, and would have comparatively more credibility, in parts of the world where Britain still pretends to matter. To the extent that any country would still resent an India being the seat of such an organization…well, that'd see me punching above my weight here. Just a thought and nothing more.

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