BOOKS: by David FlintNews Weekly
HEAD OF STATE: The Governor-General, the Monarchy, the Republic and the Dismissal, by Sir David Smith
, February 18, 2006
Dispelling the mythsHEAD OF STATE: The Governor-General, the Monarchy, the Republic and the Dismissal
by Sir David Smith.
Macleay Press. 358 pages
Hardback. RRP: $49.95Sir David Smith's study of the office of the Governor-General was released in time for the 30th anniversary of the dismissal of the Whitlam Government.
|Gough Whitlam and David Smith,|
11 November 1975
Because of his reading of the Proclamation dissolving the Parliament from the steps of old Parliament House - with Gough Whitlam standing behind him ready for his memorable outburst - Sir David will forever be associated in people's minds with that event.
Here now is the substance to cement that association, and what substance there is.
To use the words of the Prime Minister John Howard, when he called for a renewal of the study of our history, this is no "fragmented stew" of "themes" and "issues", nor has Sir David succumbed to any "postmodern culture of relativism" where any objective record of achievement is questioned or repudiated.
Meticulously researched, and substantiated by footnotes and references, the book is and will long be a landmark in the better understanding of the role and function of the Governor-General.
Dismissed as a rubber stamp and a ceremonial bauble, the Crown remains at the centre of the constitutional system, which encompasses the states. Sir David ensures that the reader will gain a better understanding of the importance of the Crown as a check and balance against the misuse of power and the maintenance of constitutional rectitude.
The best-known example of this was on November 11, 1975, when Sir John Kerr withdrew Mr Whitlam's commission as Prime Minister. This book explains that this was only the tip of the iceberg - that our viceroys play a little-understood, almost continuous role, in ensuring the good governance of our Commonwealth.
One of the great services that Sir David provides - and there are many - is an understanding that November 11 was the culmination of a political and not
a constitutional crisis.
Constitutionally, a government cannot govern without Supply, with Sir David demonstrating that on 170 occasions since 1950, the Labor Opposition had attempted to deny Supply to the government of the day. As Mr Whitlam said in 1970, the purpose was to "destroy the Government".
Sir John Kerr did not create the political crisis - that was the work of the politicians who blocked Supply and Mr Whitlam who refused to do what he believed previous governments were bound to do - resign.
Instead, Mr Whitlam sought to rule without Supply, which would have put the country in its biggest financial crisis since the 1930s Depression.
When he proposed to advise only a half-Senate election - which in no way would have resolved the crisis - the Governor-General acted. He ensured that the issue would be decided, in a mere three weeks, by the people.
When one considers how other constitutional systems would have more often than not failed to resolve this, we realise how fortunate we are to live under our constitutional system.Other gems
There are other gems in this book, which is essential reading, both for those who wish to change our constitutional system, and for those who would keep it - an increasing majority.
It will fill a curious void left by the law schools, which have generally avoided detailed study of the Crown, which is after all our oldest state institution, above politics and central to our system.Professor David Flint, a former chairman of the Australian Press Council and Australian Broadcasting Authority, is author of Twilight of the Elites (2003) and Malice in Media Land (2005). Copies of these are available at $29.95 each, from News Weekly Books.