Swearing allegiance to the Queen ‘ridiculous’:Republic minister

London: Assistant Minister for the Republic Matt Thistlethwaite says requiring Australian MPs to swear allegiance to the Queen is ridiculous and shows why another republic referendum is needed.

The 47th parliament,sworn in on Tuesday,is Australia’s most culturally diverse due to the fact it has more MPs from non-European backgrounds than ever before.

Matt Thistlethwaite says MPs should be pledging to serve the Australian people who elected them and not the British royal family.

Matt Thistlethwaite says MPs should be pledging to serve the Australian people who elected them and not the British royal family.James Brickwood

Those born overseas have to relinquish their first citizenship to comply with section 44 of the Constitution,which says anyone who is a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign power is incapable of sitting in parliament.

Thistlethwaite said MPs should be pledging to serve the Australian people who elected them and not the British royal family.

“Ironically,under section 44 of the Constitution,you cannot run for parliament if you hold allegiance to another country,yet the first thing we do in parliament is promise to serve a foreign monarch,” he told this masthead.

“It’s archaic and ridiculous. It does not represent the Australia we live in and it’s further evidence of why we need to begin discussing becoming a republic with our own head of state. We are no longer British.”

Section 42 of the Constitution says every senator or member must swear an oath or affirmation to the monarch and their heirs and successors before taking their seat.

Technically,section 42 and the schedule in which the oath is set out could be changed by a referendum without moving to a republic,but it is highly unlikely the government would try to push for this on its own.

Instead,it would be just one of many clauses that would be rewritten if Australia ditched the Queen and her immediate heirs Prince Charles,Prince William and Prince George.

While Thistlethwaite has beenappointed Australia’s first-ever assistant minister for the republic,Labor says it will not hold a republic referendum until any second term. It wants to hold a referendum this term asking the Australian people to enshrine an Indigenous Voice into the Constitution.

The Prime Minister says the Platinum Jubilee celebrations are not the time to discuss Australia becoming a republic,as he pushes case for a referendum.

Thistlethwaite said the document had not been updated since 1977 and it was time for a constitutional refresh,first with recognition of an Indigenous Voice,then a move to a republic.

“We are now a much more mature and independent nation and we should reflect that in the document upon which our democracy and our laws are based,” he said.

Shadow attorney-general Julian Leeser said Thistlethwaite and the government should be more focused on the challenges facing Australians “instead of undergraduate stunts railing against our system of government that has served us well”.

Philip Benwell from the Australian Monarchist League said Thistlethwaite was wrong to say MPs swore allegiance to a foreign monarch.

“The Queen,by right of the Australian Constitution and by act of the Australian parliament implemented by his Labor predecessors in 1973,is Queen of Australia,” Benwell said.

“The Australian Constitution specifies that she is the head of the parliament in which he serves.

“She is not a foreign monarch and neither,as he says,does he or anyone else pledge allegiance to the royal family as the assistant minister for ‘the’ republic,he should know full well.

“Constitutionally we have the Queen and the heir to the throne. We do not have a royal family as such.”

Referendums have had limited success in Australia,partly because of the high bar required to approve changes to the Constitution.

Under section 128 of the Constitution,any constitutional amendment must be passed by both houses of parliament. It can then succeed only if approved by a double majority,that is the national majority of the Australian public along with the majority of votes in four of the six states.

Just eight of the 44 referendums in Australia’s history have been approved.

In 1999,a republic referendum was lost 55 per cent to 45 per cent,largely because republicans could not agree on the model for choosing the head of state. Every state voted no. The ACT,which counts only towards the national total,was the only jurisdiction to vote yes.

AResolve Political Monitor survey for this masthead in January found that 36 per cent of voters were in favour of a republic,38 per cent neutral and 27 per cent against.

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Latika Bourke is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age,based in London.

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