It looks like there’s going to be a showdown on Friday at the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). Queensland Premier Campbell Newman is currently engaged in a stand-off with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard over who will legislate for the Succession to the Crown. Gillard and the other Australian states are firmly behind invoking a clause in the Australian Constitution whereby the states pass laws enabling the federal parliament to legislate on an issue, while Newman wants to support the traditional relationship between states and Crown by writing their own law.
Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus asserts that Queensland’s bill is inconsistent with the aims of the Commonwealth governments; State Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie disagrees. Personally, I don’t understand what the big fuss is about; if the law is consistent with Commonwealth attempts then I see no issue with each state passing their own law. If it isn’t, let’s hear the evidence.
The federal government disagrees, and now the Gillard government is threatening to ‘override’ Queensland’s bill in the next parliamentary sitting in May unless the Queensland bill is dropped before the next COAG meeting this Friday. I assume this would require a constitutional amendment, which itself would require a nationwide referendum unless someone can see something in section 51 which would let the federal government legislate for it (I can’t find anything). EDIT: Confirmed.
Things are, at least, getting interesting in Australia!
UPDATE 21/04/13: Looks like a compromise has been reached: after a proposal from Queensland Premier Newman, COAG agreed that states can pass their own laws regarding the succession, but also all will request that the federal government pass legislation under section 53(38) of the Australian constitution. Any state laws on succession must be consistent with their request to the Commonwealth parliament. This means there will be two identical laws on the statute books for Queensland and the Commonwealth.
Lord Cormack has put down an amendment at third reading for the Succession to the Crown Bill to explicitly state that Catholics cannot accede to the Throne. If this is the only amendment at third reading, it probably won’t take longer than half an hour in third reading. Further amendments may be forthcoming, but none on the most interesting question (for me anyway) of whether the monarch must be Anglican and the Establishment of the Church of England more generally. Given the Conservative backbench interest and Labour’s support for a committee of parliament to set up an inquiry it’s possible the Lords’ Constitution committee, the Commons’ Political and Constitutional Reform committee, or some new ad-hoc committee could begin an inquiry in the new Parliamentary session after May into this.
Given the force of opinion in the Clergy against disestablishment, the most pragmatic solution would be the regency model proposed by Jacob Rees-Mogg where in the event the monarch wasn’t Anglican, an Anglican regent would be appointed as Supreme Governor of the Church of England. It’s a compromise, but it would deal with the likelihood of an atheist monarch in the future. Of course, it would require another process just like this one which might put politicians off…