Saturday, January 26, 2008

Empress of Australia

The Australian Day comments by the new Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, include the following: "I'm an optimist about Australia's future. Let's together seize the opportunities that lie before us. To realize Australia's potential as a nation, and the individual potential of every member of the Australian family." I would suggest that an opportunity that should be seized lies with the monarchy that currently serves Australia.

Mr. Rudd and many of his supporters have shown a strong inclination to go down the republic path, and turn the existing Australian monarchy, with Queen Elizabeth II as formal Head of State represented by a Governor-General, into a republic headed by a figurehead President. I really believe that a great opportunity and potential is being missed here. Australia is the only nation on earth that is also its own continent. There is a strong attachment by many in Australia to the Queen and the Royal Family; others want the historic link to colonial status ended and a republic declared. I would suggest that the loyalty to the family that has served as monarchs in Australia since its very beginning and a desire for a new style of government, without colonial implications, for a growing Australia in the Twenty-First Century are not mutually exclusive.

There are many many republics with semi-retired politicians or others filling the role of figurehead President. However, a monarchy ads a certain dignity to the Head of State role, especially where the monarch has a long historic link to the nation and its people. But, it is true that many in Australia feel that all colonial leftovers need to be done away with in the Third Millennium. What I would suggest is that the Queen's position be changed to an Imperial dignity as Empress of Australia. Generally an Imperial title reflects the fact that the nation is more important, is of higher stature than simply a normal kingdom or nation state. When the late Shah of Iran wished to showcase his nation's growing stature as a economic and military powerhouse in the Middle East he assumed an Imperial status and his wife became the Empress instead of the Queen of Iran.

Australia, as the only nation-state that is a continent has every right to an Imperial dignity for its monarchy. By having the Queen styled Empress of Australia it would showcase Australia as one of the up and coming nations of the Twenty-First Century in much the same way as the "jewel of the (old) British Empire" India was in the Nineteenth Century when Queen Victoria was created the Empress of India. In the United Kingdom, and the other parts of her massive Empire, she was known as Queen but in the Indian sub-continent she was known as the Empress. This title was held by all of her successors down to and including the father, King George VI, of the present Queen; ending only when India and Pakistan parted after the Second World War. Moving to a republic status does nothing for Australia; having Queen Elizabeth II become Empress of Australia showcases Australia as a up and coming powerhouse in the Southern Hemisphere.


Friday, January 11, 2008

PM Brown: End The Rules of Male Primogeniture

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, it is now the 21st Century and high time to end the sexist rules of male primogeniture with regards to succession to hereditary titles (peers and baronets). Although your Government has committed itself to continue to reform the House of Lord with the goal of eventually ending voting rights for all hereditary peers, some hereditary peers still sit in the Upper Chamber of the United Kingdom Parliament. This, and the fact that all hereditary titles are governed by law, makes it a matter of public policy how titles are succeeded to.

Almost all hereditary peers and baronets have succession to their titles governed by male only rules. Many Scots Peerage titles, usually those created prior to 1550 or thereabouts, and at least some Scottish/Nova Scotian baronetcies, allow female succession but even in those cases younger brothers succeed before older sisters.

I suppose that one could claim that there were some practical reasons, besides sexism, for these rules in times past. The local lord was expected to strap on his suit of armor and defend the Kingdom with his broadsword and any woman doing so would have been at a disadvantage to her larger male counterpoints. However, last time I checked, it has not been necessary for peers and baronets to strap on armor for some time now. There simply is no fair reason why, in the Twenty-first Century, to discriminate against women due to their gender when it comes to succession to hereditary titles.

A few years ago, the late Lord Diamond proposed a bill to allow peers the right to change their succession to end male primogeniture, but this was defeated in the old pre-reformed House of Lords. I watched the debate in the Lords over that bill and there were some good points raised in opposition to it. It was felt, by many peers, that to disinherit those who have long expected to succeed their fathers was a bit unfair.

What I would propose is that your Government support a bill to end male primogeniture with regard to succession to all hereditary titles but exclude all sons currently in succession to living title holders. In their cases, it would be their children who would succeed under new sexist free rules. In cases where there is not a son (or one born within say a year of the new bill being enacted) to succeed, but a uncle or cousin or some distance kinsman in current right of first succession, the new rules would apply at once. Further, the bill should allow hereditary titles who have been dormant for at least a year, and became dormant during the reign of the present monarch, to be resettled upon the person who would have succeeded to the title from the last holder of same had the then rules of succession allowed for gender neutral succession.

The United Kingdom has signed a number of treaties that support human rights including the right of women to be treated equally to men. The British Labour Party has long supported the abolishment of sexism and gender equality. So why the failure to act on this matter?

Scots Peers have the right to have their titles resettled by Letters Patent with new rules of succession (which can include gender neutral rules), however, I have had no luck at convincing either the immediate prior occupant of No. 10 nor your team to allow this in the case of my family's titles. My wife died young of cancer and we had no children, and my sister is not allowed to succeed due to her gender. I really do think that this is a bit much in the year 2008!