Thursday, June 22, 2006

Australia's GG's Abuse of Power

It's older news that the Australian federal government just nixed Canberra's same-sex marriage law. However, I didn't read until this morning about the procedural vehicle John Howard used.

The Australian Capital Territory passed a same-sex marriage bill. John Howard, the Tory Prime Minister, didn't like it. So he instructed the Governor General to decline Royal Assent.

This is wrong - a total abuse of power. Don't get me wrong. I believe that the GG - and the Sovereign - should have the power to disallow laws. But not like this. The GG isn't a device for the Federal Government to nix any law that it doesn't like. If the GG, on the advice of the PM, refuses to sign any bill that the PM doesn't like, then you run into the joy of a provincial government (e.g. Liberals in Ontario) being at the mercy of a federal government of a different political leaning (e.g. Tories in Ottawa).

The GG should be able to act on his or her own to protect the country as a whole - dealing with issues of constitutional importance, not political. I remember back in high school when the GST was introduced, we asked our history teacher whether the GG would veto the bill. He laughed, "It's only a tax bill." Exactly.

Imposing taxes, allowing same-sex marriage, creating agencies, reforming the criminal code - these are all political decisions, and should be left to the various governments, free of Royal interference. The Crown should move, however, when the state itself is threatened: if Parliament passed a law abolishing elections, or reversing the presumption of innocence, or abolishing the Supreme Court or judicial review. These are the sorts of decisions that the Crown should protect us from.

But using the Crown as a vehicle to stop decisions that the PM just doesn't like is an abuse. Australia's GG was wrong.

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