One day soon, the Queen will die.
At that moment, Prince Charles will become king of Australia. There will be no vote or referendum: Australians will not have our say before Charles is hired as our next head of state. Charles will be the next king of Australia because he is his mother's son and because he is a protestant Christian. These are his constitutional qualifications. Australians have long wondered whether we are satisfied with a head of state chosen in this way.
But recent stories in the United Kingdom, especially a series of reports in The Sunday Times, raise new doubts about whether Charles is the right person for the job.
According to reports, Charles accepted millions of euros - in cash 500 euro notes, literally stuffed into bags - from a Qatari politician between 2011 and 2015. Last year, the chief executive of The Prince's Foundation resigned amid claims that the executive offered to help secure an honour and British citizenship for a wealthy Saudi donor, actions that prompted the launch of a Metropolitan Police inquiry early this year.
Those bags of cash found their way to a charity that "bankrolls the prince's pet projects and his country estate in Scotland". As noted in the piece, "there is no suggestion the payments were illegal", and the UK's Charity Commission has declined to investigate. It must be noted that a "royal source" has disputed aspects of the reporting, and Prince Charles has said he would no longer accept cash.
If an Australian state politician or local councillor was caught up in something like this, they might face an inquiry or risk losing their job at the next election. If a federal politician did this, there might be questions asked in parliament or a potential investigation. If we wouldn't tolerate this sort of indiscretion from an Australian politician, why would we tolerate it from the next king of Australia?
There is no suggestion Charles himself has broken the law or is corrupt. But there are questions about his judgement.
First, accepting such enormous sums of cash gives rise to a perception (however misleading) that inappropriate influence is being sought by the donor. It risks creating an appearance (again, however misleading) that the recipient of the bags of cash is indebted to the donor. This is something that senior government figures would usually try to avoid. In Australia, for example, gifts to ministers or government staff must usually be declared and surrendered. No constitutional or government figure should ever be put in a position where the receipt of a gift creates the perception of influence. The fact that our next king gave the bags of cash to his charity rather than to himself does not change this materially, especially given how closely and publicly associated with his charities the prince has been.
Second, it gives rise to concerns about inequality and partiality on the world stage. Would a foreign politician who was unable to stump up bags of cash be confident that they would be able to secure unannounced meetings or "repeated" visits from Charles? Our head of state represents us every time they travel. If they do so in a way that suggests the appearance of personal partiality on the world stage, we should be concerned.
Third, these incidents raise doubt about Charles' judgement and his ability to listen to advice. Extraordinarily, reports suggest the bags of cash were accepted because advisers thought the "only thing we could do was to count the money". Charles reportedly ignored advisers who "pleaded" with him to return the bin Laden money. Australia's next head of state should be better at finding - and taking - good advice.
Of course, King Charles won't be based in Canberra, administering laws on a day-to-day basis. Instead, we have a system of constitutional rules that ensure that the day-to-day business of government is led by the people we elect - the Prime Minister and the cabinet - as well as Australian public servants. But it's worth remembering that, under our constitution, King Charles will be a formal component of our Federal Parliament. On the advice of our prime minister, King Charles will formally appoint (and could even potentially formally sack) our Governor-General as the King's representative in Australia. When the Governor-General signs a new federal law into effect, the constitution requires that this "assent" be given in the King's name.
The constitutional power to administer laws and run Australia's federal government will be formally "vested in the King and is exercisable by the Governor-General as the King's representative".
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