Much to the apparent annoyance of the Foreign Minister and PM, Crikey contributor Barry Everingham wrote to the Queen in December about the plight of David Hicks. “Is there something you, the Australian Head of State, can do to address this grievous wrong?”

The Queen declined to comment, referring the matter instead to the British Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett. It seemed a neat diplomatic side-step — but did she commit a constitutional faux-pas?

According to a highly respected constitutional silk who contacted Crikey, John and Howard and Alexander Downer are “sure to have rebuked the Palace” over its  actions. “And rightly so,” says the QC. “It is a derogation from our sovereignty.”

The Australia Act 1986 means that the residual jurisdiction of the British government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office over the Australian states no longer applies. And connections with the Commonwealth were severed as long ago as 1932.

Essentially, it was entirely “improper” for the Palace to send Everingham’s letter on to Beckett, says our QC source. It should have been redirected “to our Governor-General for him to deal with”.

For his part, Everingham maintains that the Queen had “every right to forward my letter to whom she liked and in this case she didn’t like to send it to Michael Jeffery, Howard or Downer”.

The Palace is never “improper”, he says, and “it’s certain Whitehall saw my letter to the Queen and her reply would have drafted in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office”.

We put in calls to the Governor-General’s office to ask if there’d been any diplomatic to and fro-ing over the matter — but they didn’t reply.

Peter Fray

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