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Early lifeEdit

Smith was born in Melbourne to Polish immigrant parents named Szmitkowski,[1] and was educated at Princes Hill State School, Scotch College, the University of Melbourne, and the Australian National University, where he gained a Bachelor of Arts.

Smith began his career in the Australian Public Service in 1953, and was later appointed as Private Secretary to the Minister for Interior and Works from 1958 until 1963. He was then appointed Secretary to the Federal Executive Council and head of the Government Branch, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, from 1971 to 1973.[2]

Secretary to the Governor-GeneralEdit

In 1973, Smith was appointed Official Secretary to Sir Paul Hasluck, and became the first Secretary of the Order of Australia on its establishment in 1975.[2] After Hasluck's retirement, Smith then served Sir John Kerr and was present at the time of the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis. Following the dismissal of the Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, on 11 November 1975, Smith read out the proclamation of the dissolution of parliament on the steps of the then Parliament House in Canberra:

NOWTHEREFORE, I Sir John Robert Kerr, the Governor-General of Australia, do by this my Proclamation dissolve the Senate and the House of Representatives. Given under my Hand and the Great Seal of Australia on 11 November 1975.

By His Excellency's Command, Malcolm Fraser Prime Minister, John R. Kerr Governor General.

God Save The Queen![3]

After Smith read the proclamation, Whitlam spoke to the large crowd that had gathered and indirectly referred to David Smith:

Well may we say "God save the Queen" because nothing will save the Governor-General. The proclamation you have just heard read by the Governor-General's Official Secretary was countersigned "Malcolm Fraser", who will undoubtedly go down in Australian history from Remembrance Day 1975 as Kerr's Cur.[4]

Smith served as Official Secretary until 1990, serving Sir Zelman Cowen, Sir Ninian Stephen and Bill Hayden. He was later appointed a Visiting Fellow in the Faculty of Law at the Australian National University for 1998 and 1999, and was a member of the 1998 Constitutional Convention.

Views on the monarchy and Whitlam's dismissalEdit

In a lecture on "An Australian Head of State: An Historical and Contemporary Perspective", published as Papers on Parliament No. 27, March 1996,[5] Smith mentioned that, in a previous lecture, Senator Baden Teague had spoken of the Queen as Australians' head of state and argued for her replacement by an Australian head of state, and that in his replies to questions after the lecture Teague had spoken of the Governor-General as "our head of state". Smith remarked that the switch from Queen to Governor‑General was "entirely automatic and unselfconscious", and that Teague was "not alone in his ambivalence". After mentioning other public references made to the governor -general as head of state, Smith opined "The fact is that under our Constitution we have two heads of state—a symbolic head of state in the Sovereign, and a constitutional head of state in the Governor-General", and said that in his lecture he would discuss the roles of the Sovereign and of the Governor-General under the Australian Constitution, including some of the changes which had occurred in each of those roles since Federation. To conclude the lecture Smith quoted the remarks of Gerard Brennan, Chief Justice of Australia, on the oaths of allegiance and office:

"The first promise is a commitment of loyalty to Her Majesty the Queen, her heirs and successors according to law. It is a commitment to the head of State under the Constitution. It is from the Constitution that the Oath of Allegiance, which has its origins in feudal England, takes its significance in the present day. As the Constitution can now be abrogated or amended only by the Australian people in whom, therefore, the ultimate sovereignty of the nation resides, the Oath of Allegiance and the undertaking to serve the head of State as Chief Justice are a promise of fidelity and service to the Australian people. The duties which the oath imposes sit lightly on a citizen of the nation which the Constitution summoned into being and which it sustains. Allegiance to a young, free and confident nation, governed by the rule of law, is not a burden but a privilege."(Spoken at a ceremonial sitting of the High Court on 21 April 1995)

After retiring from public service, Sir David became a member of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy and frequently gives addresses on constitutional matters. He is an ardent defender of Sir John Kerr, and highly critical of Gough Whitlam.[1] In 2005 Smith published an account of the events of 1975 and the other constitutional debates, Head of State, which was launched by former Governor-General Bill Hayden.[6] Smith later published his opinion that the dismissal had been the culmination of a political and not a constitutional crisis.[7]

Governor-general as head of stateEdit

Smith has, since his retirement in 1992, argued publicly in books and lectures that the governor-general carries out the duties of head of state in his own right and not as the Queen's representative or surrogate.[8][9] He notes that between 1992 and 1999, in part of Bill Hayden's time as Governor-General, the Commonwealth Government Directory listed the function of that office in these terms: "Under the Constitution the Governor-General is the Head of State in whom the Executive Power of the Commonwealth is vested."[10]

Smith noted that in 2009, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd described the Governor-General as the Australian head of state, by saying, "A visit to Africa of this scale by Australia's Head of State will express the seriousness of Australia's commitment".[11]

Life in retirementEdit

Smith lives in Canberra and can often be found at Old Parliament House leading guided tours. He is father to three sons, Michael (financial services, Sydney), Richard (Commonwealth public servant, Canberra), Phillip (strategic architect, ICT, Oslo, Norway).[citation needed]


Smith has also been appointed a Knight of the Order of St John and awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "Class of '75: dismissed but still falling out". The Sydney Morning Herald. 9 November 2004. Retrieved 8 June 2009.
  2. ^ a b c "Official Secretary to give first-hand account of 'the Dismissal'". University of New England. Archived from the original on 3 August 2008. Retrieved 8 June 2009.
  3. ^ "Kerr's Proclamation Dissolving Parliament". Retrieved 8 June 2009.
  4. ^ "Whitlam's speech". (Bryan Palmer). 11 November 1975. Retrieved 11 July 2006.
  5. ^ Sir David Smith "An Australian Head of State: An Historical and Contemporary Perspective [1]" Papers on Parliament No. 27, March 1996 [1]
  6. ^ "Back in went the Queen, giving Gough his best line". The Sydney Morning Herald. 7 November 2005. Retrieved 8 June 2009.
  7. ^ David Flint, Dispelling the myths in News Weekly, February 18, 2006 [2]
  8. ^ Speech by Sir David Smith at a Luncheon for Australians for Constitutional Monarchy Parliament House, Sydney 19 March 2001.[3]
  9. ^ Smith, David (2005). Head of State. Sydney: Macleay. pp. 91–92.
  10. ^ Commonwealth Government Directory. Australian Government Publishing Service. December 1995 – February 1996.
  11. ^ "Governor-General's Visit to Africa" (Press release). Prime Minister of Australia. 6 March 2009. Archived from the original on 21 March 2011. Retrieved 22 January 2011.
  12. ^ "It's an Honour – Commander of the Royal Victorian Order". Australian Government. Retrieved 8 June 2009.
  13. ^ "It's an Honour – Officer of the Order of Australia". Australian Government. Retrieved 8 June 2009.
  14. ^ "It's an Honour – Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order". Australian Government. Retrieved 8 June 2009.
  15. ^ "It's an Honour – Centenary Medal". Australian Government. Retrieved 8 June 2009.

Further readingEdit

  • Smith, David. Head of State:The Governor-General, the Monarchy, the Republic and the Dismissal (2005), Macleay Press. ISBN 1-876492-15-5
  • Kerr, John. Matters for Judgement (1979), Sun Press.

External linksEdit