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The author

The author

Introduction to the ABCANZ page articles

“ABCANZ” stands for the English-speaking countries – America, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

This group is singled out because while there is only one inter- governmental organisation binding most of them together, there is also a large number of other formal relationships which bind some of them, as well as  the vast number of  informal links which come from common historical origins, common language and the ties of kith and kin.

Many of the formal links are in the military domain. Chief among these is the “Echelon” project, little known to the public, but of huge  importance nonetheless.”Echelon”  is the joint intelligence system  for all the ABCANZ countries and only for them. It stands outside NATO and the EU and depends not only on our common language  but also on shared hot and cold war experiences and the practices which flow from them.

Including the British  base  in Cyprus, and the US bases on British territory in the Indian Ocean and on Ascension Island in the Atlantic Ocean, and listening posts in Canada, Austalia and New Zealand, as well of course in Britain and the US,  “Echelon”  is by far the most important inter-country miltary project in the world because it provides instantaneous intelligence from every part of the globe  24/7.

The Monarchy, which links four of the five countries (though under serious threat in Australia), is a very significant bond for may people in those countries, and may become a more important common symbol as life gets much tougher for the West in general with the rise of China and the other huge Asian countries, not to forget Brazil and Russia. 

It is also worth noting in the context of the forthcoming competition for energy resources, that much of  the world’s uranium resources and the facilities which convert them into reactor fuel are in the hands of these four countries.

That the present British government should put its share of the most advanced nuclear fuel manufacturing plant in the world up for sale to raise around £3 billion to help reduce its annual deficit of £175 billion, is an act of the most mind-boggling insanity matched only by its 2006 sale of the leading nuclear power plant designer Westinghouse for a similar trivial sum  in 2006. We will now have to pay for the expertise we used to own in the constructionof the desperately needed electricty power stations and this will further diminish our influence with the uranium ore possessing ABCANZ countries

While Echelon is the most important miltary project linking all five ABCANZ countries there are many other projects, not shared with other countries, notably cross-postings  to each other’s units where  common  military traditions and procedures still largely endure  for Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, while Bae Systems, Britain’ s largest defence equipment supplier ,is now the fourth largest supplier to the US military.

In the non-military sphere, higher education involves an intricate web of connections in which some hundereds of individual academics move each year between the most prestigious universities in each country .

In the business world, common language and legal systems allow for a vast amount of cross-ownership (not all to Britain’s advantage, as the finacncial crisis has demonstrated) .

It is in these two areas, higher education and business, underpinned by the language and many common institutions that the “special relationship ” or rather relationships lie. Silly reportage of this concept by British journalists, either denying it or affirming  it,  is embarrassing.

On the economic side, an interesting comparison can be made with Britain’s relationship with the European Union and the rest of the ABCANZ group. Britain will pay in 2009/10 around £12 Billion as its subscription to the EU of which perhaps £3 Billion may find its way back in EU-controlled subsidies for land management and structural funds.

The British public have been repeatedly told that membership of the EU  is necessary to protect British jobs (3 million is often quoted by government ministers).

 The four other ABCANZ countries taken together, apart from Britain, have almost exactly the same value of trade (imports plus exports) with the EU as Britain has but they pay not a penny piece to the EU. Their trade is in fact protected in law by the World Trading Organisation which protects every nation’s trade .

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On the Australian Referendum of November 1999

Australia’s Decision: A view from England ten years on[1]

Many here in Britain listened to the debate in 1999 about establishing a republic in Australia with more than casual interest.  We all knew that this was a decision for Australians alone, citizens of a respected independent country.  But to a degree perhaps obscured by the views of professional commentators, many ordinary people here – with literally millions of relatives in Australia – do continue to see Australians of all backgrounds, not as foreigners, but as family.

Four Crowned Democracies

During the campaign all the arguments will have been heard from both sides in Australia, but it may just be relevant to hear again a view from one of the three overseas countries most interested in the referendum.  During the referendum debate, a well-known Australian advocate of the republican cause, the writer Robert Hughes, in an article in the London Sunday Telegraph, noted that “Australia is almost alone among Western nations in never having had a revolution or even a serious popular rising against the Government”.  In fact this distinction is shared in the modern period since Australia’s founding in 1788 with the other three Western nations Britain, Canada and New Zealand, whose government system is also that of Crown and Parliament.  Our four countries are also alone among Western nations in having fought the two World Wars from beginning to end to free the world from powerful tyrannies which threatened not only their own peaceful existence, but everyone else’s as well.  In Korea we again stood together against communist aggression.  In the 1999 outbreak of trouble in East Timor, people in Britain were positively glad that our overstretched forces were able to render assistance to the Australian-led force sent to restore order there just as we and the Canadians are thankful for Australian support in the Afghanistan war.

Another job for a lawyer or politician?

In his article Hughes asked rhetorically, “what does Elizabeth II mean to a Greek farmer’s son born in the Snowy Mountains?”  Well, his father might have told him that the Queen’s Navy was the main means by which Greece freed itself in 1824 from rule by the Turks, and that 120 years later that same Navy landed troops in Athens to prevent Greece falling under communist rule.  Australia, Canada, Britain and New Zealand have been places of refuge for people desperate to escape from strife-torn lands, most of them republics, and for some at least in all four countries that refuge is identified with our common symbol, the Crown.In the BBC programme “Question Time” broadcast from Sydney in October 1999, Bob Hawke and others made the point that while Australia was a democracy, the one post an Australian could not aspire to was Head of State.  But then neither can I and I live in a democracy too.  In a republic, there will be perhaps 10 presidents in an adult’s lifetime – in Australian terms an individual would have a one in two million chance of being head of state.  Better than nothing – some would say – but is the chance actually as big as that?  The fact is that in all the Western republics which Australia might compare itself to, the president is invariably a politician or a lawyer.  I would guess that most Australians like most Britons, think that politicians and lawyers are quite prominent enough already without providing them with yet another source of employment.  Another question posed by Bob Hawke in the Question Time programme was how would Britons feel if their Head of State was absent most of the time.  As a former Prime Minister, Mr Hawke well knows the amount of time the Queen spends in Australia is a matter for her and the Australian government.  But unlike the Head of State of a republic, the Monarch has two functions – as part of  government and as a living symbol of a common history and collection of values.  For many in Britain the latter is by far the more important and that continues wherever the Sovereign is.  I personally would be quite content with a Governor-general acting in Britain when the Queen is elsewhere.  The Americans have their flag and our four countries our Crown.  A symbol, like other national institutions, is for keeping.  You don’t elect flags, or great universities, or great opera houses for that matter.

Strengthening Links

Of course, like all Britons, I recognise that many of the links which formerly bound our countries have weakened in the last half century, but others not so obviously perhaps have strengthened.  Along with millions I detest the way Britain’s membership of the European Union has made Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders queue in the foreigners’ line at airports, while the citizens of former enemy countries pass through a privileged entry gate.  But looking beyond this irritant, the fact is more of our two peoples are in each other’s country than ever before.  After decades of neglect, a Britain which is now the second largest non-governmental overseas investor in the world (after the USA) is investing in Australia at a higher rate than for many years, while Australia is one of the biggest investors in Britain.  In fact our four countries, though different in size, are truly equals now and we in Britain rejoice in that fact.

The Crown: a bond without constraints

What does the future hold?  There are three thousand million people in the Asian lands to the north of Australia, the influence of which is growing economically at a rapid rate while Australians look at the world with growing self-confidence.  We all hope we have learned how to build a safer world, but who can tell?  Since 1945 there have been perhaps only two years when British forces have not lost lives in the cause of freedom.  The Queen is colonel-in-chief of the Royal Australian Infantry Corps and the Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery, with their exact counterparts in Canada, Britain and New Zealand.  That alone is a guarantee that we would fight for each other in a real emergency.  Should the republican cause succeed, all that would go, along with the insignia and medals of a common martial tradition of which all can be proud.  The Crown is a unique bond in a dangerous world – a bond without constraints.  I, as an Englishman, very much hope Australians will not cast it away.                                                           


Stephen Bush, 31 October 1999



[1] This is an updated version of an article sent on 31st October 1999 to three Australian newspapers: Sydney Morning Herald, Melbourne Argos, The Australian.

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