Voting Again? But This Time For A Democratic Australian Republic

.... Why Australia needs to care?

by James Travers-Murison - political and opinion writer on Australia’s constitution and political system, lawyer and first secretary of the Universal Organisation for Collective Ascension Party(UOCAP).

This is a true Australian, not the Queen.

You may not believe this but there is a country on this world which still flies another country's flag on it's flag, which still has another nation's queen as it's head of state, which still has another state's regent on it's currency, and which still has a parliament that swears it's allegiance to another land's head of state.

This isn't some tiny forgotten colonial island in the West Indies in which washed up American millionaires spend their winter holidays.

This is Australia!

Australia in 1999 was in a perfect position to go into the new millenia as an independent Republic but it failed to do so. The issue died, and Labor has backed off it after negative results in the following two elections. In 2009 Rudd's Labor seemed ready in the 2020 conference to go for it again but nothing happenned. Now Gillard seems to think, being a Pom by birth, that we have to wait till Elizabeth steps into the grave. The Liberal's Abbott seems a monarchist and the chance while Turnbull was leader was lost to push for a republic.

Still a good chance exists to present the correct model to the people which will be accepted and we need to make the change.

PRIDE in ourselves and the strength to LOVE OUR COUNTRY AS OURSELVES as a completely independent nation will alter Australia's collective consciousness. This means it will alter our own PERSONAL ATTITUDE ABOUT OURSELVES. It gives us the OPPORTUNITY to attain not only more freedom, but also more self-respect and more responsibility in understanding who we really are as a people.

You may THINK it does not matter, but the long term consequences of sovereign independence for any country and their respect in the world of nations is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. And how we regard ourselves dictates how other's will regard us. Both personally and nationally.

Howard the confirmed monarchist who did not say how he was going to vote until a week before the '99 referendum, plays scissors with the Chinese Premier. Our PM came up with water; it rusts the scissors, sinks the stone and wets the paper. The Premier laughed. He understood how important it is that the people do not elect the head of state.

The Constitutional Convention 1998 was held in Australia to determine basically whether the country should become a republic by 2000. It recommended a Republic with a President elected by parliament. Parliament asked us to decide if we wanted this particular form of a Republic by putting a referendum to the people. Prime Minister Howard kept quiet then said he would vote 'no'. On November 5th 1999 this weakened model of the Republic was defeated by the people in all states except Victoria and the ACT. Howard had hoped correctly the movement for a strong Republic had lost its steam through internal division over the method of electing the President.

The Convention in 1998 weakly recommended a Republican model differing little from our current Constitution. The President was not be chosen by the people, but instead by a committee, their recommendation would then be considered by the Prime Minister. If he agreed then he would present this candidate to parliament for approval requiring a 2/3 majority of the lower house. The President's powers were to remain undefined. The Governor General's reserve powers appeared to have been left as ambiguous as they were before, the President will be a figurehead, who has power to intervene and dismiss the government in constitutional crisis where there is an abuse of power.

Like in Australia, the Scottish Highlander Regiment's commander in chief is the Monarch, not parliament. Will this vital check be maintained in Australia's Republic through the Presidency?

However the worst anomaly was that the President, unlike the Governor General, could have been dismissed by the Prime Minister at any time without having to obtain the consent of the Queen. Supposedly this is merely a formality, but nonetheless if the Prime Minister is clearly acting unconstitutionally the Crown can deny following the advice.

This meant in a constitutional crisis, such as occurred in 1975 with Kerr and Whitlam, if the President attempted to dismiss the Prime Minister for abuse of power, the Prime Minister could simply dismiss the President. The Crown provides a vital check against this by requiring the Prime Minister to seek the advice of the Monarch, who then, traditionally, by formality dismisses the Governor General. However, if the Prime Minister is clearly acting in an unconstitutional manner, then the Monarch is perfectly entitled to and should refuse to act on the advice.

Even worse was this model allowed the Prime Minister to dismiss the President without requiring parliamentary approval first, and should parliament say 'no', there appeared to be no provision for re-instatement of the President to office. Only at an unspecified time a simple majority vote by the House of Representatives confirms this action. In effect even if the Prime Minister was in a minority government he could have gotten away with dismissing the President. A vital constitutional check had effectively been destroyed if this model had been accepted. Ex-Governor-General Bill Hayden pointed this out in his lecture ‘Half good is not good enough’. Fortunately the people rejected the model.

We must have an Australian President chosen directly by the people. To quote the Australian republican and constitutionalist Melbourne University Constitutional law lecturer Glen Patmore "At heart, Republicanism has always been about the moral claims on citizens in political communities aspiring to self determination." If this is to be the case and we are to be a joint bearer of the state's power then this self determination must mean what it says and the people must be empowered.

We must be trusted to vote for our head of state ourselves and not through any representatives, who we know full well are dictated to by their party machinery. To emphasise this political blindness entrenched in Australia, ex-Premier Rupert Hamer, told me direct elections would result in political appointments. He was convinced selection of proper and upstanding candidates could be best achieved by parliamentary selection. Yet he seemed oblivious to the fact that John Kerr, Bill Hayden, Ninian Stephens and just about every other governor-general appointed by parliament were political appointments - being ex-ministers or ex-high court judges apart from the disastrous ex-Anglican Archbishop and an ex-army General.

To allow any less than direct presidential elections would be defeating the purpose of having a republic, which is all about decisions by the people. Giving them a sense of personal say in their government and a chance to elect who they want to.

The fear of wealthy people's dominating any elections citing America as an example is disproved by Bill Clinton who was not a millionaire, nor from the ultra wealthy class. Furthermore countries such as Iceland, Portugal, France and Ireland directly elect their Presidents and there has been no claim they are any more monopolised by wealth than any other heads of state. One of Ireland's President was actually a very down to earth woman.

A weak compromise to please the bureaucratically elected party dictatorship has resulted from the Convention. It is generally considered, for instance, that our current Prime Minister views any member of his party who 'crosses the floor' as a traitor. Old boys clubs and lawyers, who especially amongst the Liberals lock the gates to the people, largely run the two main power parties, the Liberals and Labor. Pre-selection rorting has recently gained the headlines, particularly in the Labor Party. It is unfortunate they do not regard "the people" as intelligent enough to make their own minds up. Direct presidential elections, trusting the Australian people, trusting us, seems to have been pushed to one side.

Our parliament hidden in the bush, a bit like the reserve powers.

Another failure of the Convention was that it was absolutely essential the Constitution be amended to unambiguously define the President's powers. The Convention's delegates declined to recommend this. Undefined powers of the Governor-General led to the confusion of the Prime Minister Whitlam's dismissal. The opposition controlled the senate and had blocked revenue. Whitlam refused to call an election. It was only a tradition that required an election when supply was blocked and Whitlam simply enquiring with the Reserve Bank to see if he could borrow the money through the executive was hardly an unconstitutional act warranting dismisal. The problem was nothing is directly stated in the Constitution as to when and under what exact circumstances the G-G can exercise his power of dismisal. The facts are if Whitlam had been on the ball about the betrayal he could have got in first and dismissed Kerr because once again there are no defined rules as to removing the G-G.

The days of cloak and dagger tradition hidden in the mumbo jumbo of reserve powers need to be forever put to death. We need to define the President's powers clearly in the Constitution as well as the means of removal. A true Republic requires us to know what the President's powers are as this is her or his highest responsibility to "the people".

The Constitutional Convention recommended the President be given no powers or executive responsibilities, even in relation to Australia's international relationships. No ability to introduce such bills to parliament. No limited forms of legislative veto. No powers of review, nor appeal, nor amnesty in relation to international matters, nor matters directly affecting the rights of the people. A President who can be kicked out on the whim of any PM at any time for any reason.

Unfortunately it appears we will not have a President we can say does something! Who we can be proud of! Who can provide a check, a balance to our very archaic and totalitarian party system. Australia needs to end its system of the party dictatorship and do the hard work of altering the Constitution and enacting a bill of Rights. A President with limited executive powers would do a lot to achieve this. The possibility of another convention if Labor gets in makes it appear possible that this model will gain preference in the foreseeable future. If Australia really wants to grow up it needs to empower the people, and empowering its President is one way to do this and in the end may be the only way to free Australia from its colonial baggage.

The new Symbol of Republican Unity, the fountain in Civic Canberra.

Despite the Convention and the result in the 1999 referendum, Australia still needs to tackle and resolve this issue if it wants a Republic acceptable to the people and to have a president who isn't a piece of pretty ceremonial tinsel carrying a powder keg. Hopefully there is now a good chance to alter the lazy entrenched bigotry that has symbolised politicians in this country and some real energy can go into reforming this country's constitution and winning the next referendum. With Australia's entrenched party political system and conservative nature, this is going to be a tall card to call and it will only be through the voice of ordinary Australians using ‘people power’ to demand equity that the correct model will be emplaced.

Furthermore the entire Constitution needs to be rewritten and Australia needs to end its system of the party dictatorship and do the hard work of altering the Constitution and enacting a bill of Rights, an indigenous treaty, and a better system of proportional representation in the House of Representatives that gives smaller parties a chance similar to that operating currently in Tasmania where several members are elected for new regional electorates, State-Federal power duplication removed and enforced conformity between states laws. A stratifying of the States to conform their laws. IR reform that increases workers rights and protections while boosting wealth and employment. A total end to refugee detention centres. Fixed four year terms.

A Constitution that shares power so that the extremes of party politics and the disasters they produce are mitigated. By this I mean % of Ministerial seats awarded according to the % of vote won for each party -following a modified form of the Swiss Confederacy political system of representation following the Grand Coalition appointing a Federal Council using a magic formula who are in effect the ministers. An Australian system would be more transparent as there are restrictions on disclosure by the council and the formula would be entrenched in the constitution rather than just an agreement. In effect joint rule.

The best of both sides incorporated into government. No more would there be the extremes faced on changing government with the damage that causes in dare I say our schizophrenic system. Liberals are best with the economy but Labor is best with social reform and industrial relations. Why not work together to make the best for Australia. This new system will force us to cooperate with each other and avoid the extreme neglect that happened to the poor in Australia during Howard's rule. I witnessed it. It may also have avoided the criminal treatment of refugees, going into a messy unjust war, stripping back Aboriginal rights and so on. It may have resulted in getting the right IR laws in place, so on.

It would also mean that on losing an election it does not mean that all the Ministries are lost as well, instead only a small number would change hands on each election. The Holy Cows in the party would most likely retain some form of power in government despite losing the PM. This is the best way to change the system - the most democratic way to reform the current system. And the best system to put in place in the new Republic and once explained to the people properly should be embraced by both sides. Also accepting that we are a large nation and a continent that can easily support 50 million people, so should increase immigration and remove the ridiculous restrictions on particularly people coming from the mother country, Britain - in fact encouraging them to come here. And welcoming all regardless of race, creed or religion.

The New Constitution could and should still recognise the close connection to Britain in our heritage and entrench special ties to the motherland through cultural exchange, laws, defence and economic arrangements - including recognition of the Church of England and the Royal Family. Other nations people's that have contributed significantly to Australia should also be recognised commeasurately to give birth to a Multi- Cultural Constitution.

Kevin Rudd and now Julia Gillard say they won't touch the issue; perhaps they are wise given the ramifications of failure. However Rudd had a massive mandate from a people fed up with Howard's sychophantic monarchism, including the Liberal's themselves. With a 70% approval rating after apologising to the Aboriginals, Kevin should have dared to test the waters by suggesting another convention. With his handpicked 2020 Convention he manipulated the public into getting this green light. But he failed to act.

Gillard is so confused in doing anything yet her struggling to survive by compromise seems slowly to be working having adopted it seems a Liberal party agenda to Afghanistan, refugees, etc. To her credit she has pulled off the carbon and mining tax by compromises again and resisting the temptation to bow into the terrible polls until the taxes were in place and people have started to see some benefits. So she may be more astute than people give her credit for. And if Abbott gets in then nothing is likely to happen.

If they had put in a little bit more effort than Howard to make sure the model is correct then there was a chance. Perhaps Kevin is closer to the Chinese way of thinking about consensus than he realises, but consensus of the one man rather than the one party and he may get another chance if Gillard flip flops from blunder to blunder in for instance the Slatergate union slush fund affair especially if she doesn't come out with the absolute truth about her knowledge of the matter including any subsequent cover up. If she does she may be rewarded for her honesty. Chairman Kevin Tse Tung...? By 2020??


Gillard refuses to play sissors

Return To Index

Copyright Notice