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Monday 8 February 2016

Republic manyana

Congratulations must go to Fitzy, if he will forgive my familiarity, for his single-handed resurrection of the formerly comatose Republic debate. He took over the reigns of the pro-Republic movement but a whisper ago.Yet there it is, wall to wall media coverage, an almost unanimous call from state Premiers in support, and even hearty support from the newly minted, although already tarnished, AOTY, General Morrison. The only hold back was Mr T, with his somewhat reluctant words of caution, " err .. not now...perhaps later", "when the queen dies", or  "when there is a clamor for it", is it 'just give me a good reason to take a risk".

Been there done that!

If you are experiencing a bit of deja vu , you are right. We had a similarly widespread, hysterical chorus all in favor just before the referendum a decade ago. Despite virtually unanimous support from most of the media, state Premiers and the chattering classes, the referendum was defeated in every single state. A sobering result with scars still showing on many staunch republicans.

Wouldn't it be different this time?

It is true that time has passed and I doubt there is a significant proportion of Australians who would not like an Australian to be Head of State (HoS). It is positively odd for an ostensibly independent country to have a nominal HoS living thousands of kilometers away and whose primary allegiance is to another country. Admittedly they are very 'hands-off, they do not interfere in our daily lives, except perhaps for the occasional state visits and openings. But it is symbolic, and symbols do matter. So I am in favor of leaving behind the Queen, the monarchy and the Union Jack. Like a child who can leave the family home to live on their own, but loving their parents no less.

How to select the HoS?

Yet I think it will not happen soon.

The underlying problem remains how to select the HoS?

Monarchies make this decision simple. A single elite family is ordained to fill the role. Selection is automatic and as long as there are viable heirs there are no problems.

Republics where the HoS is elected have a varied and complex range of processes for electing their presidents. Just consider the extensive and convoluted process we are currently witnessing in the US.

Any referendum must identify how the HoS is to be chosen.
The options posed at the last referendum remain unchanged. Simply anoint the Governor General as the new HoS with all rules pertaining to his /her selection unchanged. or let the people vote for HoS.

Plan A - Anoint Governor General as Head of State

The easiest and most straightforward way to get an Australian HoS is to simply make the Governor General the HoS modifying the constitution sufficiently to remove all connections between the Governor General to the British Monarchy. It fulfills the objective of having an Australian as the HoS without breaking anything. You get an Aussie HoS without any other consequences. You can change the title to President if you wish , but even that is not necessary. There is a certain charm in keeping the title 'Governor General', personally l like the idea.

Plan B - The people elect the HOS

The second option, and this is the one polls indicate is generally favored by "the people", is to have the people elect the HoS.

Electing a HoS raises many questions;-
  • who selects the candidates?
  • how long is the term?
  • what level of support is required for a candidate ( eg is 51% of the vote enough)?
  • what proportion is required in each state?
  • how do you remove a HoS? This is really complicated, just consider the impeachment processes in the US.
  • what 'power' would this HoS be given? In legislation? In practice?
In all countries that have presidential elections, all these issues have been hammered out over a long period. The systems vary, and they are invariably complicated.

While serious in themselves  in some ways these are 'technical issues' that could be solved by wise men around a table. I make it sound easy , it is not but it is much easier than my next objections.

There are consequences of electing a President, an individual who is selected by the people to represent them and not all of the consequences are foreseeable. 

His/her views would place pressure on the government of the day, right or wrong. A president elected by popular vote, would automatically have some political power.  

Remember that currently, in Australia the people do not elect our Governor General, or our Prime Minister. We only elect a representative in our electorate. It is up to these representatives to select a leader. This has its downsides, most notably the revolving-door-leaders over the past 6 years, but it does have at least one major benefit. When the PM can be removed by his party at any time, there is inbuilt protection against dictators.  Any move to elect the HoS carries significant risk.

Lets not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Yes, let's have an Australian HoS, but don't change anything else as it can have unforeseen, unwanted and disastrous consequences.. The precautionary principle often used by climate change advocates  applies here too. Do not take a chance with out constitution. Especially when it is unnecessary.

The Republican movement , under Fitzy, has learned from the failure of the past and is strongly advocating Plan A, the minimalist path to a republic. However, if the polls are correct, the people still want Plan B, to elect the HoS. This is a rerun of the failed referendum of a decade ago.

Despite the recent euphoria, there has been little progress on selecting the model that would be acceptable to a majority of Australians. So for Australia the Republic will have to be Manyana.

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