Joe Poprzeczny - State Scene: No satisfaction on republic

FEW realise that the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Standing Committee (L&CSC) is considering “the most appropriate process for moving towards the establishment of an Australian republic with an Australian Head of State”.

So, after outlaying well over $100 million on Australia’s decade-long republic imbroglio, which for most Aussies isn’t a burning issue, more taxpayers dollars are headed south.

First came the 1993 Republic Advisory Committee (RAC), headed by Sydney millionaire lawyer, now Liberal hopeful, Malcolm Turnbull, who got the job from then Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating.

Next came the confused and confusing 1998 Constitutional Convention, followed in 1999 by a referendum at which 55 per cent of voters rejected the convention’s proposal that only politicians could select presidents.

Yet, not five years on, a senate committee ignores this and moves to republicanise Australia.

The reason for the 1999 defeat was that the mainly east coast millionaire celebrities promoting republicanism ignored polls that showed most Australians distrusted having a politicians-only selected presidency foisted on them.

Had those millionaire celebrities – who bankrolled this anti-democratic Australian Republic Movement’s formula that was imposed at the convention – not sought to foist this upon Australia, we may now be a republic.

Labor had decided early in the 1990s that Australia should be transformed into a republic as the 21st century approached.

The symbolism was palpable. On January 1 1901, Australia’s six colonies had federated.

In light of all this it’s not surprising that half the L&CSC’s members are Laborites – senators Nick Bolkus (chairman), Linda Kirk and Ursula Stephens.

Another is former Democrat leader Natasha Stott-Despoja, a long-time republican advocate.

The minority non-Laborites are Nigel Scullion from the NT’s Country-Liberal Party and NSW Liberal Marise Payne.

So it’s fair to say the senate’s moves, via the L&CSC, are a continuation of the failed 1990s millionaire celebrity push.

The L&CSC’s terms of reference show it won’t be debating whether Australia should become a republic, but rather how to do it and the type of republic it’s to be – people or politician driven.

The L&CSC has released a 31-page discussion paper and now wants submissions, which will be followed by hearings.

That paper covers obvious issues – nomination and selection process, position of the States, the head of state’s powers, and so on.

But there’s something else that perhaps gives away that the L&CSC may try to sneak through a model whereby the politicians choose the president.

Throughout the 1990s Labor MPs increasingly lauded the


so-called ‘Irish model’, something Mr Keating, no doubt, liked.

It’s hardly surprisingly, then, that the discussion paper carries a section titled: “Details of the Irish Head of State”.

All pretty innocuous stuff perhaps, except in that section it’s claimed: “The President is elected by direct vote of the people”. This surprised State Scene since I’d believed things weren’t as clear cut in Ireland.

Then if one reads on, the discussion paper carries an easily overlooked qualifier, something like the small print in insurance policies, which says: “Where only one candidate is nominated for the office of President it shall not be necessary to proceed to a ballot for his or her election”.

Interesting. So having elections can be circumvented, they and the people can be sidestepped, avoided. Why and how, are just a couple of the questions one is tempted to ask?

Strangely, the best place to find the answer is in Volume 2 of the 1993 RAC Report, which carries an excellent 75-page description and analysis of Ireland’s presidential arrangements.

The author, Jim Duffy, is a graduate of the National University of Ireland, where he completed a masters thesis in 1991 titled: “The Presidency of Ireland: ‘An Inherently Unsatisfactory Office?’

At page 136 he has some enlightening remarks on this question which, significantly, qualify the L&CSC discussion paper’s claim that Irish presidents are elected.

He firstly said: “ . . . the public can only choose a President from an approved list of presidential candidates supplied to them by Irish politicians.

“What was much less justified was the subsequent qualification contained in Article 12.4.5 (of Eire’s constitution), which states that: ‘Where only one candidate is nominated for the office of President it should not be necessary to proceed to a ballot for his election.

 “The result of this clause has been to allow Irish politicians, whenever it suits them, to agree among themselves to nominate only one candidate, who then is deemed to have been elected without any participation by the electorate.”

Duffy then says that in 1938, 1952, 1974, 1976, and 1983 the parties agreed on someone, so elections weren’t held – meaning the people were locked out.

However, in 1945, 1959, 1966, 1973 and 1990 elections were held since, no doubt, the party machines couldn’t agree on a single nominee.

So the Irish model that appeals to so many Labor republican advocates isn’t as clear-cut and democratic as the L&CSC’s discussion paper may lead one to believe.

In light of this State Scene believes it would be more accurate if the L&CSC’s discussion paper said something like: “The President is sometimes elected by direct vote of the people”.

Those wanting Australia to become a great, and democratic, republic, one where the people, not just politicians, decide who’ll be president, should therefore carefully monitor the Labor-dominated Bolkus committee, otherwise we’ll end up like Ireland, with, to use Jim Duffy’s phase, “an inherently unsatisfactory office”.



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