03/06/2003 - 22:00

State Scene - Give people choice on GG

03/06/2003 - 22:00


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THOSE wishing to see Australia’s last constitutional link with Buckingham Palace severed undoubtedly saw the resignation of former Brisbane Archbishop Peter Hollingworth from the Governor-Generalship as a major victory.

THOSE wishing to see Australia’s last constitutional link with Buckingham Palace severed undoubtedly saw the resignation of former Brisbane Archbishop Peter Hollingworth from the Governor-Generalship as a major victory.

They’ll regard it as a turning point, perhaps even more significant than the ascendancy of Sydney Labor power broker Paul Keating – who, in 1993, promptly created the Republic Advisory Committee to ensure such a rupture occurred – to the Prime Ministership.

Let historians debate Dr Hollingworth’s administrative abilities.

But hopefully they won’t forget Paul Keating’s foibles, the man who promised tax cuts – the L-A-W, law ones, remember them? – that were promptly reneged on after he narrowly won an election.

The same applies to Premier Geoff Gallop who in January 2001 claimed: “We’re not going to increase taxes and charges”; and his April 2000 promise to hold a referendum on whether Western Australians wished to have State Governors elected or chosen only by premiers, something he also promptly dishonoured.

At minimum such reneging shows that those “throwing stones” at Dr Hollingworth should firstly look at how they’ve behaved in public administration.

That said Australia certainly faces a predicament over how Governor-Generalships and the six State governorships, our seven most important constitutional positions, ought to be filled – democratically or secretly by elitist selection.

All the signs are that this will be a difficult issue to resolve harmoniously since Australians appear to be fairly evenly split over breaking with Buckingham Palace.

It is partly because of this that so many leading Labor Party figures so enthusiastically joined in to comment on the Hollingworth Affair.

The more points they could score criticising the hapless Dr Hollingworth, they undoubtedly felt, the greater the chances of swinging vital extra numbers towards what they erroneously call their republican cause.

Let’s explore their erroneous claim that they wish to move Australia towards republicanism, for until that’s properly assessed Australians are in danger of being politically duped in the way they were by Mr Keating’s L-A-W tax cuts, and Dr Gallop’s no upping taxes and charges and subsequent failure to deliver on a promised gubernatorial referendum.

The starting point is that monarchism, Australia’s present constitutional arrangement, and republicanism are two quite distinct systems of government.

Their difference lies in the fact that in a monarchy the source of the power to govern lies with the monarch, hence the reference to Her Majesty’s Government in Australia’s constitution.

In a republic, on the other hand, the source of power to govern lies in the people.

The vehicle that emerged Australia-wide, with help from Mr Keating, to break with Buckingham Palace called itself the Australian Republican p From page 36

Movement and it gained most backing from Labor MPs with some from wayward Liberals and other activists.

Although calling itself the ARM, it wasn’t a republican movement — rather a nationalistic one stemming largely from aspects of Australia’s Irish with wealthy backers.

ARM sought to ensure politicians, not the people, selected Governors-General, to be called presidents.

In other words, the people were to continue being locked out of the selection process, as is presently the case, despite polls showing Australians overwhelmingly wanted a say in presidential selection.

The monarchists and ARM were therefore fundamentally identical — Australians would not get to vote on who gained the nation’s top constitutional position.

ARM wanted Australia to be a monarchy without a monarch, while the monarchists wanted a monarchy whose monarch resided in Buckingham Palace.

That was the only difference. ARM was therefore a phoney republican group that wished to see selection of Australia’s head of state transferred from the office of Prime Minister, followed by concurrence of the monarch in Buckingham Palace, to the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader, followed by a validating parliamentary vote for whomever party bosses had secretly selected.

In both cases people are locked out. ARM’s false republican cause failed primarily because enough true republican voters realised they were being sold a pup: monarchism without a monarchy.

WA’s leading ARM critic, and true re-publican, was the late Associate Professor Patrick O’Brien who argued vigorously at the Constitutional Convention for an elected head of state.

Other true republican convention delegates were: Clem Jones, a former Labor Lord Mayor of Brisbane; Ted Mack, a former Mayor of North Sydney and one-time Independent Liberal MHR; and Phil Cleary, an Independent Labor MHR and football coach.

Although these four democratic republicans held quite different political ideologies they had one thing in common — all wanted Australians to have a direct say in who held the nation’s top constitutional post.

Mr Cleary expressed their dogged democratic republican stance well when commenting on the failed 1999 referendum, which ARM was so stunned to lose.

“It was not a vote for a foreign head of state or some crumbling hereditary family. It was a vote for participation in the political system,” he said.

Until politicians from John Howard and Simon Crean down realise this, the crucial lesson of the Hollingworth Affair won’t have been digested.


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