PREMIER Geoff Gallop teamed-up with Queensland and South Australian Labor premiers, Peter Beattie and Mike Rann respectively at the February 1998 Constitutional Convention to argue for an elected Australian head of state to be called president.
However, at the convention’s final vote, after their model failed to win delegates’, largely politicians, backing, they voted for the Labor-backed Australian Republican Movement’s proposals, an unelected president.
Twenty six months on, in April 2000, Dr Gallop promised he’d call a referendum so WA voters could decide if they wanted to elect their governors or continue having governors secretly selected by Premiers for Buckingham Palace’s approval.
However, after unexpectedly winning the February 2001 election he dug his heels in and refused outright to call the promised referendum.
Liberal leader Colin Barnett has long backed ARM’s unelected head of state model and at no stage bothered criticising or even highlighting Dr Gallop’s broken referendum promise.
What is it about so many of our politicians that predisposes them against elected governors or governors-general?
And why did Dr Gallop renege on the democratic path by refusing to hold a referendum when he was free of being caucused, as happened to him at the Constitutional Convention?
According to University of WA politics postgraduate student Michael Pepperday, Australian politicians – State and Federal – collectively won’t countenance elected heads of state because such elected persons would gain legitimacy that would formidably challenge Parliaments, something most MPs are financially and emotionally, if not intellectually, attached to.
It is hard to quibble with this assessment.
Look at Dr Gallop’s two back-flips and Mr Barnett’s loyalty to the ARM line and his failure to censure Dr Gallop for breaking his promise.
State Scene is aware of just two of WA’s 116 politicians who back having elected heads of state: Democrat, Senator Andrew Murray, and Mr Barnett’s deputy, Dan Sullivan.
Mr Pepperday has now released a discussion paper, titled, Popular Approval of the Governor-General – Simple and Feasible.
In it he sets out a road map to circumvent MP intransigence that is made even more formidable because of the main lobby groups’, ARM and Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy, opposition to having elected heads of state.
With the odds so overwhelmingly stacked against electing heads of state Mr Pepperday says an alternative way must be sought.
“The majority of Australians want a republic,” he argues.
“The current furore [the Hollingworth Affair] indicates that the system is broke.
“The country awaits a political leader who will fix it.
“The widely-publicised models [election and minority selection] for appointment of the head of state are not feasible.
“Appointment by popular approval offers a way forward.”
The Pepperday “popular approval” method would work as follows.
“We would keep the present appointment process except that the people, instead of the Queen, would approve the Prime Minister’s choice.
“Such popular approval would be by plebiscite. There would be no public nominations, no election, no campaign; the people would simply do what the Queen does and approve the Prime Minister’s choice.”
In other words Prime Ministers and Premiers would continue nominating the persons for Australia’s seven top constitutional posts.
But once the nominated person is named, voters go to plebiscite; meaning the nominee faces a voter approval test.
If a nominee failed to gain majority voter support they wouldn’t become governors-general or governors.
That would be a powerfully strong incentive for Prime Ministers and Premiers to get the “right” person, one likely to win majority voter backing.
Mr Pepperday says “popular approval” would do away with ARM’s and ACM’s objections and is likely to win the backing of those wanting contested elected heads of state.
Moreover, to institute the move for “popular”, or elector, as opposed to Buckingham Palace approval, one only needs to replace the word ‘Queen’ three times in the Australian Constitution with ‘people’, since the people, not the monarch, would do the approving, he says. “Instead of plunging in with a referendum to alter the constitution to introduce popular approval, why not try it out first?” Mr Pepperday says. “The Prime Minister, or a Premier, could simply hold a plebiscite seeking approval of his or her candidate.
“Of course Prime Ministers or Premiers would later have to recommend the candidate to the Queen in the usual way. When everyone is used to the idea – and assuming it worked as planned – Popular Approval could be formalised by holding the referendum to make the three alterations to the constitution and the Queen’s approval would no longer be sought.”
Since preparing his paper Mr Pepperday has learned that his road map to further democratise the offices of governor-general and state governorships resembles the way Missouri’s voters approve appointment of their judges.
Interestingly, Missourians call it the Non-Partisan Court Plan and say: “It is designed to reduce the role of politics in the election of judges. It helps ensure the independence and integrity of the judiciary by shielding candidates from undue pressure”.
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