Article Index



 1. The Constitution is old and out of date.

 1.1 It dates from 1901 before planes, television, computers, the Internet.

 1.2 It is a 'horse and buggy' document from a 'horse and buggy' age.

 1.3 It has bits in it that are never used.

 1.4 If you read it, it is misleading. It suggests inaccuracies, e.g. that the powers of the Governor-General read like those of a dictator:
       i) to call and dissolve parliaments;iiii) to appoint and dismiss ministers; and
       iii) to command the armed forces.

 1.5 A literal reading tells you very little about how the country is actually governed.

 1.6 It has bits left out that should be in it, e.g. there is no reference to the Prime Minister and Cabinet. A literal reading tells you very little about how the country is actually governed.


 1. Australia's Constitution of 1901 is not out of date. It is as up to date as we the people, who alone can change it, want it to be. As for age, it is only half as old as that of USA. Its age proves it works and works well.

 1.1 It dates from 1901 indeed, a lot later than the US Constitution of 1787, and has proved able to legislate for planes and television (and is working on the Internet!).

 1.2 Just as horses and buggies evolved into horseless carriages (motor cars), so the Constitution is a living document which has kept pace with changes in society.

 1.3 It does have bits that are never used, but, by definition, they do no harm (so why go to the trouble of having costly referendums to try to get them removed?). But so has the US Constitution, including those that imply a slave owning society.

 1.4 Anything can be misleading if you read it out of context. The context of the written Constitution is the unwritten practices of democratic responsible government under a Constitutional Monarchy whose conventions and practices, together with the written Constitution, have ensured our freedom from dictatorship since 1901. The Governor-General's powers are restricted by his or her lack of election, mandate, and party-backing. Also a Governor-General serves only 'at the Queen's pleasure', not for any fixed term, which means that he or she can be dismissed immediately on the advice of the Prime Minister if he seeks to use his powers improperly. Thus whilst the powers are very wide his or her position to use them is very restricted. A president would have both a mandate.

 1.5 The written Constitution of 1901 exists against a background of Constitutional Monarchy derived from England which has no written constitution at all. Much of this background is called convention (that is practice not having the effect of law) and the Prime Minister and Cabinet are recognised by convention (based on their power of controlling the parliament). There is no need for the Constitution of 1901 to mention them at all.
Thus the written Constitution is only part of our national Constitution. It is wholly based on the age-long practises and conventions of constitutional monarchy, the great benefit of which is its flexibility and ability to adapt to changes. There are other written documents which are also important, the State Constitutions, the Statute of Westminster and the Australia Acts.

 1.6 The absence of the Cabinet reflects the fact that it is of little or no legal relevance. It's decisions are given legal effect by the Ministers, or the Governor-General in Executive Council. Equally the party meetings and caucuses are important, but being political bodies are not in the Constitution. The titles of each minister change from time to time—it would be extremely inconvenient to write them into the Constitution.
If you try and write in the Prime Minister and Cabinet, you will never get the people to vote for it. Only the people can change the Constitution by voting 'yes' (by a majority overall and in a majority of States).


 2. Australia needs a Constitution which has not been drawn up by men only.

 2.1 Women did not have a vote for the Constitution and should have one for the republic. Because no women voted for the Constitution, it is not theirs. They never agreed to it. They may not even have wanted it! The Constitution represents the repressive attitudes prevalent in early Australia. We must adopt a new Constitution which is chosen freely by men and women alike.

 2.2 Aborigines were excluded from voting for the Constitution and they too should now be allowed to vote.

 2.3 Federation achieved little for those Australians who were female or indigenous.

 2.4 The repressive attitudes towards women and Aborigines, of which the Constitution was a product, can only be remedied by Australia becoming a republic.


 2. Never mind who drew it up, the real achievement was that it was drawn up well to benefit all. In the nineteenth century, there were no women in public office anywhere (except Queen Victoria!) so were we not to move to nationhood and Federation because of that? The draftsmen were no more archaic in their attitudes than those who drafted the US Constitution.

 2.1 Some Australian women were entitled to vote in 1900, and where they had the franchise or right to vote (such as in South Australia) presumably did so. But it is true that most women did not vote and were not entitled to vote anywhere in the world. In 1900, it was a male dominated world, to be true. New Zealand and Australia led the world in giving women the right to vote, but Colony by Colony.

 2.2 Not so. In those Colonies where they were permitted to vote, other than Queensland and Western Australia, Aborigines on the rolls could vote and presumably did so. Certainly not all Aborigines were entitled to vote in 1900.

 2.3 The introduction of the new Commonwealth of Australia hastened the granting of the right to vote to Australian women and well before r the referendum of 1967 (approved by the biggest majority of votes ever), all Aborigines (men and women) were given  the right to vote. All eventually benefited from the advantages of the new nation.

 2.4 Whatever its origin in 1901, since they have had the vote, both women and indigenous Australians play an equal democratic part in amending the Constitution, so in that sense it too has become theirs. The Constitution does not discriminate against women or Aborigines.


 3.1 Australia is not independent while it has the Queen.

 3.1.1 Becoming a republic will make us more independent.

 3.2 The Queen takes advice from British ministers. It is their advice alone that she accepts in all matters of state.

 3.3 The Queen is seen by the world as representing UK and not Australia, which creates confusion. This problem can only be avoided by Australia becoming a republic.

 3.4 Australia must be seen as an independent nation, not tied to the apron strings of Britain in any way. The Governor-General does not have the profile of other presidents and monarchs.

 3.5 The composition of Australia's population has changed and therefore a Queen drawn from Britain is inappropriate.

 3.6 The Queen cannot represent the non-English component of our population, e.g. Australians of South East Asian and Pacific descent.


 3.1 Australia is completely and utterly constitutionally independent. The Queen, as Queen of Australia, is actually a legal entity separate from the Queen of New Zealand or the Queen of Canada, etc.

 3.1.1 A republic cannot make us more independent because we are as independent as we can possibly be.
As long ago as 1926 the Imperial Conference of the UK and Dominion (Australia, Canada, NZ etc) Prime Ministers declared:
i) that the Governor-General of a Dominion would stand in the same relationship to his Dominion Parliament as the King then did to the UK Parliament; and
ii) that the King would only pay State (overseas) visits to other countries on behalf of the UK, and that Governors-General would do so on behalf of the other dominions etc. and be treated as a Head of State. Canada's Governor-General paid the first such visit in 1927. Australia's Governor-General first did so in 1971, and since has paid more than 49 State and official visits to 32 foreign countries. Furthermore, only the Governor-General can exercise the powers vested in the Queen.

 3.2 The Queen takes advice only from British ministers in the affairs of the UK. In Australian affairs, she takes advice only from her Australian ministers. She has said so and so has Mr P.J. Keating.

 3.3 The person to represent Australia abroad is the Governor-General who has pays official visits overseas as Head of State of Australia. Misconceptions must always be based on ignorance. The Queen is also Head of the Commonwealth—of one third of the world's population—consisting of 53 different countries spread over every continent. Many of them are republics—others are monarchies, some with monarchs other than the Queen! The remedy to this misconception (if it is widespread) is education and informed dipolmacy to clear up the misconception. We got rid of the White Australia Policy, so diplomatically clearing up this minor problem (if it exists) should be simple.

 3.4 A higher international profile for our Governor-General would assert the reality of our independence, as well as our distinctive foreign policy. It would have to be accepted that more overseas visits as Head of State would cost us more in taxation.

 3.5 Britain's population has changed at the same time as Australia's—both are now multi-cultural comunities. Sharing the Queen with other countries is a positive contribution to internationalism. In the past Australia was proud to proclaim it was 'British' and have a 'British Queen'. But both institutions have developed at the same time. We now proudly proclaim our Australian citizenship and we have, in law and in fact, a Queen of Australia, a role filled by Elizabeth II. The monarchy has evolved to meet the new circumstances.

 3.6 When Papua New Guinea has the same person as Queen, and the republic of Fiji wants to become a constitutional monarchy under Elizabeth II again, Australia, with two thirds of its people of 'British' descent should have no difficulty with our present Queen continuing in that role. Furthermore, in the Commonwealth of Nations, of which the Queen is head, those of 'British sh descent' are vastly outnumbered by those of 'non-British descent' amongst its 1.6 billion peoples spread world-wide.


 4. The Head of State in Australia is the Queen.
The Governor-General only acts on her behalf because she is too busy being the British Head of State. Therefore we need a new Head of State who is an Australian citizen, one of us!

 4.1 The Head of State must be appointed by Australians—not hereditary. Furthermore, the Head of State must be a local, a resident for president!
The Constitution of 1901 makes it clear that the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland is our Head of State. It provides that the British Queen:
(i) is part of our Parliament;
(ii) is the person in whom the executive power is vested; and
(iii) may disallow any law even after assent has been given.
Therefore, the English Queen must have the same rights and duties both in UK and in Australia.

4.2 We need a Head of State who represents only the nation of Australia. The Queen is our Head of State but when she travels abroad, she is received as the British Head of State. Thus we are not seen to have our own Head of State who represents only Australian interests.

 4.3 The Australian Head of State must be:
(i) an Australian citizen ('one of us');
(ii) appointed by Australians;
(iii) a resident; and
(iv) representative of only the nation of Australia.


 4. Australia already has just such a Head of State, the Governor-General plus the bonus of the Queen. The republican argument is misleading by its use of the word 'a' (singular) and 'Head of State' (which is a diplomatic term and does not appear at all in our written Constitution of 1901). Some people argues we have two heads of state. Other states have or have had more than one Head of State e.g. England under Queen Mary II and King William III,  Andorra until recently, the former USSR, etc.  It is also inappropriate in the context of our historical evolution as a free democratic independent nation.

 4.1 Our entire system of government is based on the context of our inherited (but absentee) constitutional monarchy. In 1901 it was well understood (and remains true) that countries like Canada, NZ, PNG and Australia have a Sovereign and a constitutional Head of State, which gives us extra checks and balances in our Constitution.

The advantages of having a Sovereign or monarch whose office is inherited  places the monarch entirely beyond political interference or inclination—it ensures that the Sovereign is always above politics and this is reflected in the conduct of the constiutional Heads of State (Governors and Governors-General) who also remain above politics.

 4.2 The High Court in 1907 described  The King or Queen as the Sovereign, the Governor- General as the constitutional head of the Commonwealth and the governor as the Head of State.  An alternative argument is that that we have a divided Head of State system provides us with a Head of State who represents only Australia. Under this we have a symbolic Head of State who is above politics, above corruption, beyond intimidation, owes nobody anything from being elected, and in 15 out of the 16 monarchies of which Elizabeth II is Queen, is not resident, This ensures the utter integrity of the system of government where enormous powers can be safely entrusted to the Queen and her representatives;
(i) because she is only one person and cannot be everywhere at once, in 15 of the 16 countries the Queen must have local representatives. In Australia this is the Governor-General (federally) and six Governors (one in each State);
(iii) as all the Queen's powers given under the Constitution of 1901 are exercisable only by the Governor-General (and not by her), the Governor-General is the local Constitutional Head of State; and
(iv) he claims he is; the government treats him as such; he is received overseas as Head of State and he is one of our Heads of State.


 4.3 It can truly be said that the Governor-General:
(i) is an Australian citizen ('One of us'—in that sense);
(ii) is appointed by Australians (he is nominated to the Queen by the Prime Minister for appointment by her and is invariably so appointed on his or her advice);
(iii) is and must be a resident during such term in office; and
(iv) represents only the nation of Australia.

It is telling that republicans want to confer on their new presidential head of state the identical powers (or a variation of them) now exercised by the Governor-General. No one suggests that the personal powers of the Queen (to appoint on the Prime Minister's or Premiers' nominations the Governor-General and Governors respectively) would be part of those powers. In fact, the Queen would be replaced (if at all!) not by a president but by the parliament or the electorate.

Furthermore, as each independent sovereign country can designate its own Head of State, Australia could confer the title of Head of State on the Governor-General (who once appointed has full plenipotentiary powers) by Act of Parliament. This would involve no alteration to the text of the Constitution of 1901—and make our present constitutional arrangements totally clear to all. The Queen would remain as Queen of Australia—no more and nothing less.


 5A. There are at least four different options to be considered for the process of appointing the president within an Australian republic.

 5A.1 Appointment of the president by a two thirds majority of a joint sitting of both Houses of the Federal Parliament; (the model preferred by the ARM).

 5A.2 Popular election by the voters of Australia. This model is the most popular with the electorate (70% support) according to polls.

 5A.2.1 This model would separate the president's appointment from Parliament and allow any citizen to 'have a go'.

 5.2.2 Every Australian would have a say.

 5A.2.3 The president would gain office only through the endorsement of the electorate.

 5A.3 Establishment of a special Electoral College or committee to preside over the appointment. Various models of this kind have been proposed by the Hon. Richard McGarvie among others.

 5A.4 Prime Minister of the day (polls show that this option commands the support of only 4% of voters).


 5A. Any replacement Head of State system for our present one should deliver at least as good a result as we have at present. Our current system of Governor-General appointed for an indefinite term (usually understood to be five years barring death, emergency such as war, or misbehaviour) by the Queen on the nomination of the Prime Minister. This means the Governor-General must remain above politics, owes nothing to any electorate or political party, has no mandate to act on any political platform of his own, has no political power base to oppose a duly elected government, has the legal power to dismiss a Prime Minister and to call new elections, but only the moral power of his or her integrity and the legal or moral authority of the constitutional monarchy to do so. Every variation from this system either increases the power of the Governor-General (or president) or diminishes it and his powers go to the Prime Minister under an amended Constitution. Either way powers now non-political are given to politicians—president or Prime Minister.

 5A.1 A two thirds majority of all members of Parliament was intended to stop the president becoming the captive or nominee of one political party only. Its faults are these:
   (i) It won't work to guarantee an independent president. It did not in Pakistan in 1998 where the President was elected by a 78% majority.
   (ii) (a) The Electoral Acts are not presently part of the Constitution and can be changed at any time by Parliament (and are presently under reconsideration).
        (b) Before there was proportional representation in the Senate, several parties had absolute majorities of both Houses, so if the Acts were changed back to what they were, it wouldn't operate to prevent one-party domination.
        (c) Even under our present electoral laws, the Fraser Government of 1975 came within one vote of controlling both Houses—with only one absentee it would have! So again the proposal is not failsafe.
   (iii) Even if its success could be guaranteed, there is a much more basic objection—our politicians have too much power already and will only elect one of their own or someone politically acceptable to them.
   (iv) Any president with at least two thirds of the elected representatives' votes would have the greatest mandate and power of anyone in our whole constitutional system of government. Combined with a fixed term (and removal only with extreme difficulty, by impeachment etc.), we would create a power far greater than the Prime Minister's, and no voter would ever have had a direct choice of candidate.
   (v) The voices of the larger States (NSW/Vic) will swamp the rest and prejudice the federal position of the smaller States.
   (vi) Even the Americans do not let Congress elect their President. In fact the Founders specifically warned against the danger of having the Congress elect the President.

 5A.2 Direct popular election is at least truly democratic, but such a process will give a president almost as much power as the first alternative; a huge mandate of at least half the voters of Australia. He or she will be the only person in the Executive being directly responsible to the people as the Prime Minister answers to his or her party and he or she and the Ministry answer to Parliament between elections.

 5A.2.1 Only millionaires (e.g. Ross Perot) or the candidates of political parties could possibly afford to campaign across Australia, and the average Australian, or member of an ethnic minority, will never stand a chance.

 5A.2.3 A president so elected would have almost as much power as the first alternative; a huge mandate of at least half the voters of Australia.

 5A.3 This is the way the Americans do it but they at least elect their Electoral College. Some plans depend on Chief Justices (which would politicise their offices) or even State Governors (which would vanish under a republic anyhow).

 5A.4 Few take this seriously because it appears so open to abuse, as the new President's office will be essentially political no matter how appointed. It only works for the appointment of Governors-General because they are not and do not act in any party political role. Appointment by the Prime Minister is different to the present system. Although nominated by the Prime Minister, the Governor-General is appointed by the Queen, and must strictly observe the conventions which surround the Crown. The Governor-General acts then as trustee of those powers for the people.

 5B The provisions may use ancient (but well-understood) constitutional language, but they work very well. The issues of a fixed term, method of removal and causes of removal are extremely simple under our present system and designed to strengthen the power of the elected representatives of the people and maintain only one centre of legitimate political power in the nation—the elected government of the day. These objectives will be weakened and threatened by any system of a fixed term for a president with cumbersome machinery for removal. Any new system should at least be as effective, as flexible and as efficient. All republican proposals fail on all three bases. 


5B. The provisions in the Constitution that the Governor-General is appointed by the Queen as her representative and at her pleasure are archaic even if it is acknowledged that the powers are used only on the advice of the Prime Minister of the day. It is demeaning to our sense of sovereignty.

5B.1 A president cannot preside for life, so must have a fixed term. Most republicans suggest five years or seven years.

5B.2 In most republics, removal of the Head of State is a parliamentary process. This may however involve one or both Houses of Parliament, the Chief Justice in some capacity, a Constitutional Court or popular referendum. Ultimately however the process and grounds for removal depend on themethod of appointment adopted (appointment by the Prime Minister, Parliament, electoral college or popular election).

513.3 A president must either have some individual or body with the power to remove him or her. Most republicans say this should be the Houses of Parliament voting by a two thirds majority.


 5B.1 As the present federal electoral cycle is a limit of three years, any president will span at least more than one parliament in five years or probably two if for seven years. If there is a change of government in between, a political president will be out of sympathy with a hostile government, leading to:
   (i) the possibility of serious differences between Parliament and President. Even 'ceremonial' presidents, such as Mary Robinson in Ireland, were political players. Before being elected president she led the third party in Irish politics; and
   (ii) as former Commonwealth Solicitor-General Sir Maurice Byers warned, 'irreconcilable appointees are likely to yield chaos'.

 5B.2 If a president must be able to be removed, and the issue does arise, on what basis can a president be removed? It follows that:
   (i) the basis for forced removal of president will be even more difficult to establish than the removal of a High Court Judge (last unsuccessfully attempted against the late Justice Lionel Murphy); and
   (ii) depending on what they are, the grounds will need to be established (beyond reasonable doubt) and that will take a great length of time—when a week is a long time in politics!

 5B.3 Neither Parliament nor the High Court will be able to successfully remove a president because:
   (i) to rely on the High Court removing a president would be to irrevocably politicise that body and cannot be allowed;
   (ii) to rely on Parliament to remove a president at all is dangerous, as the president can dissolve Parliament; and
   (iii) if the president is misbehaving to the benefit of one political party, getting a two-thirds majority (or any at all) may be impossible, as the party benefiting from this misbehaviour will support him or her. Thus none of these 'solutions' is nearly as good as our present system. It has to be faced that a president once appointed will be virtually irremovable during his or her full term; remember the paralysis of USA over the impeachment of President Nixon—the length of the process, the divisions, the distractions and then his political ally his Vice-President, by now the President, gave him a presidential pardon! It makes our system look like Nirvana, with a simple recall of a non-political figure on the advice of the Prime Minister!


 6. There are various approaches to how we should provide for a system of checks and balances in the Constitution.

 6.1 The ARM'S preferred model:

 6.1.1 The office of the president should retain the powers which the Governor-General currently uses, under due conventions or traditions, that have developed over the century.

 6.1.2 A president's powers should be clearly defined (i.e. 'codified), stating that the president acts on the advice of the elected government, except where the government has lost the confidence of the House of Representatives or is breaking the law. Representatives by omitting the third qualification 'or cannot obtain supply (the money to govern)' from the Parliament (which includes the Senate).

 6.2 Not writing down the reserve powers in a republic has several major consequences:
   (i) nobody will know for sure what power the president has;
   (ii) clashes between president and Prime Minister will be frequent, intractable and destabilise government;
   (iii) there will be no body able to enforce the exercise of the powers or compliance with them if they are unresolved and unwritten. Presidents will have a blank cheque and no one sensible will vote for such a system; and
   (iv) combined with a long presidential fixed term of office, longer than any House of Representatives or government taken from it, constitutional struggles between president and Parliament may go on for a long period (totally unlike the present very effective, quick and responsive system).

 6.3 'Me honest assessment by former Senator Evans is an endorsement of the present system of constitutional monarchy which, because it has a Head of State system of Queen and her representatives, can be entrusted with undefined powers without risk to the liberty of the people or the stability of government.

 6.4 According to Tony Abbott 'this would mean that in times of crisis, the President makes his own rules!' In fact, if a Court cannot review what a president does, he or she will only answer to the electorate at the end of the presidential term, and then only if seeking re-election. Until then there would be no restraint on the office except impeachment by a two-thirds majority of Parliament. But if there has to be a new parliamentary election or if the president dissolves parliament, again the president could avoid or delay being called to account (contrast this with our present system). Remember: presently the so called 'reserve powers' exercisable by the Governor-General are not written down in the Constitution nor Constitutionally agreed as to what they are.


 6. Once the Crown is taken out of the written Constitution, all conventions and traditions must give way to the new law, so that the exact written terms of the new Constitution will no longer by read against that background, i.e. the intention of having a republic will cancel out all existing monarchical conventions.

 6.1 There are several problems with the ARM preferred model:

 6.1.1 The president cannot simply keep doing what the Governor-General did because:
   (i) if the new Constitution reads: 'the president is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces' he will be. Who is to say he will not be? Is the High Court to be allowed to add its interpretations to such a clear statement? So, too, with every other provision; and
   (ii) those who say 'request the President to follow tradition and convention' leave to a president unresolved powers and wide discretion—a highly dangerous course when presidential power will not be as 'representative ve of the Queen' but purely personal and political. Without legal sanctions to enforce the 'request' the president will be a free radical.

 6.1.2 The solution of codification (writing them all down), if possible, doesn't solve the problem until you know what they are in every conceivable Constitutional emergency. The code suggested seems innocent, but in fact elevates the power of the House of Representatives.

 6.2 Other republicans including the Keating Government argue that this is not the time to re-open a divisive debate about the Senate's power to block supply (and thus bring down a government). Hence the reserve powers should remain as they are--unwritten.

 6.3 'The definition (of the reserve powers) would be a labour of Hercules. Reformers would have to devote 30 years to the task to have an impact. The ghost of '75 (the political crisis of 1975) is still with us...' (republican the Hon. Gareth Evans).

 6.4 The Keating Government proposed to state in the Constitution that the president's powers are subject to the conventions that now govern the Crown—but stipulating that the exercise of these powers can't be reviewed by any court and that the president can only be sacked by a two thirds majority of Parliament.


 7. The Keating Government's Republican Advisory Committee, chaired by Mr Turnbull, Chairman of the Australian Republican Movement, canvassed three options for the States:

 7.1 Option I: the states remain as they are, constitutional monarchies under a federal president.

 7.2 Option II: all States vote to change each of their Constitutions to remove the Queen from them, thus having six State republics, or seven in all.

 7.3 Option III: some States vote to remain monarchies under the Queen and do so.

 7.4 The majority of States and voters needed to create a republic federally use their powers to override the wishes and Constitutions of those States that would otherwise have remained monarchies. Professor Winterton has suggested a clause be inserted in the new Constitution preventing the Governor of any State from representing or being appointed by the Queen or any foreign government.


See how you have to read the fine print in complex matters! The former Keating Government's preferred republican model dodged the supply question-no doubt because it believed the people like things the way they are!

 7. Each Australian State is an independent monarchy under the Constitution. Thus one aspect of the debate is about whether we have one republic or seven.

 7.1 If the States remain monarchies, but we have a federal president, Australians will have divided loyalties, owing allegiance to the Queen of Australia as Queen of NSW, Queen of Queensland and soon, and to 'Australia' (however defined) through the symbolism of a president. Surely this would defeat the alleged purpose of the republicans to unify Australia with new symbols of our nationhood!

 7.2. This seems to be the only reasonable way to proceed, but would need seven new Constitutions in all, all enacted simultaneously. Some States have 'entrenched' Constitutions, some of which only the people can alter, while others can be altered merely by Act of Parliament. The Australia Acts confirmed that the Queen is represented in each State by a Governor. Amendment of the Australia Act may be made by the federal Parliament but only at the request and approval of all State Parliaments. Little public attention has yet been given to this aspect of republicanism, except that attempts in NSW to downgrade the office of Governor and deny him residence in Government House led to prolonged public protest, a street march to Parliament House by 15 000-20 000 protesters and a voter backlash.

 7.3 This alternative was adopted in the Federation of Malaysia where some States are local monarchies and some are not. Few people regard it as satisfactory and some regard it as absurd for Australia. Would it not divide the country instead of unifying it?

 7.4 This option, even if it has constitutional validity, which is doubtful, has enormous political drawbacks and would no doubt enrage the States over States' rights and many voters in other States who would not want to crush an unwilling State by mere majoritorianism. It is a measure, though, of the lengths to which republicans will consider going—'republicanism at all


 8. Given that there is sufficient support, a republic would require a process including a referendum.

 8.1 Relying on the precise terms of Section 128 of the Constitution, broadly speaking, a republic can be effected by amendments to the Constitution passed by 'a majority of the electors voting', together with 'a majority of electors voting' 'in a majority of States'. Such amendments will first of all have to be passed in the House of Representatives and the Senate 'by absolute majorities', (or twice passed by one House and the Governor-General using his powers under Section 128 to present it to the people). As the government is the source of advice to the Governor-General and normally controls the House of Representatives, any referendum in practice will need government support or acquiescence.

 8.2 The Acting Solicitor-General's advice to the Republic Advisory Committee suggests that even if it were contested whether the process established under Section 128 could not amend the covering clauses of the Constitution, the High Court would be reasonably likely to uphold an amendment.

 8.3 If necessary, a majority of voters overall and in a majority of States could force recalcitrant States to become republics against the wishes of the majority of voters in those States.

 8.4 However high the Constitutional obstacles may seem, we must be prepared to tackle them if we feel passionately about the cause and really mean to reap the benefits when Australia finally becomes a republic.


 8. Even if there is enough support, the road to a republic will be an extremely rocky one, but short of revolution can only come about (if at all) by referendum as a first step.

 8.1 Section 128, whichever procedure is used, may not be the end of the story, but only the beginning. For instance, the Preamble is clearly not part of the Schedule of the Act which contains the Constitution of 1901. Thus it is debatable whether a referendum is appropriate or effective to change it.

 8.2 The preamble to the Constitution Act, of which 'the Constitution' is a schedule, recites the prior agreement of 'the people' of the Colonies 'humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God' to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and under the Constitution hereby established'.
The counter argument runs:
   i) after the Australia Acts confirmed the termination of any power of the UK Parliament to extend to Australia, and as Section 128 clearly only applies to 'this Constitution', i.e. the schedule to the UK Act, who now has legal power to alter the Constitution Act itself?;
   ii) others say, need it be altered?; and
   iii) others say, if it needed the consent of all States to unite under the Crown, may it not need the consent of all States to abolish the Crown?

 8.3 Any referendum may not affect the position of State Governors. As Sir Harry Gibbs explains:
There is a strong argument that a referendum supported in a majority of States, but not in all States, would not be enough to affect the position of State Governors as representatives of Her Majesty. The position of State Governors is entrenched by the Australia Act, and that Act can be amended only by an Act passed at the request or with the concurrence of the Parliaments of all the States, or by an Act passed pursuant to powers conferred on the Commonwealth Parliament by an alteration of the Constitution made in future through a referendum.

However, it is doubtful whether an alteration to the Constitution which affected the Governors of all of the States could be made unless a majority of electors in all States voted in favour of the alteration. There is a further argument that the monarchical character of the Constitution is established by the Constitution Act (not merely by the Constitution itself), and that no amendments to the Constitution could validly give the Commonwealth Parliament power to amend that Act.

 8.4 As an independent, sovereign nation, we, the people of Australia, can undoubtedly do as we please, but, to do it legally and effectually, constructively and symbolically, will need the overwhelming goodwill and cooperation of the people across the whole continent. To proceed otherwise would be foolhardy—and get any republic off to a very rocky start!


 9. Not only is a republic 'inevitable' (see next heading) but republican support is growing according to opinion polls and hence a referendum will be successful.

 9.1 The republic will need the support of all parties if it is to be successful. It already has the support of the ALP, the Democrats, the Greens and various independents and a significant number of coalition members in the Federal Parliament. The referendum will proceed when there are strong indications of political and social support.

 9.2 All polls suggest growing support for the republic, especially among younger Australians.


 9. Monarchists point out it is never easy to get a referendum to succeed, even if it looks promising according to the polls.

 9.1 The history of referenda in this country is not promising for successful change. Although 42 amendments have been proposed to the Constitution and put to the people at referenda, only on eight occasions have amendments been approved—in 1906, 1910,1928, 1946,1967 and 1977 (3 amendments). The rest were rejected.

Those approved included provisions dealing with Senate elections and Senate casual vacancies, State debts, social services, retirement of Federal Judges (at age 70), Aborigines and referenda (giving Territories the vote in referenda). Nothing controversial has passed. Nothing opposed by a major party has passed. Nothing seen as giving more power to politicians has passed.

Where 25%-35% of the voters are strenuously opposed to a republic and over 40%'undecided', success seems unlikely in the foreseeable future.
Referendum campaigns which started with even 80% support in opinion polls have failed at the ballot box.

 9.2 Analysing opinion polls is a matter of opinion and judgement. Results depend very much on the questions asked, the political circumstances when they are asked and who asks whom what question. In fact some opinion polls suggest that younger voters may not be as republican as the middle aged.


 10. Some republicans claim that 'a republic is inevitable', others have reservations. Those who do say that, put simply, 'a republic is inevitable'.

 10.1 The republic marks the natural progression in our Constitutional development; thus it is logical that it will simply occur.

 10.2 That the republic is inevitable has been a continuing theme in the debate and McKenna (republican author of The Captive Republic: A History of Republicanism in Australia) considers that the belief in its inevitability has been one of the reasons for its postponement.

 10.3 'Inevitability' (by republicans) 'was a sign of weakness, not its cause.' Dr J.M. Hirst (ARM Convenor in Victoria)


 10. Only the people by their vote will allow a change of their Constitution, thus it is far from 'inevitable'.

 10.1 Despite the appeal of this argument, it is ultimately unconvincing as demonstrated by the following quotations:
   (i) 'Nothing is inevitable—except death and taxes' by Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790);
   (ii) 'The inevitable never happens. It is the unexpected always' by John Maynard Keynes; and
   (iii) 'The only referenda that have succeeded in recent years have enjoyed bipartisan support and carried not the slightest risk of affording significant new powers to politicians. So when I hear the assertion of 'inevitability', I spare a thought for history' by the Hon. Michael Kirby

 10.2 Often when people say 'Oh, it's inevitable', they mean they want to avoid both argument and discussion of the topic of the republic. To count 'inevitables' as active republicans is as fatuous as to count all those who say they are 'undecided'.

 10.3 If republicans really believed the republic was 'inevitable', they could safely sit back and let the 'inevitable' happen. There are two reasons why they do not: first, personal ambition to be remembered in history for bringing it about; and secondly, because they do not believe it to be 'inevitable' at all, as it has no demonstrable advantages over our present system and many demonstrable features that are much worse.

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