Debating Notes
Article Index
Debating Notes
Debating a republic - Notes for both sides
Clarifying Commonly Used Terms
Ten Republican Arguements
Ten Republican Claims Examined
Constructing Monarchist Primary Arguements
Conclusion
All Pages

THE BACKGROUND TO THE DEBATE

So Australians set up a balance of power. The Governor-General (and only the Governor-General, not the Queen) can sack the Prime Minister if he or she acts unconstitutionally. On the other hand the Prime Minister can advise the Queen to sack the Governor-General if he or she misbehaves. The former situation happened in 1975, while the latter situation has not yet arisen.

The Governor-General is sworn to uphold the Constitution and acts in one sense as an impartial 'umpire' in the case of an irreconcilable dispute between the House of Representatives and the Senate, elected as they are on different electoral bases but with equal powers (except over money bills). A republic will seriously impair the present system of checks and balances if that referee becomes a party political politician either before, at the time of, or after election. Some other machinery must be devised to replace the impartial umpire we now have.

In 2001 we will celebrate a century of the success of this written Constitution which created our nation of Australia in 1901. It is the heart of Australia. Its operation is our national heartbeat. Under this Australian-designed Constitution, we have become the sixth oldest working democracy in the world—stable, free, independent and sovereign both in law and in fact. We have fought two World Wars and done this without military coup, uprising, riot, insurrection, civil war or even prolonged political crisis.

Elizabeth II is Queen of 16 nations, including the Pacific-Rim nations of Canada, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand as well as Australia. Instead of having sixteen separate monarchies, one person, the Queen, is able to be monarch of each, and 16 local monarchies are not necessary. Except for the United Kingdom where the Queen is both the symbolic and active Head of State, each of the other nations has a different local Governor-General as active constitutional Head of State.

Queen Elizabeth II is also Head of the Commonwealth of 1.6 billion people, a free association of 53 countries from every continent in the world. She is our symbolic, personal tie with a sixth of the world's multi-racial population. The system of government by constitutional monarchy has behind it centuries of successful history, and works well for us both federally and in every State. It also works well in Europe, (e.g. Spain, Sweden, Norway and UK), and in Asia (e.g. in Japan, Malaysia and Thailand), as well as the previously mentioned Pacific-Rim countries (indeed Fiji has also expressed a wish to revert to constitutional monarchy). There is no compelling reason for Australia to abandon it.

What do the republicans want to do with this success story? They say they want a republic, but of course Australia will need seven republics, one nationally and one in every State. Seven presidents. Seven presidential palaces? Seven presidential jets? Seven new Constitutions? Of 116 republics in the world, only two are older continuous democracies than Australia—USA and Switzerland. Which of the 116 models do they really want for us?
In a democratic republic the Constitution must provide how a president is to be selected, given powers and then controlled or dismissed. Do republicans want a president elected by the people (estimated to cost $50 million each election plus the costs of elections of the presidents in each State), or for the politicians to instal one of their own through parliamentary elections engineered by themselves? Either way no one in the smaller States will have a hope of having an effective say at the national level. And only politicians or millionaires will ever be able to stand for popular election. Some improvement!

What powers will republicans give a new president? The Governor-General has the power to appoint and dismiss all Ministers, to call and dismiss parliament and command the armed forces. Who wants to politicise these powers by giving them to a political president? When the Governor-General loses them, will the president get them or will the Prime Minister grab them?

If a president is to replace our present independent constitutional umpire, the Governor-General, he or she will be or become a politician and will pull on the jersey of one side or other, thus becoming a major political player. This has already happened in republics such as France, USA, Pakistan and India. Political tension and instability will be the new order of the day.

Whatever powers the President gets, to remove him or her will need provisions for removal or impeachment, and the US experience of President Nixon's impeachment was woeful. Not just our present system of a quick telephone call to the Palace but a drawn out legal and parliamentary battle!
A republic may necessitate changing our flag and our National Anthem, and many republicans say they want it to change us and how we see ourselves! We have already seen one republican Premier seize Government House and use it for his own Ministry, that of the Arts. Alleged savings of $2 million a year have resulted in fact in greater expenses of $600 000 a year! Already a site is set aside in Canberra for the new presidential palace.
A republic will jeopardise what we now enjoy, our political stability, our national unity, our flag, our anthem, our theory of government and our sense of ourselves. This republicans claim is its purpose.

A republic will do nothing to improve unemployment, trade, the economy, poverty levels or our national debt. It will only divide the nation, which is to nobody's advantage. Our present system works well, and keeps the politicians in their place. It is safer to stick with what we have, celebrate it as one undivided nation in 2001, and count our blessings. Not only is it risky to change, but the present system has considerable virtues. What then are the advantages of our present system?

Firstly it divides the power from the glory: either one can have the prestige of the Governor-General and act on advice, or one can be Prime Minister and give the advice, but unlike USA one cannot have both the power and the glory, be Head of State and Head of Government at the one time.
Our system of constitutional monarchy ensures there is normally only one centre of power, the Crown and its current ministers, with an ultimate balance of power between them, whereas any republican system has to balance president against Congress or Parliament, or, as in Ireland, place all the power with the parliament.

Our Australian adaptation of the Westminster system, where the Crown is served by Ministers without whose advice the Crown does not act is extremely flexible and responsive to the perceived will of the people. Our constitution does not mention the Prime Minister but we all know that he or she is politically all-powerful. But a Prime Minister is only as safe as the last vote of his or her colleagues. If they decide that they will be better off without him or her, then, without any further election, a change can be made immediately. No one votes for a Prime Minister directly except his or her colleagues. Unlike USA where a president unless he dies, resigns or is impeached exercises power for four year terms, Prime Ministers can be shuffled on and off in a matter of days, depending on the perceived will of the people.

Again it is unnecessary in a constitutional monarchy to codify the powers of the Head of State, as they are normally only exercised on advice, and if not the representative can be removed instantly: in a republic it would be unsafe to leave such presidential powers uncodified and risk power struggles between a virtually un-removable president and a prime minister.

Codification (or the complete writing down) of each and every power to be given to a president has difficult consequences. Even assuming you can correctly write the powers down (and there is a good deal of controversy about what they actually are now, and even more about when and how they can be exercised) what is their status and effect to be? If they are laws (as part of the Constitution) then they must be open to challenge, interpretation and enforcement by the High Court. Such action by the High Court will inevitably lead it into exercising power in the heart of the Executive Government, from which it is presently excluded by the doctrine of the separation of powers envisaged in the Constitution. This occurs, for instance, in republics such as Pakistan.

If, however, as some eminent legal commentators propose (e.g. Professors A. Blackshield and G. Winterton), the powers are merely codified and then expressed to be 'non-justiciable', i.e. not subject to the jurisdiction of the High Court (or any other court), what is the possible utility of doing it? If it is merely the pious hope that a future president I will be shamed into observing them, the absence of any sanction if he or she does not do so will certainly not constrain a president without shame. By giving a false sense of constitutional or even political security that they will (or ought to) be followed, unjusticiable codification could be extremely dangerous by giving the illusion of security where none in fact exists.

Thus the system of constitutional monarchy has many benefits that are difficult to replicate in a republic. There is also a sense in which all are equal under the Crown which can be lost in a republic which elevates and semi-deifies a president. While in both systems there appears to be a strong dislike and distrust of politicians, such odium does not usually attach to a monarch, who remains above politics, or a vice-regal representative who is similarly above the political fray.

There is also often little thought given to the advantages that being a constitutional monarchy has given us in a sense of ourselves. For instance every valid executive act since 1788 has been done in the name of the Crown, initially acting on the advice of the British ministers and now acting only on the advice of Australian ministers. Just as Canada relishes its difference from USA by stressing its links with the Crown of Canada and avoiding the political excesses of presidential rule in USA, so too, not having a president lets us stand out in the galaxy of nations.

Our links with the Crown make us inheritors of a system of government that has evolved over a thousand years, the second oldest institution in Europe after the Papacy. It has prevented civil war in England since the mid-seventeenth century, a very enviable record even when compared with the great republic of the USA. It has prevented dictatorship in Britain and its former colonies since Lord Protector Cromwell and his son in 1660, and has given us a true love of freedom where all are equal before the law.

Why should we now risk reversing the successful outcome of a thousand years' constitutional struggle to pander to the vanity and ambition of those who say 'why can't I be president instead of only governor-general?'. The Turnbull report noted that the mere creation of a president would give the office-holder 'a more prominent role in Australian life simply because he or she would not be just a representative of the Queen, but Australia's head of state in his or her own right'.

Of course the Governor-General is much more than 'just the representative of the Queen'. The Keating Government's Republican Advisory Committee (from which all constitutional monarchists were deliberately excluded) at p 34 reported:
The Governor-General 's position is significantly different from that of the Queen. While her powers and duties under the Constitution are few, the Governor-General is the central figure in the text of the Constitution.

Later the report very usefully sets out many of the powers given to the Governor-General. These include the powers to:
Sec. 5: Sec. 32:
Sec. 57: Sec. 58:
Sec. 61: Sec. 64: Sec. 48:
dissolve, prorogue and summon Parliament. issue writs for a general election for the House of Representatives, dissolve both Houses of Parliament simultaneously grant or withhold assent to bills passed by the Parliament and, if he or she wishes, return a bill to Parliament with proposed amendments,
exercise the executive power of the Commonwealth, appoint Ministers of State, act as 'Commander-in-Chief' of the armed forces.

Of the powers conferred on the Governor-General by the Constitution, only four are thought to be exercisable solely at the Governor-General's own discretion, in other words, without or contrary to the advice of Ministers :
the power to appoint the Prime Minister;
the power to dismiss the Prime Minister (and therefore the Government);
the power to refuse to dissolve the House of Representatives under Sec. 5 or both Houses of Parliament under Sec. 57 of the Constitution; and
the power to force a dissolution of the House of Representatives.

But the way he or she acts is limited by a lack of mandate, the duty to use the Queen's powers only as Her Majesty would and the fact that he or she can be removed immediately allsanctions that could not apply in a republic. So there is no doubt that its proponents claim that the intention and effect of a change to a republic will be to enhance and enlarge the role of Head of State. This must diminish the role of the Prime Minister, and establish two centres of power and prestige that may well be at loggerheads and inhibit smooth responsible government such as we have enjoyed for the last century.

The altenative, creating a merely 'ceremonial' president (as is seen in Ireland) will surely mean more power for the Prime Minister and even for the Senate, if there is no impartial constitutional umpire to act as Sir John Kerr did in 1975. Either way, politicians (president, prime minister or senators) will get more unrestrained power over us. So why do it? You have been warned!



 
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