How the founding fathers intended the Australian referendum to work.

It is not surprising that the Founding Fathers, democrats to a man, would have found nothing at all attractive in the constitutional plebiscite. Even in a democracy, as France was in 1851 and 1852, a constitutional plebiscite could be so easily misused as it so clearly was. They were determined to prevent change made by stealth, something which is now being proposed in Australia to take up the first decade of the 21st Century.

So what did the Founders do? In 1891 the draft Constitution provided that amendments be first proposed by the federal Parliament and then submitted for approval by a majority of elected State Conventions. But at the Corowa Conference, a peoples' conference, it was decided that the process for constitutional approval, and by implication constitutional change, was to lie with the people. It was only when the politicians accepted this principle that the Federation of Australia could proceed.

During the referendum campaign in 1999, Kerry Jones and I (Prof. David Flint AM) were called to appear before the Joint Parliamentary Select Committee on the Republic Referendum at a hearing on 5 July 1999 in Sydney. One member asked me about cases concerning the removal of a Governor-General. I referred to various precedents in other Commonwealth countries which proved, in my view conclusively so, that, unlike the President of the proposed republic, the Governor-General could not be removed instantaneously. The member replied that she was not interested in other countries.

I thought but did not say that it was indeed fortunate that our Founders, wise men that they were, were neither provincial nor myopic. In drafting the Constitution, they looked at the experience of the world's great democracies, and they learned from them. They knew that constitutional plebiscites could be so easily abused. They knew that the Swiss Constitution guarded against this. (That it also gives the people the right to initiate changes to the Constitution and to propose legislation is another issue.) In brief, our Founders knew how democratic the Swiss referendum was and how undesirable a constitutional plebiscite is.

It was on the same day, the 5th of July, that Mr Turnbull proposed to this same committee that the words "president" and "republic" be removed from the question on the referendum. Illustrating, if there need be such an illustration, the dangers of the constitutional plebiscite where any sort of question can be put to the people without any details.

So that is why our Constitution provides for a Swiss-style referendum as the only way for change. Under s.128, a proposed law to change the Constitution has to be passed by an absolute majority in each House of Parliament and then put to the people. (Where the Houses do not agree, it is still possible for the Governor-General to submit the referendum to the people.)

Not only is a national majority of electors voting required but there must also be a majority of those voting in a majority of States -- that is, four States out of the six. If so approved, the bill is then presented to the Governor-General for royal assent.

(A majority of electors voting in a State is necessary to approve any alteration:
Diminishing the proportionate representation of that State in either House;
Diminishing the minimum number of representatives of that State in the House of Representatives (the most relevant being the minimum for Tasmania of five;
Increasing, diminishing or otherwise altering the limits of that State; or
In any manner affecting the provisions of the Constitution in relation to that State.)

 

REPEAT REFERENDA IN AUSTRALIA

Having rejected a proposal, the Australian people have, at least until now, also rejected any subsequent similar proposal.

In fact, they have been asked to give the following additional powers to Canberra more than once, and they have repeatedly said "No":

Monopolies (5 times).
Corporations are not already the subject of federal power (5 times).
Industrial matters within the State (5 times).
Intra-state trade and commerce (3 times).
Marketing schemes (twice).
Price control (twice).
(It could be said that some or most of these would be superfluous today because of the judicial interpretation of the Constitution.)

Attempts to impose simultaneous elections of the House and Senate have been rejected on three occasions. (While these proposals might at first glance seem sensible, they would have reduced the Senate's powers and thus the influence of the smaller States.) The people have also twice rejected a proposal to include a guarantee of freedom of religion (once in a package and once by itself), probably because they suspected a subterfuge. And in any event, this freedom was already well and truly guaranteed.

So precedents suggest that when people say "No", they well and truly mean "No". The small group who clamours for change will not accept this.

Australian Republican plebiscites slammed as irresponsible vandalism: Senator Minchin 13 June 2008

Senator Nick Minchin was responsible for implementing the Coalition's promise at the 1996 election to hold a Constitutional Convention to consider the question of a Republic. He regards this as one of the greatest honours bestowed on him by Prime Minister John Howard. The conduct of the Convention is a great tribute to him. It was open, fair and transparent, and allowed participation by the people, political leaders of all parties across the Commonwealth, as well as a selected group of outstanding Australians.

The process of selection for this was so fair that the very competent chairmen turned out both to be Republicans, and most of the nominated members were not constitutional monarchists.

Compare that with the 2020 Summit.

Senator Minchin is one of those honourable people in politics who are not afraid to hold to their principles when this is unfashionable or even when it is declared to be hopeless by most of the media and the political class. In holding to his principles, he has always behaved honourably and ensured that his opponents are treated fairly. To use a word which has become unfashionable, for reasons which are self-evident, he is a gentleman.

It is disappointing that those who ran the 2020 Summit did not accept that they should have behaved similarly.
In the referendum campaign, Senator Minchin was one of a small band of constitutionalists who would not be swayed by the fashion of the day and who did not lose hope because of a massive media and political juggernaut.

He was involved to the hilt on every single day of that campaign.  He played a significant role in ensuring that the Republicans were defeated in the 1999 landslide. The fact that our safe and stable constitution is still in place owes much to his efforts. So when he speaks on this issue, he does so with considerable authority.

...inviting a vote of No Confidence in our constitutional system...

Senator Nick Minchin has now issued a powerful warning against the use of a plebiscite or plebiscite to overcome the "complete failure of the 1999 Referendum.” He likened this strategy to a form of guerrilla warfare which has as its object the undermining of our constitutional monarchy to the point where it is hoped that it will simply collapse under the attacks.

The plebiscite, he says, would be "a gigantic and irresponsibly expensive distraction designed to produce a vote of No Confidence in our current Constitutional arrangements,... a form of Constitutional vandalism cynically designed to rip apart the legitimacy of our Constitutional Monarchy."

"It would produce a dangerous and extended period of Constitutional instability, with the legitimacy of the very pillars of our Constitution being severely damaged. Senator Minchin said that constitutional monarchists must have ”no part" in such a process and should "oppose it at every turn." He said it is the responsibility of constitutional monarchists "to demand of Labor that they abide by the process for Constitutional change laid down so wisely by our Founding Fathers."

"We cannot let them get away with the fraud and deceit of a plebiscite based first on the fatuous proposition that we need a Republic in order to have an Australian Head of State." He said that constitutional monarchists must work harder to ensure "that Australians understand that Constitutional Monarchy is about a system of government that works, and is not simply about who sits on the throne."

The text of his speech follows.
13 June 2008

Thank you for the invitation to speak at your Queen's Birthday luncheon – honour to do so, and right that we honour the extraordinary public service of Queen Elizabeth the Second, our Sovereign. Even though I am now 55 – with my birthday in April, the same month as the Queen’s – she has been our Queen for all but six weeks of my life. And she has not merely presided but has reigned with grace, dignity, compassion, wisdom and commonsense.

It is Australia’s great good fortune to be a Constitutional Monarchy with Queen Elizabeth as our sovereign. I affirm to you today my strong support for our Constitutional Monarchy, which in my view, will survive well beyond the reign of Queen Elizabeth. A Republic in Australia is certainly not inevitable. It was my privilege to be a Minister in John Howard’s Federal Coalition Government for ten years and to share with him a deep and abiding commitment to our current Constitutional arrangements.

One of the greatest honours he bestowed on me early on in our Government was the responsibility of implementing our promise at the 1996 election to hold a Constitutional Convention to consider the question of a Republic. Given that I simultaneously had responsibility for the reform of the Native Title Act, it was a challenging but exciting task. The planning and implementation of the national election of Convention delegates was a considerable undertaking, but I’m pleased to note resulted in the first non-compulsory national election in about 75 years.

Can I say with due modesty that the Constitutional Convention was one of the great successes of our Government, accepted by Constitutional Monarchists and Republicans alike as a great meeting of minds and a very fair and equitable process for considering all the issues associated with Australia becoming a Republic? It is a great tribute to John Howard’s integrity that following the 1998 Convention, he honoured his commitment to put in place a Constitutional Referendum on the ARM’s preferred model.

He also honoured his promise to stay out of the Republican campaign, thus leaving the task of advocacy for the status quo to the likes of me, Tony Abbott and other conservatives within our Coalition. Nothing in my political life has given me greater pleasure than to be part of the 1999 campaign to persuade the Australian people to reject the proposed Republic.

Our victory was resounding – with every State, even Victoria, voting NO. The unity and a sense of purpose among the defenders of the status quo were magnificent and contrasted starkly with the disarray on the Republican side. But now, as a result of our loss of Government last November, we have a Federal Labor Government bound by a Party Platform which commits it to the destruction of our Constitutional Monarchy. We have, for the first time in 12 years, a PM who is a committed Republican. We have a PM whose biggest initiative so far was to hold a 2020 summit, the only outcome of which anyone can remember was a renewed demand for a Republic.

We have, for the first time ever, a Labor monopoly on power at the Federal, State and Territory levels, with all that means for the future of our Constitutional Monarchy. We have 9 Labor Governments which cynically and deceitfully perpetuate the lie that our Governor-General is not our Head of State and whose whole raison d’etre for a Republic is the proposition that an Australian should be our Head of State.
Given that an Australian, Michael Jeffery, is already our Head of State, this seems a remarkably flimsy basis for Constitutional upheaval of the kind required to turn Australia into a Republic.

On that note, may I take the opportunity to praise the work of Michael Jeffery as our Governor-General and Head of State.  He has conducted himself with great dignity and exemplary behaviour. May I also congratulate Quentin Bryce on her appointment as our next Governor-General and the first female to hold that office? I have every reason to believe she will be a fine occupant of that great office – and I am pleased to note that in the past, she has identified herself as a Constitutional Monarchist. I expect her to be a very good Australian Head of State who will strengthen public support for the role of Governor-General in the current Constitutional arrangements.

While the new Labor Government appears to have chosen well, there are no doubt many in Labor ranks determined to ensure that Quentin Bryce is our last Governor-General. It will no doubt fall to you and I and millions of other Constitutional Monarchists to ensure that she is not. Labor’s approach to the destruction of our Constitutional Monarchy will, this time, be more subtle, more devious and more insidious than that of the last Labor Republican PM, Paul Keating.

This time Labor is committed to a 2-stage process, which first involves destroying the legitimacy of our Constitutional Monarchy. Their chosen vehicle for destroying the legitimacy of our Constitutional Monarchy is the device of national plebiscites to “establish support for an Australian Head of State and the preference for different forms of a Republic”, as set out in Labor’s National Platform.

Given Labor’s complete failure in the 1999 Referendum, this time, they will try to use a form of guerrilla warfare to undermine our Constitutional Monarchy to the point where they hope it simply collapses. They will begin by continuing to perpetuate the Orwellian lie that we don’t – but should – have an Australian as Head of State. They will continue to reduce the complex issue of an Australian Republic to the simplistic notion that it’s about us having an Australian Head of State. They will use taxpayer funds to hold a national plebiscite asking Australians if we should have an Australian Head of State. Assuming majority support in the plebiscite for that proposition, they will conduct another plebiscite offering presumably two models for a Republic. The model which receives majority support in the plebiscite – which is bound to involve a popularly-elected President –will then be put forward in a Constitutional Referendum. This is a process which we Constitutional Monarchists should never support. A taxpayer-funded national plebiscite is nothing more than a massively expensive opinion poll. It will tell us nothing that a professionally conducted opinion poll will tell us. It could not tell us any more than the most recent nationwide opinion poll on a Republic told us.

A Roy Morgan survey in May 2008 confirmed that only a minority of Australians - 45% - want Australia to become a Republic with an elected President. Support for a Republic with a President appointed by politicians would be considerably less. It is a process that is bound to lead to a directly-elected President, which most thoughtful Republicans agree would be a disaster.  A plebiscite conducted by a Labor Government will of course, not be fair and objective. It will be based on perpetuating the lie that we don’t already have an Australian Head of State. It will be a gigantic and irresponsibly expensive distraction designed to produce a vote of No Confidence in our current Constitutional arrangements. This is a form of Constitutional vandalism cynically designed to rip apart the legitimacy of our Constitutional Monarchy. It would produce a dangerous and extended period of Constitutional instability, with the legitimacy of the very pillars of our Constitution being severely damaged. We should have no part in such a process. We should oppose it at every turn.

If Labor wants to destroy our Constitutional Monarchy, it should seek to do so in the only legitimate, honest and lawful manner available – by way of a referendum to amend our Constitution. The only legitimate way for Labor to bring about its Republican paradise is to agree on the details of a Republican system of Government, pass the requisite legislation through the Commonwealth Parliament, and put the proposed Constitutional Amendments to the Australian people in a Referendum. It is our responsibility to demand that labour abides by the process for Constitutional change laid down so wisely by our Founding Fathers. We cannot let them get away with the fraud and deceit of a plebiscite based first on the fatuous proposition that we need a Republic in order to have an Australian Head of State.

At the same time, we must all continue to argue the public case for the virtues of our current Constitutional arrangements.  And this case is not about simply affection and respect for the Queen and her successors. This is about protecting and preserving one of the most successful national Constitutions ever devised by humankind. One only has to observe the facile, shallow and never-ending soap opera that is the US Presidential election process to be forever grateful we have been bequeathed our Australian Constitution.  As this is a Queen’s Birthday luncheon, it is important to note that Australians’ continuing reservations about a Republic are very much influenced by their great respect and admiration for Queen Elizabeth.
As I mentioned before, a recent Morgan Gallup poll found support for a Republic with an elected President was at 45%, the lowest level in nearly 15 years. However, if Prince Charles became King, support for a Republic in this same poll rose to 56%. That is a welcome sign of the affection Australians have for Queen Elizabeth but a sobering message for Constitutional Monarchists. It is the reason many Republicans state openly that the next Referendum on a Republic should not be held until Queen Elizabeth is no longer on the throne.

And it is the reason why we must work harder to ensure that Australians understand that Constitutional Monarchy is about a system of government that works and is not simply about who sits on the throne. I am a supporter of our Constitutional Monarchy not because I’m a Royalist but because we have a set of Constitutional arrangements that have served Australia extraordinarily well, and there is not a Republican model to match it.
We need to convince a majority of Australians of two things in relation to our system of Government: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. There is an inherent law of unintended consequences. The first should appeal to the underlying pragmatic conservatism of most Australians, and it puts the onus on Republicans to prove that the current system is broken, which to date, they have failed to do.

The second should be known to anyone who has had anything to do with Governments.  If there is one thing I learnt in 10 years as a Federal Minister, it is that there are always unintended consequences of any Government action. I shudder to contemplate the unintended consequences that could be unleashed by the Constitutional upheaval required to turn Australia into a Republic are unimaginable.

So while today we honour Queen Elizabeth, the greater honour is for the institution she represents and the system of government of which the monarchy is the lynchpin. One of the many reasons I joined the Liberal Party was its long and proud tradition of support for our Constitutional Monarchy. With Labor in power everywhere, our Constitutional Monarchy faces a difficult period.  Nevertheless, you can be assured that I and thousands of other Liberals around Australia will continue to take every opportunity to articulate the great virtues of one of the best sets of Constitutional arrangements the world has ever seen.

Thank you.

 

Australian Plebiscites were an Napoleon Bonaparte stratagie.
Australian Plebiscites were an Napoleon Bonaparte stratagie.

...republicans believe they would lose another referendum, so they propose a plebiscite or plebiscites...

The Australian Founding Fathers were conscious of the risks associated with starting out as a republic. They had observed how Napoleon Bonaparte used constitutional plebiscites to increase his These plebiscites involved only questions without any details, and as a result, Europe suffered a great deal of war as it resisted his attempts to subjugate the continent. TheyNapoleon III continued this practice and used plebiscites to consolidate his power. Therefore, our Founding Fathers rejected the French style of" constitutional plebiscite and instead opted for the Swiss-style referendum, where the issue is on the table before, rather than after the vote. hold on power.  also noted how  a "blank cheque

[Read more: WHY OUR FOUNDING FATHERS WOULD NOT HAVE A BAR OF CONSTITUTIONAL PLEBISCITES]
[Read more: HOW THE FOUNDING FATHERS INTENDED THE AUSTRALIAN REFERENDUM TO WORK]

The Founding Fathers did not want to make it impossible to change the Constitution. But as Founding Fathers Sir John Quick and Sir Robert Garran argued, there should be proper debate until the people agreed nationally and in a majority of States that the proposed change is “ desirable, irresistible and inevitable.”

Some people say the record of changes approved indicates it is too difficult to change the Constitution.
[Read more: OURS IS NOT A HORSE AND BUGGY CONSTITUTION]

Plebiscites are misused today by politicians in other countries. They will draft the question to confuse the voters, and they won’t reveal the details of their proposal.
[Read More: POLITICIANS ABUSE THE PLEBISCITE – AGAIN]

You may be interested to know what happens when politicians put the same question again. One European politician in recent times was so annoyed when the voters rejected a European Union referendum he famously said the people will “ have to keep on the voting unit they get it right.”
[Read more: REPEAT REFERENDUMS IN AUSTRALIA]

There is also a warning about the temptation a successful plebiscite might give some politicians. They could design a trick question to which a majority may say Yes.  Then there is the outside possibility that they could try to bring in a republic through the back door without a referendum.
[Read more: THE TEMPTATION: CHANGE THROUGH THE BACK DOOR]

Not all politicians support the use of plebiscites in relation to constitutional change.
[Read More: Republican plebiscites slammed as irresponsible vandalism: Senator Minchin]

...plebiscites back on the agenda - for one reason...

As a result of the 2020 Summit, where republicanism became the principal issue, the plebiscite (or indeed a cascading series of plebiscites) is well and truly back on the agenda. One thing is absolutely clear. The only reason for this is that Republicans believe they would lose another referendum.
So they have devised a devious scheme to circumvent the constitution. It has been complicated by the fact that Republicans cannot agree among themselves on what sort of republic they want Australians to accept.

...changing the rules when you can’t win, honestly...

Just imagine if, during a football match, one side tried to have the rules changed to give them a free kick whenever they were losing. That is the rort that the Republicans are trying to foist on the nation. And to add insult to injury, the Republicans expect the taxpayers to pay for all of this, including trying to do the impossible – to settle their endless squabbles. Australians should recall that the Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, solemnly assured voters, just before the 2007 election, that he would not proceed on a republic in his first term, “if at all.”

...Australians must “keep on voting until they get it right....”

And yet, Australians could be called to the urns on at least two or three occasions to vote again on republicanism. Three things will block this. First, Republicans are certain they would lose a referendum. Second, polling indicates that not only would they lose a referendum, but they would also lose one on the supposedly most popular model, the direct elect model.

And we haven’t yet pointed out that this will involve expensive and frequent elections for the president, vice president, governors, lieutenant governors, administrators etc., with even more politicians. The third matter which will block a move on a plebiscite is that polling indicates that this, too, would go down. And again, the people haven’t heard why these constitutional plebiscites used this way are a devious, deceitful and expensive attempt to circumvent the Constitution.

In all of these, except at the final referendum, what is being planned to replace our remarkably successful constitution will be kept from the people.
And if this process is followed in the states and territories, and if the Flag is to be changed too, we are talking about requiring up to the equivalent of 28 elections.  As one leading European politician said, when the EU Constitution was rejected in votes in France and the Netherlands, the people must keep voting until they got it right. A similar view prevails among Republicans in Australia. As one leading Republican intimated, only stupid people would vote No.

...the real reason for this rort...

To repeat, Australians should be clear on one thing. The only reason for a plebiscite or plebiscite is the Republicans know they will lose another referendum. The first plebiscite will be written by spin doctors and designed to obtain the maximum vote. The second plebiscite was specifically designed to stop Australians from expressing a preference for the existing constitution. Instead, they would be forced to choose between different Republican models.

Any more than two models will be there for cosmetic purposes. One will be a repeat of the failed 1999 “politicians republic.” The other will be a republic with “even more politicians, at least sixteen more jobs for the Administrators etc. will all be elected—no doubt the taxpayer will fund their political campaigns too.

The one choice Australians won’t have in this second vote is to express a preference for the existing constitution. This is because Republicans fear that the existing constitution will win. Most experts think the direct election model would prevail with Australians forbidden to vote for the existing constitution.

...the Beazley proposal...

The first serious proposal for this cascading series of plebiscites and referenda, presumably federal and state, was made by the then Leader of the Opposition Kim Beazley at the 2000 ALP National Conference. "We need a process which gives all Australians a greater sense of ownership and genuine involvement in any proposal for a republic. As I have said publicly, this could be achieved with the three-step consultative process, which would begin with a plebiscite on the threshold question: do we want an Australian as our Head of State? "If a majority of people agree, a second plebiscite would follow to determine the preferred mode of selecting the Head of State. Finally, a constitutional referendum would be held based on the outcome of the two plebiscites."

No doubt to the surprise of his audience, Mr Beazley disowned the model for which he had so vigorously campaigned in 1999. The fault, he said, was all Mr Howard's. The process Mr Howard "set up failed to deliver Australians a model they could accept"!
[See David Flint, “Mr Beazley and His Plebiscites,” (2001)  Volume 13 of the Proceedings of the Samuel Griffith Society: http://www.samuelgriffith.org.au/papers/html/volume13/v13chap8.htm]

...an expensive Senate inquiry...

Then in 2004, a Senate inquiry, held at great cost to the taxpayer, recommended the government proceed with Mr Beazley’s cascading series of plebiscites.

But after Professor Greg Craven explained to her that the second plebiscite was likely to lead to the choice of the direct elect model, Senator Marise Payne dissented on this point (see this column, “Like A Lead Balloon - Senate Committee Report On Republic,” 8 September 2004). Then, just before the 2004 election, Opposition Leader Mark Latham promised that the holding of the three federal votes would be compressed into the first term of a Latham government.

...the 2020 Summit and abuse of power...

The 2020 Summit was remarkable for two reasons, both of which demonstrate that Australians cannot trust the Republicans not to abuse power.
That is a charge we do not make lightly. But the behaviour of the Republicans at the summit more than demonstrated this, apart from their extraordinary incompetence in managing the process. School students running model parliaments do far better.

The first reason the Summit was remarkable was the ruthless way in which the patently ridiculous vote of 98:1 in favour of a republic was achieved.
This has never been seen in this country, at least in government-organised consultations. As we said at the time, the gerrymander of the Summit selection process was one of which Robert Mugabe would have been envious. Then the principal Summit decision on a republic, that about the ending constitutional ties with the UK,  was shown to be based on a complete misunderstanding of the legal and constitutional position.

Within ten days, the records were surreptitiously changed. It was as if Orwell's Ministry of Truth was in charge. A call for one plebiscite was substituted in its place. The interesting thing is not only that this bears absolutely no resemblance to what was apparently approved at the subgroup, the governance panel and the plenary session.

It is also that this mentions only one and not two plebiscites which were ALP policy under Kim Beazley and Mark Latham and the process the Republican-dominated Senate committee chose in 2004, at great expense to the taxpayer. In changing the Summit decisions, the Republicans who favour direct election have been tricked out of having their second plebiscite, which the conservative Republicans fear.

Curiously, they don't seem to have noticed... yet. This underhand way of changing the Republican agenda demonstrates the continuing and clearly irreconcilable divisions among Republicans. But above all, no one should be in any doubt. We repeat - the only reason a plebiscite or plebiscites have been proposed is that the Republicans think they will lose another referendum.

... Subverting the Constitution ...

ACM remains totally opposed to holding a vague “blank cheque” plebiscite when the constitution provides the process for popular consultation and decision, the referendum. They say a plebiscite goes against the constitution's spirit, if not the letter. Above all, it would be wrong to ask the people to cast a vote of no confidence in one of the world’s most successful constitutions, with the details of the proposed change being kept from them and no guarantee that change would follow.

This would be a recipe for an extended period of constitutional instability. It would be difficult to conceive of a more irresponsible act than this.
As Senator Nick Minchin said on 13 June 2008:

“If Labor wants to destroy our Constitutional Monarchy, it should seek to do so in the only legitimate, honest and lawful manner available – by way of a Referendum to amend our Constitution. "The only legitimate way for Labor to bring about its Republican paradise is to agree on the details of a Republican system of Government, pass the requisite legislation through the Commonwealth Parliament, and put the proposed constitutional amendments to the Australian people in a Referendum.

"It is our responsibility to demand of Labor that they abide by the process for Constitutional change laid down so wisely by our Founding Fathers.
"We cannot let them get away with the fraud and deceit of a plebiscite based first on the fatuous proposition that we need a republic in order to have an Australian Head of State.” Fraud and deceit indeed!

 

No Constitutional Plebiscites

WHY OUR FOUNDING FATHERS WOULD NOT HAVE A BAR OF CONSTITUTIONAL PLEBISCITES

To understand the danger of what is being proposed, let us go back to the work of our Founding Fathers. Our Founders carefully and exhaustively considered the question of how the Constitution should be amended. The Constitution they had drafted was to be a "binding and indissoluble social compact" between the people of the Australian Colonies (now States).

The people of each Colony had to be involved at all stages, and finally, the Constitution was the centrepiece of the process initiated by Sir John Quick at Corowa in 1893. Under this, neither the drafting of the Constitution nor its final approval was to be exclusively in the hands of the politicians.

This is not to denigrate the role of the politician in the Commonwealth. But the politician's role is to be limited in constitutional matters, a point confirmed in the 1999 referendum. How, then, to involve the people in any amendment to the Constitution? The Founders well understood the use, and indeed the misuse, of the constitutional plebiscite. From the time of the French Revolution to the drafting of our Constitution, there had been a total of about 40 national plebiscites and referendums in the world.

Of these, 24 would be recognisable to Australians as a referendum. That is, the full texts of the amendments (or of the Constitutions) were already on the table, not hidden. There was an opportunity for a proper debate, and above all, the country was a democracy. Surprisingly, all 24 were in one country, Switzerland. The remaining 15 were not what Australians would call referenda. They were all constitutional plebiscites.

The first was actually held in Switzerland in 1802. But it was a Switzerland under French occupation. There, the Swiss were asked to approve of a Constitution drafted by the French. And although the "No" vote exceeded the "Yes" vote substantially, Napoleon decided the "Yes" case had won. This was done by treating all abstentions as affirmative votes. An early example of electoral fraud!

Then, there were three plebiscites to approve of the installation of a monarch. These were in Greece in 1862, in Mexico in 1863 and in Romania in 1866. The Mexican plebiscite was held under the auspices of an invading French army. The Emperor, Maximilian, was the nominee of the French Emperor, Napoleon III. He was approved by 99 per cent of the people.

This vote was not reflected among those who then fought for an independent Mexico. The unfortunate Maximilian, abandoned by Napoleon, was executed by a firing squad. Then, there was an aborted constitutional plebiscite in Mexico in 1867, but the votes were never counted. The Romanians also approved a constitutional change in 1864.

The remaining ten constitutional plebiscites, that is, the bulk of them, were held in France. Almost all were held under authoritarian, if not dictatorial, regimes, with the probable exception of those in 1851 and 1852, which I will come to in a moment.

The French Revolution, from the Reign of Terror to the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte's dictatorship, produced seven plebiscites. These were to be approved:

In 1793 -- The Constitution of the Year I (so called because the revolutionaries hated the past so much they threw out the Gregorian calendar);
In 1795 -- The Constitution of the Year III introduced the Directoire;
In 1799 -- The Constitution of the Year VIII introduced the Consulate;
In 1800 -- The confirmation of Napoleon Bonaparte as Consul;
In 1802 -- Appointment of Napoleon was Consul for Life;
In 1804 -- The making of Napoleon Emperor of the French; and
In 1815 -- The restoration of Napoleon's Imperial Constitution.

Two more constitutional plebiscites were used to install Napoleon III (Napoleon Bonaparte's nephew) as Emperor. The first was in 1851 to extend his term as President of the Second Republic to ten years. The second was in 1852 to make him Emperor. A last-minute and unsuccessful reprieve to the Empire by liberalising it was approved in 1870 before France's defeat in the war with Prussia.

Incidentally, the collapse of the Empire and the installation of the Third Republic were never submitted to the people for their approval.

If we exclude those plebiscites to approve the name of a Sovereign in Greece and Romania, all but one of the constitutional plebiscites about which the Australian Founding Fathers would have been aware were held in France or in a country under French occupation. And all of these were used either to confirm or to install some form of authoritarian or dictatorial rule.

 

Crowned Republic

A Crowned Republic is a form of government that features a monarch who serves as a symbolic, ceremonial leader with limited authority over matters related to the executive branch and constitutional issues. This type of system is exemplified by countries like Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom, which are officially classified as constitutional monarchies. Additionally, the term can be applied to historical republics where the head of state held the title of "doge," such as those found in Venice, Genoa, and the Republic of San Marino. In these cases, the monarch's role was largely symbolic, with actual governance being carried out by elected officials or other government bodies. Overall, a crowned republic is a unique blend of monarchical and republican features in which the monarch's role is largely symbolic but still serves an important ceremonial function.
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