Archive for February 2006

No real alternative

February 24, 2006

The recent lively discussion at Quiggin’s blog makes me more than ever convinced that there are just three possible ways this country can resolve the problem of choosing the GG/president.  One is the politicians’ republic à la 1999, a second is politicians’ election, and the other (the only decent way to do it) is Sovereign Appointment

If we take it that the models outlined on page 140 of the 2004 Senate Report cover the field, then the simple PM’s appointment can be ruled out for it has no chance of passing (and no PM will dare put it), and direct election can be ruled out as the politicians will not allow it (see post “Elected Fantasy” below).  Assuming “electoral college” means elite appointment it also won’t wash with the electorate so it, also, will never be attempted.  That leaves two: (i) neo-1999 whereby machine politicians ratify a stooge president for some quid pro quos they bargain over in secret, and (ii) politicians’ election whereby the pollies elect the GG/president from a short field as they do in Germany and Italy. 

Both are forms of  “politicians’ republic” and if put to referendum will meet with bitter opposition from those who favour more sovereignty of the people, ie those who favour a directly elected president.  But with bipartisan support, say a leadership of the flavour of Costello plus Beazley, they would probably get it over the line.  At least, bipartisan support would have succeeded in 1999.  Probably now they would have to wait for a generation to let the memory of 1999 fade.  Even then they will be accused of a divide-and-rule attempt to gather more power to politicians and it will certainly be another dirty referendum with the losers again being very angry. 

And all unnecessary.  The simple consensus alternative is Sovereign Appointment.  Three tiny changes to the constitution passes the present sovereign’s sole power to the people with no side-effects and no impact on anyone’s favourite republic model.       


Appoint, not elect

February 15, 2006

Do you believe the people should be sovereign in a republic?  If so then for a monarchy to become a republic shouldn’t the monarch’s sovereignty to be transferred to the people?  
 The Queen only has one scrap of sovereignty: her power to appoint the GG.  If we found all the places where the constitution says the Queen appoints the GG and if we struck out “the Queen” and wrote “the People” instead, what would be the effect? 
 The effect must be that the power to appoint the GG would be in the people’s hands.  All the power.  The Queen would have none. 
 Note that the sovereign appoints the GG.  Appoints, not elects. 
 The process of appointment has been in operation for centuries in the British Empire and the British Commonwealth.  No sovereign ever elected a governor.  The PM writes to the sovereign suggesting a candidate and sovereign writes back.  With a sovereign people, the PM has to write to each citizen, which means he has to hold a postal referendum. 
 It is the process used to appoint judges in Japan and many US states where it is known as the “Missouri Plan”
 How many places does the constitution have to be changed to do this transfer of sovereignty?  Three.  In sections 2 and 4, literally switch “People” for “Queen” in three places.  That’s it. 
 No politicians, no election, no campaign, no promises, no effect on the dignity of the office, no effect on conventions. 
 And no effect on the kind of republic we might decide upon.  All republic possibilities remain on the table.  The only effect is to remove the distraction of the problem of appointing the GG. 

SA in summary

February 11, 2006

Under SA the people simply take over the sovereign’s task of appointing the PM’s candidate.  After pondering the comments to the previous post I thought it might it pertinent to post here the last item in the FAQ file which summarises the virtues of SA.   

Q.  In sum, what are the reasons people would vote for Sovereign Appointment? 
– It transfers sovereignty from the monarch to the people which is the proper way to become a republic. 
– It continues the system which has worked satisfactorily for 100 years whereby the GG is the agent of the sovereign appointed by the sovereign, and holds the sovereign’s authority. 
– The constitutional change is extremely simple
– It continues to exclude politicians from the selection of the head of state.  As a result: 
    – It makes the people sovereign without political power upsets
    – It has no effect on reserve powers or on other conventions so no “codification” is required. 
    – It preserves the dignity and predictability of the office of governor-general.
    – It clears the way for rational discussion of a republic. 
    – It has no effect on the prospects for any republic design
    – There is a prospect of real consensus.  About 70% of Australians favour becoming a republic but can’t agree on how to choose the president.  They would all agree with “Sovereign Appointment” for it does not alter power relationships and does not inhibit anyone from promoting their preferred model. 

The elected fantasy

February 9, 2006

There will never be a popularly elected president in Australia.  For a referendum proposal to pass it needs the support of both political parties but the Liberal Party will never support an elected president.  Probably the Labor Party will not support it either but that is irrelevant.  The Libs won’t.  Never.  Under no circumstances. 
You get people – prominent people like top lawyers and former GGs – who will explain almost with tears in their eyes what a frightful disaster an elected president would be.  They could save their breath.  The pollies know it already and they won’t have it.  They won’t have it because they agree with the central terror of the fearful anti-electionists, namely that whatever the formal limitations they might slap on the president’s power, the national direct election will make the president a powerful politician and a rival to the PM. 
Of course that is precisely what is attractive to a broad section of the people: oh boy, a politician who is on our side.  But it’s a fantasy. 
Enthusiasts for direct election will point out that this or that Labor opposition leader said he was in favour of it.  If he did he was playing to an audience.  Just suppose a Labor leader got himself elected PM with a policy for an elected president (this is already a fantasy, by the way, but just suppose) then there would be some negotiations and said leader would sorrowfully announce that he did his best but sadly the Liberals refused to agree and everyone knows that a referendum without bi-partisan support is a waste of time so it’s all off.  The PM has escaped an elected president (as he knew all along he would) and scored a point over the Liberal spoilers who are preventing the people having their republic. 

All this of course is so predictably simplistic that it won’t come to pass. 

The middle ground

February 8, 2006

For Australia to become a republic (ie terminate the monarchy), someone has to take over the Queen’s job of appointing the GG.  The well-known rival republican “models” are politicians’ appointment of the GG/president and popular election of the GG/president.  The first was attempted at the 1999 referendum; the second exists in the imaginations of the majority (probably) of supporters of an Australian republic.  These are the two ideas kept in front of the public.  Carefully kept there because although the politicians’ appointment model was rejected by the voters in 1999, the pollies would like to try it again. 

The propaganda has it that politicians’ appointment is “minimal” but this is untrue.  Both models are extremes.  The first is a process of secret dealings by a tiny clique of party power brokers; the second entails the wild hoopla of a national election campaign. 

The moderate middle ground is quite easy to find.  (more…)