Foolish Senate Report

The Senate held an inquiry into “The Republic” in 2004 and produced a report.  Basically the report is a re-write of the discussion paper which the committee had published prior to the submissions, embellished with quotes from those notables who said the sort of thing the Senate committee wanted to hear.  It is a foolish and ineffectual report and it is doing ongoing harm to the republican cause. 

The Senate committee’s major recommendation was for a plebiscite asking the people to choose from five kinds of ways of appointing the president.  The idea comes from the ARM (Australian Republican Movement) which has had a policy for a plebiscite since 1999.  Although the committee received a “plethora” (their term) of models among the submissions they ignored these and dished up essentially the same tired ideas that Malcolm Turnbull told them they were allowed to have 13 years ago. 

The five models the people would be permitted to choose from are: 

A. Pure elite eg simple, personal appointment by the PM
B. Politician’s appointment of hush-hush candidate as per 1999  
C. Electoral college appointment 
D. Politicians’ election from a field of candidates. 
E. Popular election of the president

The Senate committee recommended that these five proposals be put to the people in a plebiscite and that the plebiscite have compulsory preferential voting. 

Will any government ever initiate this plebiscite program?  No, because it just makes trouble for them.  The plebiscite result – whatever it turned out to be – would have such significance it would have to respected, so the government which initiated the process would be painting itself into a corner.  Why ever would they?  Far more sensible to do nothing. 

Still, just as a hypothetical, suppose the government had a mad moment and did consider holding the plebiscites.  Which model (or kind of model – at this stage they are not fixed) would win?  E will probably get the most primary votes but assuming E does not get an outright majority, the second preferences from A, and then C would be distributed.  These would go to B and D.  Then probably D will drop out and go to B.  And 1999 would finally have won.  (If D got well enough promoted it is conceivable it could beat B in which case the politicians get to elect the president.) 

It appears this compulsory preferential plebiscite program is designed to deliver an assured win for a politicians’ republic.  We can see why the Senate committee thought it was a good idea.  We can also see why, instead of some of the “plethora” of models, the perfectly hopeless model A is included (and is always included in such lists of models): it makes the 1999 politicians’ republic look moderate. 

Now the above assumed E didn’t get the outright majority.  This is probably correct but we can’t be sure.  Also the assumed preference distribution is no certainty.  E would get a few second preferences and history records cases where politicians who’d made assumptions about referendums got unpleasant surprises.  In short, unless the pollies could be utterly certain that E will lose, they wouldn’t even entertain the plebiscite program. 

In other words, unless the outcome of the plebiscite is, from the start, a foregone conclusion, it won’t go ahead.  The plebiscite is a charade. 

Let us suppose that opinion polls made it clear that there is absolutely no risk of E winning either outright or on preferences.  This is itself difficult to imagine for they know that once it’s on and they have let slip the dogs of campaigning, pretty much anything can happen – but let’s just suppose.  The politicians rub their hands together in anticipation and the direct electionists – say 30 percent of the electorate – know that their republic is already lost.  Voting is compulsory so they are forced to participate in an act guaranteed to defeat them and which will allow the others to forever claim that the direct electionists were “consulted”.  Isn’t politics nice? 

Actually that is a naïve scenario.  Even as a charade the process still wouldn’t go ahead.  The reason is that this plebiscite was only for the public’s preferred kind of model.  The actual model still has to be designed and go to referendum, as in 1999.  That’s enough to make the pollies nervous.  Another con-con?  It would be a very nasty campaign and what if the neo-1999 failed to get up?  The republic is a big enough mess already.  In short, even if the outcome of the plebiscite process itself were completely predictable, it would still be a leap into the unknown.  They won’t do it; the politicians will not deliberately make such trouble for themselves.  This plebiscite will never happen. 

The plebiscite plan is an attempt to appear to be doing something and a reflection of the bafflement of the politicians.  Presumably politicians who don’t think too deeply saw it as a neat way to evade responsibility by palming off a hot potato onto the people while at the same time guaranteeing a politicians’ republic.  It is also an expression of wishful-thinking by republicans who see it as a scheme to get the government onto a track that will lead to a republic.  They must be assuming that the government has a collective IQ of about 70, which is an exaggeration. 

There is something pathetic about this fantasy of a plebiscite on multiple models.  It was sold to the Senate Committee by the ARM which invented it because it didn’t know what to do after it lost the 1999 referendum.  After all these years the ARM still consists almost exclusively of people who don’t want an elected president, however as an organisation it can’t come out openly and say so.  That would make the ARM irrelevant because, despite years and years of one-sided propaganda, the wider public remains stubbornly in favour of popular election.  So the ARM’s answer was this cop-out, this multi-model plebiscite, this way of pretending to be doing something. 

As a policy it has been self-emasculating.  It has meant the ARM had nothing of substance to offer, or to talk about.  It cannot publicly promote a program of plebiscites for it is too complicated and it has no actual content for anyone to get interested in.  And, of course, no one with any sense would get interested for it is a fruitless quest.  The ARM has been through some arid, headless-chook years.  When will it stop kidding itself and ditch this policy? 

That plebiscite policy and the Senate committee have made getting a republic more difficult.  For Australia to become a republic the parliament has to act.  This is already difficult but now any well-intentioned pro-republic parliament is saddled with this weighty Senate Report recommending things no executive government would do in a fit.  To act positively now a government has the additional obstacle of having to publicly disown and discredit this foolish document. 

That short-sighted, self-interested, deceitful Senate Report would be the biggest boost the monarchist cause has had since the republic push began in 1993. 
  The Senate report is at:

Its conclusions are on page 140  



One Comment on “Foolish Senate Report”

  1. […] I have just posted a new reference page: “Foolish Senate Report” discussing its nonsense recommendation of holding a plebiscite to choose a model.  It is an attempt at preference trickery which is never going to come off.  This short-sighted, self-interested, deceitful report is the biggest boost to the monarchist cause since 1993.  […]

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