This brief document attempts to highlight the practical difficulties in
achieving an Australian republic that many prominent supporters of the concept to not
seem to be aware of. This deficiency arguably constitutes an example of
the hazards that political populism poses to
The creation of a republic seems to be viewed as as purely a
'symbolic' change - resulting in the establishment an elected head of state who
would see their role as ceremonial and non-political.
The former head of the Australian Republican Movement
referred to: (a) the acceptance by republicans of Australia's British
heritage; (b) the declining visibility of the monarchy in Australia; (c) the
increasingly presidential style of Australia's prime ministers; (d)
Australia's openness to new ideas and change - which is very 'republican';
(e) the symbolic character of the republican debate in Australia; and )f)
the obstacles to achieving constitutional change. He also suggested that:
"Australians will have to
decide how they want to choose their new head of state. The last referendum
was bedevilled by a split between republicans who wanted a directly elected
president and those, such as myself, who believed that a ceremonial and
non-political position is better filled by a bipartisan vote of parliament.
It is possible, of
course, to have a directly elected ceremonial head of state; the Irish have
done so for years. But it is not the best way, and that is why most presidents
who are ceremonial heads of state, as opposed to those who are also heads of
government, are chosen by their parliaments." (Turnbull M.,
A prince among friends, but not as our head of
state, The Australian,
we stand for' introduction
to the Republic Now Movement web-site suggested
"There is no
doubt in our mind that a Referendum on a model that includes the option of a
popularly elected President, with symbolic powers, will be supported by a
large majority of Australians. "
The unresolved question is how it would be ensured that a republican head of
state adopted a purely ceremonial and non-political approach to the huge powers
they would hold without any obvious current Constitutional constraint.
The problem would be particularly acute for one chosen by direct election,
who might well have their own political power base and believe that they had
some sort of electoral mandate It is noted that:
the powers of Australia's heads of state exceed
those of elected governments because: (a) Prime Ministers and Premiers are
not directly assigned powers through the Constitution; and (b) the head of
state would also have the 'reserve powers' of the Crown that are not
specifically provided for in the Constitution;
the restraint which
Governors General and Governors now display in using executive powers only on government advice
depends ultimately on his / her role being simply that of a representative of
a monarchy which chooses to act this way;
even under the present vice-regal system a
number of Governors / Governors General have taken the view that they should
take a partisan position on political agendas they favour, and many
commentators have suggested that Australia's heads of state need to have
popular support or perhaps even a definite political agenda (see
Politicisation of the 'Crown');
it is not impossible that an individual selected
/ elected to the role of head of state who was not bound by the constraints
of merely a 'vice regal' position could have a 'bee in their bonnet that
they believed justified
'suspending democratic processes'
or turning a blind eye to abuses of power by
a 'political' head of state would be likely to
put Australia's prized and rare political stability at risk (see
Putting Political Stability at
Thus the key issue for republicans to consider is how Australia
might ensure that the head of state in a future 'republic' (whatever this
actually means) took a purely ceremonial and non-political approach to their
However progress may be possible as illustrated by an article (Readfearn G.
'Do we have the will to cut the cord?' Courier Mail,
22/1/10) which noted the practical
difficulty of achieving such an outcome. Specifically that article went beyond
the usual populist rhetoric and cited:
Professor Carol Johnson ( University of
Adelaide) who pointed to the 'huge political and legislative task' involved in
such a transition; and
Professor John Kane (Griffith University) who
pointed to the complications of cutting constitutional ties with the monarchy
- because 'you would then have an elected person with a lot of power, and
that's a recipe for crisis. You would have to re-write and renegotiate the
constitution. That's a huge task: enough work for a couple of decades. Most
people don't understand the constitutional implications'
There is no doubt that Professor Kane is correct in
suggesting that most people don't understand the issue. Moreover from the
present writer's personal
experience, this includes many who have taken the lead in endorsing a
republic in Australia.
Vague 'Republic' for a Vague 'Asian Century'?
A Vague 'Republic' for a Vague 'Asian Century'? -
email sent 20/4/12
Australian Republican Movement
An Australian Republic for the Asian Century, OnlineOpinion, 19/4/12
Your article suggested that:
has been written about the centre of the world's economic gravity shifting to
our region, but no strong narrative about our place in the Asian Century has yet
Both points in this sentence are undoubtedly correct.
However, while there has been a huge quantity of writing about the possibility
of an ‘Asian century’ the quality of such writing has been incredibly poor, for
reasons which are developed in
Babes in the Asian Woods. In brief this suggests that there is a lack of
real 'Asia literacy' amongst most of those who are supposed to be most expert in
the area because they typically try to 'understand' Asia from a Western
perspective (eg in terms of concepts such as democracy, capitalism and a rule of
law) but don't understand it from an 'Asian' perspective.
Your article implied that becoming a ‘republic’ would boost
Australia’s position in the ‘Asian century’. However this unfortunately is as
vague as the endless writings about an ‘Asian century’. My reasons for
suggesting this are outlined in
Republican Realism: A Purely 'Ceremonial' Head of State? In brief the
latter suggests that, there seems to be no clear proposal about how an
‘Australian’ head of state could be installed with powers
similar to that of the Governor General (which I gather is the ARM’s goal).
Direct popular election (the method that seems to have popular support) would
generate political instability unless accompanied by an across-the-board
re-write of the constitution which would take decades to get agreement about.
I would be
interested in your response to my speculations.