20 January 2022

Few fears for monarchy after republicans flunk latest test

| Ian Bushnell
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Government House

Government House: we don’t need a rival centre of power. Photo: File.

I am old enough to remember as a primary school pupil being marched down to the local station and loaded onto the old Brisbane rattlers for a run to the Exhibition Grounds to see the Queen and Prince Phillip do a spin around the main ring.

If you need a readymade crowd, a bunch of unquestioning schoolkids is an easy option, especially so in Joh’s Queensland in 1970.

Five years later, the Queen’s man in Canberra sacked an elected Prime Minister, and while the nation got over it, the flaws and contradictions in our constitutional arrangements remain.

Besides hereditary monarchy being an anachronism in the modern world, the issue of Australia’s head of state being a foreigner and her representative still holding considerable powers under the Constitution is something Australians still have to confront and resolve.

So it is welcome that the Australian Republican Movement is still kicking, particularly after a cunning John Howard put it to the sword in the 1999 referendum by splitting the vote, allowing two republican models to be put to the people.

One proposed that the parliament choose a president while others wanted a directly elected head of state.

Alas, the republicans running the show have not learnt from that experience, proposing a hybrid model that still would mean an election for president.

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Under the Australian Republican Movement proposal, each state and territory would nominate a presidential candidate, and the federal government would nominate three, from which voters would select a president.

There are countries that manage to have an elected president who defers to parliament and the prime minister, such as Ireland, but if ARM thinks Australians are going to embrace their latest plan, it is sadly mistaken.

Besides the country having much bigger fish to fry at present and Australians generally being averse to changing a system that on the surface at least is working, the role of the Governor-General has become so reduced by successive Prime Ministers that the position has faded into symbolic irrelevance.

Australian Parliament House

Parliament House: where political power should reside. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

Public reception to the new proposal has varied from lukewarm to outright hostility, with Paul Keating, the legendary Lizard of Oz, who dared place his hand on the monarch, skewering it in his usual inimitable style.

He has always opposed the establishment of a rival centre of power to the PM and the Parliament. He says that experimenting with a “US-style” presidency would threaten Australia’s system of parliamentary democracy and possibly throw up a demagogue like Donald Trump.

He says Australia would be better off sticking with what we have.

There is not much point in holding a national presidential election or popularity contest for a position that is supposed to be perfunctory. It is more likely to evolve into something more than envisaged.

It may be the case of careful what you ask for.

The appointment of an Australian head of state should be left in the hands of Parliament, along the lines of the 1999 proposal for a two-thirds majority.

More important is clarifying the responsibilities and powers of the head of state and its relationship with Parliament. Not to mention finally acknowledging First Nations people in the Constitution.

A minimalist proposal that removes the monarch as head of state and replaces the Governor-General with a president appointed by Parliament is far more likely to succeed than the more radical one.

There is a lingering fascination for the British royal family that can be hard to understand, especially with the Charles and Diana saga, and now Prince Andrew’s troubling past and the circus that is Harry and Meghan.

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Part of that is the cult of celebrity and the Wills and Kate phenomenon, which is the Firm’s best asset, but even the arguments related to our historical ties to the Motherland do not stand up when becoming a republic does not preclude Australia from staying a member of the Commonwealth.

The biggest plus for monarchists is really indifference. Polls might show that most people favour a republic, but when it comes to getting there, they are not so keen on the actual work.

And there is little appetite from the main political parties.

Some may see the imminent end of the Queen’s long reign as an opportunity to reignite the debate, but the republican movement will have to do better than this if change is going to come.

God save them when the Cambridges ascend. Schoolchildren won’t have to be marshalled, they’ll be pleading to turn up.

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I think if this current pandemic has taught us much at all it is to be thankful of good government and suspicious about parochial government over-reach. To that end, I am increasingly of the view that I don’t want another level of government in Australia in the form of an overarching President, elected or otherwise. I am quite happy about a GG who signs documents as recommended by the politicians we elect. Nice and simple please.

The Republican movement has always been split because the people want to vote for their President, whereas the establishment want to appoint someone, much like how the Governor General is appointed.

While there are some in our community who want to rewrite history and remove any and all connection to our British heritage, personally, I’m more than happy with our current system and would vote accordingly.

So the way to the voters hearts is this: the republicans should advocate a system that is the one and only system that has already been roundly rejected by voters?

HiddenDragon6:41 pm 22 Jan 22

As the Windsors increasingly embrace issues associated with the “progressive”/left side of politics, as part of an obvious attempt to update their image and be relevant to people who might otherwise have little interest in or time for an hereditary monarchy, the best prospects for an Australian republic may be with a future Liberal PM (probably of the Millennial variety) who loses patience with finger-wagging interference from the other side of the world.

The prospect of using the issue as a reverse wedge against Labor might make the idea almost irresistible – two birds with one stone.

What a strange comment; but a really interesting one!

If pretend pirate, Peter Fitzsimmons is behind it, it will fail miserably

Stephen Saunders4:57 pm 21 Jan 22

“Remove the monarch and replace GG with president appointed by Parliament.”

Too right, Ian, it’s our only shot. Do we need to need to send an ARM study mission over to tiny Barbados to see how it’s done?

Finagen_Freeman4:14 pm 21 Jan 22

Haha you don’t need a head of state.
You just need a leader.
The current prime minister is anything but prime.

Don’t be fooled by any ‘look over there’ tactics.

Republic, Democratic, Freedom, Free Economy …. all words.

What we have is a dwindling government model and it won’t matter about any head of state. Look closer people – our society is fragmenting – the rich are billionaires- the middle class carry the tax burden and the poor have been told living on the street is the new norm.

Capital Retro6:42 pm 22 Jan 22

Hitler and Stalin were leaders so be careful for what you wish for.

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