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The Republic

By Bruce Barbour.

Without the Queen as Head of State it is necessary to rethink all the relationships between the various offices and the Constitution and their functions.

The Hierarchy should be:-

The Constitution becomes central to the whole operations of Governance. It is pre-eminent as the expression of the will of the People which can only be changed by the People.

The powers of the Governor General (or President), the Prime Minister and the High Court would all be defined under the Constitution.

The Governor General should be seen as the Keeper of the Constitution. All powers of the Governor General should be codified under the Constitution. There would be no unwritten “reserve” powers. If the Convention wants the Governor General to be able to dismiss the Prime Minister (which I don't think it should) it needs to write it in to the Constitution. (The only reason that a Prime Minister could be dismissed by the Governor General is if the PM infringes against the Constitution and the constitutionality would need to be confirmed by the High Court, as the Interpreter of the Constitution.)

It is preferred that the power of the Senate to block supply is eliminated.

As stated the High Court is the Interpreter of the Constitution. Bills presented to the Governor General from Parliament could be referred by the Governor General to the High Court for their opinion on conformity to with the Constitution. If an adverse opinion is gained then the Bill would be sent back to Parliament for amendment.

I would like the Constitution to contain a “Bill of Rights and Responsibilities” and a statement on the values of the Australian people against which bills could be judged. This may prevent the Government putting up bills which would be against the Will of the People as expressed in the Constitution, unless it is willing to go directly to the people for a change in the Constitution.

The Governor General as the “Keeper of the Constitution” would also have powers to call together groups of people to consider beneficial Constitutional changes which could be put to the People, keeping the Constitution as a living document. This might get some of the politics out of Constitutional change.

Mode of Election

The mode of election of the Governor General that I prefer is 2/3 majority of a joint sitting of both houses of the Parliament (and similarly for dismissal). (This method of election should also be used for the appointment of members of the High Court as well. This will prevent stacking of the High Court with members favourable to one party or the other.)

Direct election is possible under this model however I think it would be expensive to the taxpayers for little gain, and would contain an element of risk. If a compromise is necessary I would suggest the direct election of a group of people who would then select the Governor General.

Dismissal

On another point there was a proposal that the President be elected by 67% of Parliament but can be dismissed by the Prime Minister or 51% lower house. This is fraught with potential disaster.

Take example, Prime Minister, with a minimal lower house majority, sacks the President. The PM then has to appoint a new President. The Opposition doesn’t agree with the original dismissal and refuses to agree to any other nomination than the original President, an option that cannot be agreed to by the Prime Minister. No 67% support, therefore no President. But we do have something:-  CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS!

To work effectively dismissal of the President by Prime Minister it must also be ratified by 67% of Parliament or original dismissal must be by 67% of Parliament.

Republican Disunity.

I believe the majority of Australians want a Republic. However unless the Republican unite under a common model Australia will be continue to have a Monarchy. I also do not want a situation where people are forced to accept a model which is not optimum just to achieve the end of having an Australian as the Head of State.

There is a way to unite the Republicans. I suggest that the Australian Republican Movement model from the last Referendum (or a similar variant) is put to the People however with the proviso, written into the Referendum, that a second Referendum is held in a number of years time (say ten years time if possible) as to whether the President should be directly elected or appointed by Parliament.

This should satisfy the Direct Election Republicans, as I believe most of them will prefer an appointed President to the Monarchy, so long as they are given the chance of putting their model to the people in the future.

The argument for this proposal are:

1) Australia will become a Republic;

2) Direct Election proponents will get adequate time to formulate a number of direct election models in detail and the Australian people will get time to fully understand, debate and assess these proposed models;

3) By the time of the Second Referendum there will have been a number of terms of the President giving the Australian people the opportunity assess whether the Parliamentary appointment model is working as they expected; and

4) I expect that within 10 years the Parliamentary Appointment proponents will have had time to educate the people about the potential problems with the Direct Election Model. If not then let the will of the People prevail.

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