The Republic Question

Where do I sit on the Question?

Sometimes when you mention that you hold a different view from someone else on an issue, they will look at you like you have two heads. The difficulty I face here of course is not that I am opposed to us becoming a republic, but rather that on balance at the moment I am not in favour of becoming a republic. Apart from those who live in a binomial world, there really is a difference.

One of my great concerns has to do with the detail. What sort of republic are we talking about? Presumably, not one of Paul Keating's Banana Republics and I would hope that most people understand that there is much in the United States model of Republic that perhaps we should neither need, nor want, to emulate.

I believe those who argue for the change should be prepared to put forward sufficient detail about what is proposed so that it can be evaluated, and informed decisions made. Specifically, we need to be told what we will lose and gain. I know from past experience, that each time the government does something that will save me money, it seems to cost me more than I save. Perhaps that makes me a cynical old timer, however, I have been around the block a couple of times.

The Crown

The role of the Crown in a constitutional monarchy is misrepresented. Henry VIII began in party mode, following the austerity of Henry VII. As time went by, Henry VIII accumulated a desire to have everything his own way. There is a veritable litany of atrocious acts which do not show him in a good light, and the execution of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, who was executed without trial at the age of 68, largely because she was a member of the Plantagenet family, suffices to be an example sufficient to indicate in some sense Henry VIII had become a tyrant.

For 10 years from 1649 to 1659 England tried a Republican model, firstly with Parliament, and then with a Lord Protector. Following this interregnum, the English Parliament invited Charles II to come and rule in the place of his father Charles I who was executed in 1549. Monarchy since that time has been profoundly less tyrannical and effectively served to protect the people from the tyranny of Government. In many ways, this role reversal has continued to the present day.

Those charged with drafting the US Constitution determined to protect the citizens from another tyranny, having perceived the British Crown and Parliament had gone about simply exploiting the North Americans for simple profit. They saw no value in independence that simply was a change of tyrant. The Australian Constitution was drawn up nearly 130 years later and took a different tack, understanding that the unstated role of the Crown (as expressed in the Governor General) was the safeguard against unjust and unreasonable demands by the Parliament on the people.


The general assumption is that if we become a Republic we will have a President. Of course, it does not need to be so, they could be the Lord Protector, the Chancellor, the Chairperson, or we may select a novel title.

The US model of republicanism involves a direct election by the people, though in a confusing way this is ultimately expressed through the Electoral College, made up of the States, and the States determine how that vote is expressed for the State, either proportionally or in most cases as a block. My concern with this mode of election is that the whole system of Primaries, so as to select the candidates and the election so as to select the winning candidate, is in the main brutal, and seems to involve unlimited amounts of money spent on sustaining the process, which is money that could probably be spent in better ways.

The President of course is the centre-piece of the US democratic process, The Vice President also serves as President of the US Senate, and The Speaker of the House of Representatives for the top three, (at the moment, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Nancy Pelosi).

Now interestingly our Prime Minister is who we would match against the President. We do not see the Governor General as the equivalent, though of course, he is correctly termed the Head of State.

The Role

The Role of the Governor-General often seems very formal, and somewhat ceremonial. Often it seems steeped in tradition, and somewhat removed from the vast reality of the political spectrum. We have a grubby election campaign, the giddy hiatus while we wait for results, and for the victor to name the new cabinet, and then suddenly, in the serene formality of Government House, the Governor General receives the oaths of service and allegiance, and they are sworn into office. There is nothing like this in the US, where the President is sworn in by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, which incidentally is a political appointment. The President is then actively involved in the political landscape. The Governor General is almost recessive, from this point, opening the odd flower show and visiting following disasters and supporting the Country Women's Association and other worthwhile bodies.

He is actually the Chair of the Federal Executive Council, and as such, it falls to him to sign into law any act duly passed by the parliament. He also has the duty to call a parliament, after an election, and the prorogue parliament, so a new election can be held. He does hold some reserve powers, which are very limited for the maintenance of due process equity, and the functioning of the Government. The events of the 11th of November 1975 are the one time in living memory these reserve powers have been called upon, and the debate continues as the whether this was justified or not. His actions ultimately called the country to a new election, and the people decided who should form the Government.

There is in this matter something nice about the dignity of the office removed from the grubby estate of political life.

Is it a Question of Education?

One of the things of concern to me is how little the average punter understands about our system of Government. Most Australians I suspect have little exposure to the Constitution or how it works in practice. Generally, I think we know that there are two houses of parliament. I suspect many Australians think our Head of State is the Prime Minister, which is clearly not the case. Under the Constitution, executive power is wielded by the Federal Executive Council, yet I am pretty sure most Australians don't even know such a body exists, or who are the members of it.

Nine out of Forty-Four attempts to change our Constitution by Referendum have been successful, which represents just shy of a 21% success rate.  The reason for that low rate may well be in part because many Australians do not really understand the Constitution as it is, and have had a sufficient lack of trust in politicians to want to change it. Many Australians look (with their eyes closed) to the Constitution to protect them, whereas it was not designed to do that, unlike the US Constitution, yet anything that makes life easier for Politicians may well be likely to make life for the rest of us harder.

I think we should all read the Constitution and understand it a little better. This is especially true when the is a call to change its foundations.


  • If we are to replace the Crown (Governor General) how will we ensure that the citizens are protected from unjust and unreasonable laws?
  • We are in no position to make a decision until we have a clear model which includes how the 'President' will be elected, appointed, or selected.
  • What will the role of the President be, and what will the role of the Prime Minister be in a Republic?
  • We need a proper Education Campaign to teach us all that is in the Constitution now before we start changing it.

I believe that there are a number of changes that would help the Constitution including

  • The recognition of first nations people
  • Some clear guidelines for the High Court in interpreting the Constitution
  • A Bill of Rights, - perhaps even the UN Declaration of Human Rights embedded in our Constitution
  • A clear understanding of citizenship.
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