Written by Robert Vose, 20 February, 2008.
Many attempts to turn Australia into a republic propose removing The Queen from our constitution and transforming the Office of Governor-General into the new head of state. This approach has proved to be quite difficult and controversial trying, as it does, to roll two roles into one.
The Copernican models propose a structure with two heads of state; an Honorary President and a Vice President. We propose creating a new Honorary President to replace The Queen in our Constitution and we also propose modifying the Office of Governor-General to become the new Vice President.
The powers of an Honorary President in this model would be similar to the powers of The Queen today, and the powers of the Vice President would be similar to the powers of the current Governor-General. The Vice President could be appointed by the Honorary President on the advice of the Prime Minister in the same manner as the Governor-General is currently appointed by The Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister, by convention.
The method of nomination and election of the Honorary President is open to debate, as is the term of office. There are many examples throughout the world of ways to do this.
One option is to have each state, as well as all the territories together, elect a person each to a council with the role of Honorary President on a rotation around the council for a term of one year per state and one year for the territories. It could be similar to Australian of the Year, except that the positions are filled by ballot and all the states are of equal weight. Such a council could be elected about every two terms of parliament. Filling a position of Honorary President that had fallen vacant through misadventure or misdemeanor would be relatively simple with such a council. This is one method that would dilute the power of an elected head of state so that they could not become a political rival to the Prime Minister. The Reserve Powers would reside with the appointed Vice President, just as they reside with the Governor-General today.
These Copernican models have many advantages. They preserve the structure in our Constitution which has The Queen as our head of state and the Governor-General as Her Representative. This means that the changes to the Constitution in order to become a republic can be genuinely minimal. Our Constitution draws on Westminster conventions and history and these Copernican models will preserve that vital substratum to our parliamentary democracy and maintain that link to the past. The transition from a constitutional monarchy with The Queen as our head of state, to a republic with an elected Australian as our Honorary President would be relatively simple and safe.
Finally, this is a clean and safe direct election model which gives an equal weight to each of the states, and is thus a model that may in all likelihood be carried by a national referendum.
These ideas are presented for your consideration.
The Copernican Republic Forum:
This is cross posted at the Copernican Republic Forum. If you would like to make any comments about this model please leave your comments at the Copernican Forum post. This is the first draft of what was intended to be a short 500 word introduction to Copernican Models that could be submitted for the 2020 Australia Conference to be held in April.