Ten years after the referendum, we are no closer to a republic
OPINION: Mike Steketee | October 31, 2009
Article from: The Australian
…Friday, the 10th anniversary of the referendum and the day after John Howard delivers a speech to a monarchist audience on “the crowned republic”, what’s left of the Australian Republican Movement will try to drum up media attention with a commemoration based on the theme “10 years: time to mend the nation’s broken heart”…
The problem with the republic debate is that it is stuck pretty much where it was 10 years ago. If anything, voters’ preference for direct election of a president has grown…
The minimalist republicans, including many leading politicians, are opposed to direct election, concerned that the president would become a rival source of power to the prime minister. The history of referendums is that, however popular proposals are at the start, they are doomed if they do not receive the overwhelming support of both sides of politics…
“10 years: time to mend the nation’s broken heart” – Gawd, don’t they have any marketing people they can bounce ideas off. It’s nearly as bad as ‘A mate for head of state Day’.
One proposed answer to the likelihood of a directly elected head of state becoming a political rival to the Prime Minister is to limit the voter base for their election to one state only and to limit their time in office to one year only.
We could have a state-based direct election for the head of state and then have a round-robin around the states where each state has their own elected representative as head of state for a year each. Each state (and the Territories under the Commonwealth) would have to elect someone to the highest office roughly every seven years. The time in office is too short for the person to be settled in the job. It wouldn’t really be worth the political parties’ money to run around the country promoting their party candidates for each election. They might just focus on a few of the powerful states. Each of the states might choose a different method for nomination and campaigning. Some of the larger states such as NSW and Victoria may end up having expensive presidential style elections. Some of the smaller states might include a random nomination method modelled on jury duty and they may structure and fund most of the campaigning to make the election process fairer for the people in that state.
This approach to the republic does, however, deliver a head of state who is directly elected by Australians. It does so in a way that would not be a serious threat to the power of the Prime Minister. It also mirrors our Federation and gives all the states an equal standing in the Federation – something that many republicans in the big cities may not like, but it is something that might just provide the basis for a successful referendum campaign with a majority vote in a majority of states.
With the Copernican Models we keep the Governor-General and the state Governors. They will continue to be appointed on the advice of the Prime Minster or Premier and they will continue to be in a position to exercise the reserve powers in the exceptional circumstances where they might need to be used. The directly elected head of state, however, would not be in a position to exercise the reserve powers at all. The elected head of state could not sack the Prime Minister in this model.