Australian Idol for Governors?

I attempted to kick-start a broad-based comment box discussion about vice-regal appointments in the Australian constitutional system. Unfortunately I failed completely. It occurs to me that it may be because I posted my comments under a post about Northern Territory Administrator Ted Egan, and many readers didn’t bother to read it because they assumed it was only of parochial interest. In fact there is a deeper and wider aspect to the emerging trend of appointing high profile populist figures to vice-regal positions (Peter Hollingworth, Richard Butler and Ted Egan being obvious examples). What do we as a community expect from our administrators, governors and governors-general (and eventually presidents)?

Traditionally, vice-regal appointments have been mostly made from the ranks of retired judges and military officers i.e. people with a lifetime training of institutional obedience and coping with ceremonial roles. That was an ideal profile for an office that was almost wholly ceremonial and decorative; required the holder to exercise disciplined silence whatever his personal beliefs, and unfailing obedience to the will of the government of the day; yet have an inner strength able to click over in a rare time of crisis into a role requiring extraordinary strength of character, determination and a fearlessly independent mind and spirit. Fortunately the latter qualities have seldom been tested, because one suspects many of the traditional incumbents would have been found just as wanting as Sir John Kerr.

In recent times, however, and especially since the republic debate and referendum, most people (and, it seems, governments) seem to expect governors to act as forces of unity, enunciating and helping to shape our national/state/territory core values and representing our polity to the world. Hence selection of Hollingworth, Butler, Egan etc.

But that role and expectation has been added on top of the traditional role, which was itself almost impossibly dualistic in nature. Moreover, as David Tiley put it:

We love them for their energy and iconoclasm and straightforwardness, and then get iffy if they put their perception of hurting human realities above convention.

I think we need a national debate on what qualities we want in our heads of state, and whether they’re achievable. If we want a H of S who will, as David puts it, be iconoclastic and straightforward, and will help us frame core national or state values and attitudes and represent them to the world, it’s inevitable that the values and beliefs those sorts of appointees will hold will sometimes not coincide with the government of the day. Can that inherent conflict be reconciled or constrained successfully?

And do we really need to worry? Active observers of politics have always known that governors have views of their own, and that conservative appointees are much more likely to cut a government of their own persuasion more slack in a constitutional crisis situation than they would be likely to give to a Labor administration (and vice versa). That was one of the great shocks of Kerr’s actions: a Labor appointee and darling turning on his appointors and biting the hand that fed him, and doing so by breaching existing conventions and understandings in quite fundamental ways. Is there necessarily anything destabilising about a governor wearing his heart on his sleeve and being a little more open about his beliefs than the traditional expectations require?

One of the potential problems with a more active, populist role for a H of S in taking public stances on important (even if not exactly partisan) big moral issues is that the H of S potentially becomes an excessively popular figure in his own right, and may eventually succumb to a hubristic belief that he more truly represents public morality and has a level of democratic legitimacy that justifies him in using his powers in an activist way to thwart the elected government of the day.

Maybe if we want to move in the direction of H of S as public moral conscience/representing our core values to the world, we need to look much more seriously and urgently at codifying reserve powers and making them enforceable. Persisting with a constitutional structure that formally vests just about ALL formal executive power in the H of S, and leaves it to unwritten and legally unenforceable conventions/understandings to turn that all-powerful role into an all-but-empty one, may well be dangerous and unsustainable if our expectations of what roles we want incumbents to perform have changed so radically.

Of course, the alternative is to go back to retired judges and generals, but I rather like the idea of a H of S who embodies, represents and helps shape national values and aspirations. It’s a valuable and necessary role given modern conditions and dilemmas, and it SHOULD be possible for a H of S to fulfill both constitutional and “values-shaping” functions if the constitutional role is much more clearly defined. It may mean we really can’t afford to keep constitutional reform on the back-burner (or in the “too hard” basket), because times and expectations change inexorably and constitutional orders (like people and nations) must either adapt or eventually die.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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James
James
2022 years ago

I would have thought it pretty obvious that what Australians want as their Governor(s) is a loveable old duffer like Billy Deane.

That’s perhaps a slightly unfair characterisation of Deane, but despite his occasional political pronouncements, people actually liked him, perhaps because he actually liked the people.

How anyone in their right mind could put forward people like Hollingworth or (especially) Butler is quite beyond me.

James Russell
2022 years ago

Can I just say that the title of this post fills me with terror because out there some dickhead probably thinks appointing Guy Sebastian or Shannon Noll as G-G would be a good idea.

Link (the loon)
2022 years ago

Put a woman in and you can halve (at least) any potential problems with the past and closet skeletons relating to paedophilia, rape etc.

Rex
Rex
2022 years ago

Interesting question, and you know, I have no idea what the answer is, nor much in the way of an opinion. I suspect I am not alone in this.

The H of S role is something that I rarely think about, except when it makes the news and reaffirms my overall impression, which is one of ‘quaintness’.

Perhaps this ‘quaintness’ is its defining characteristic, and is what should be protected most. Any suggestion that an Eddie Maguire type might aspire to the role should send up red flags everywhere.

jen
jen
2022 years ago

Eddie nah I reckon the time has come – Peter Garrett is a definite contender – Australias first president.
And aren’t the reserve powers part of what makes a president elected by anyone such a tricky spot.
Codifying these powers would seem to serve two purposes now. It would accomodate the changed character of the role of H of S and clear the way for an elected president to take up a position that will not allow him to dictate who governs. I don’t think 2/3 majority or popularly elected is the issue – I’m thinking it is the limits on power that matters. So reviewing the constitution huh? – like reviewing a home loan -doable, but what a hassle until you have to – and in oz I guess we can rest on the ‘if it ain’t broke…’ but perhaps our prefernce for H of S indicates it is getting ‘broke’

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

Given the recent spate of resignations, “Surviour” might be a more appropriate model.

My vote’s for Cathy Freeman or Yvonne Goolagong-Cawley, just to get up certain noses if nothing else.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

“Of course, the alternative is to go back to retired judges and generals, but I rather like the idea of a H of S who embodies, represents and helps shape national values and aspirations.”

Whose national values and aspirations did you have in mind? Isn’t this perilously close to Ninian Stephen’s inane observation about being a kind of mirror of the national soul? I like the idea of a decent, gravitas-imbued worthy with no penchant for ‘profile’ going about her duties in a lowkey but effective manner. I can see no constitutional gain in appointing the kind of celebrity that would attract the editorial interest of “New Idea”. In our system, they’re supposed to be a bit dull and boring, as the fates of Hollingworth and Butler amply demonstrate.

Martin Pike
Martin Pike
2022 years ago

Has there been a woman in the post? The earlier comment suggesting that with a woman we might improve the skeletons factor has me thinking- can they hold the post of Governor or G-G? Is there a presumption towards a man, as there is for the royal office they represent?

Egan is a dickhead, the “child rape is culturally relative” argument is dead in the water. It is simply untrue- most cultures allowed very young girls to be married until recent times, and the reason societies like ours don’t allow it has nought to do with culture, and everything to do with allowing someone sufficient life experience to give FULL consent.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Geoff

I have in mind that a G-G/President woud have a role of enunciating and in effect chairing national debates about broad issues, with a view to seeking a measure of consensus about shared core values and aspirations. I mean the sorts of things I’ve been musing about in my posts on civility, but it might also include a role in stimulating broad debates about more contentious topics, like the place (if any) of Aboriginal traditional law (which is what Ted Egan was doing), or even refugees and border control i.e. divisive issues where seeking consensus and mutual understanding seem to be desirable.

Because such a G-G or President would, on my model, be appointed or elected after selection by a supermajority of Parliament, he/she would generally be a person of great stature enjoying (at least at appointment) bipartisan support. So hopefully they would exercise the role in a responsible and restrained way, seeking to unify and not divide the nation, and not pursuing the agenda of either major party. Nevertheless, they might well intrude on controversial topics from time to time.

However, because the G-G’s/president’s powers would be tightly circumscribed (i.e. the scope of the reserve powers would be tightly delimited), he/she would not be able to actively defy the will of the government of the day. That is, he/she would still be obliged to sign all government bills into law etc, and would in a formal sense still be just a rubber stamp. The G-G’s/President’s real power would depend on his/her exercise of consensus-seeking, persuasion and recommendation functions in a manner characterised by unimpeachable fairness and integrity. If a high level of national consensus was reached partly through the efforts of a G-G/President acting in that way, it would be a brave government that refused to give effect to that consensus. On the other hand, if the G-G/President acted in an unfair, partisan manner and continued aggressively advocating positions that clearly hadn’t achieved any measure of consensus, the government would no doubt feel free to ignore him, and the G-G/President’s stature would be reduced.

Note that I’m not necessarily advocating such a role or structure for the H of S, just acting as Devil’s Advocate and “brainstorming” a structure that might allow a H of S legitimately and sustainably (in a constitutional sense) to perform the sorts of values-forming/ advocacy/conscience roles that Sir William Deane and now Ted Egan particularly have felt tempted to flirt with. I think it’s at least worth discussing.

Link
2022 years ago

Ken, can you send me an email so I can send one back?

observa
observa
2022 years ago

Women like Marg Jackson in the SA Governor’s role seem to have got it right. She comes with no baggage as we all like sport. She’s an affable and popular tea and scones type, which seems to work best, in what is basically a sinecure, until called upon like Sir John. In the latter regard it’s best to have a layperson who would take the best legal advice in Kerr’s position.

If you want to know the sort of tasks you have to take on, the lad jagged a perfect top 20 score for 1 subject in YR12 a couple of years ago and Marg hosted all the proud mums/dads/grandparents and like winners at a garden party. Pretty boring stuff for the Richard Butlers, but you have to gush the appropriate level of enthusiasm for the young leaders of tomorrow and their rels.

A more proactive H of S, would have to be elected and probably clash with the PM’s role. Also how would such types handle the garden party set? That only leaves a US type elected President to overcome that degree of schizophrenia. That’s the problem for Republicans, who generally abhor anything American.

John Quiggin
John Quiggin
2022 years ago

The only resolution is to elect Heads of State. If they then clash with the (indirectly) elected PM, so much the worse for the PM.

Given our general setup and history, there’s no way a Governor or President can assume executive power on a day-to-day basis. What they can do is check the presumptions of the PM to be an elective dictator.

John Quiggin
John Quiggin
2022 years ago

BTW, Ken I was looking for details on a constitutional law case (BMA vs Commonwealth on civil conscription) and Google led me to your AustLII portal site. Very useful thanks.

David Tiley
2022 years ago

Elected G.G. is a horrible option. The core function of a head of state is twofold – to represent the people at times in which we need to be embodied as in opening Commonwealth Games, giving out gongs, touring disasters, receiving other heads of state. This a strange kind of values embodiment, and may not be necessary at all.

The other is to ensure that government is consistent with the Constitution and the body of law. ie – if an executive arm in firm control of both houses decided to round up and shoot one-legged people, or to refuse to vacate the government if it loses a vote in the House of Reps. That is, the last defence in the chaos of a putsch. (plenty of other countries have been in this situation).

This of course means that Sedge, as G.G. should be sent off to do a law degree.

Myself, I am comfortable in this scenario with a G.G. elected by a two thirds majority of the Houses of Parlt.

In my perfect universe, there would be a law against reporting a G.G.s private opinions as a contempt of court. The point being that his/her opinions should be completely unimportant – a position which reflects the current monarchical limitations in the UK.

Sedgwick
2022 years ago

We are well steeped in matters legal, thank you very much Mr. T. You are obviously not aware of some of my bench-mark work in Salem.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

I reckon observa’s take is about right. The G and GG roles should be filled by the States’ and Nation’s good aunty and uncle archetypes.

Letting the folks know they matter and a bit of common sense and a cheery word when things get sticky.

Dawn Fraser for GG! John Landy seems to have set good precendent for this kinda appointment in Vic.

jen
jen
2022 years ago

evil genius –
welcome to this fun and absolutely participatory democratic state.
you have been chosen to reside at government house all expenses paid for one whole month.
a luxury chauffer driven ride into the seat of power
– and just as you get used to hiding pedafiles and pissing off PM’s we’ll dump you right back on your bony arse
where are the reality tv cameras?

observa
observa
2022 years ago

“The only resolution is to elect Heads of State. If they then clash with the (indirectly) elected PM, so much the worse for the PM.”

John Q and others might find this appealing with a Howard as PM. However, given that the political parties would get involved promoting their candidate for H of S, we could end up with an opposite party incumbent to the PM. Given the ornery nature of the electorate in wanting to keep the bastards honest, they might follow their voting habits in the Senate. Imagine your new Latham Labor govt with Howard as the H of S nipping at their heels. It would be easy to point score off govts, when you have the luxury of all the power to shoot your mouth off, but no real policy implementation or tradeoffs to worry about. You only have to see the friction caused by some mildly proactive H of Ss, to imagine the problems real partisanship might create.

mark
2022 years ago

The position of G-G can really be fulfilled by anyone with the qualities put forth by David Tiley and observa. It doesn’t really *matter* who he/she is — Dawn Fraser for G-G! But we’d probably better guard against spectacularly bad appointments like Hollingworth or Butler, and there a two-thirds majority sounds like a good idea.

It doesn’t make sense to directly elect the G-G, because a) ideally it shouldn’t make a difference who they are and b) the G-G has very little power.

jen
jen
2022 years ago

It has been a long time since I’ve thought about this stuff, but I seem to remember that the republic debate got tricky when it came to limiting the current reserve powers of the GG in order to balance power conferred by a mandate from a parliamentary majority or from the whole electorate.

This issue is interesting because it is an opportunity for the Australian population to excercise citzenship – idealistic fool me – perhaps not. I was disappointed when the 1998 referendum was rejected, but not suprised –

However – when territorians rejected statehood I thought fuck this – Politics, Citizenship the whole lot is crap!

Now I am recovered and have an inkling that the controversies caused by the non-traditional conduct of our HoS may spark grassroots engagement with the issue – engagement that was missing in 1998.

– I still cannot account for the Territory voter here – voting against statehood was a vote against freedom and independence – and the territory electorate voted against statehood while the federal government’s decision to overturn euthanasia was still ringing in it’s ears
– even if I didn’t support euthanasia – I would not choose to be governed by Canberra – on principle – local representation has got to be more effective and made to be so. (so be)

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Jen

Your retreat from stream of consciousness is deeply impressive. Did you manage to avoid yelling last night as well?

As far as I’m concerned, the major defect of the 1999 republic referendum proposal was that it gave enhanced power to the PM at the expense of the G-G. The PM could have sacked the G-G whenever he liked, whereas under our current constitutional structure the Queen serves as a circuit-breaker, and can insist on being fully advised (and taking her time in discussing the issue and warning the PM about the perils of his proposed action in sacking the G-G) before acceding to the PM’s advice (as she must ultimately do). This circuit-breaker/delay function is potentially critical, because it would give a G-G the space he needs to exercise his reserve powers effectively (i.e. warn the PM that he faces sacking if he doesn’t desist from whatever he’s doing, and give effect to the dismissal if the PM fails to desist) before the PM can pre-emptively sack the G-G. That circuit-breaker function was completely missing from the 1999 referendum model.

However, although that was MY main objection, it’s fairly clear that the main objection of most people was that the President wasn’t popularly elected, along with the parallel (and inconsistent) belief that the referendum model would result in “just another politician” being President. The existence of both those beliefs together (often in the same people) rather strongly suggested that monarchists had succeeded in engendering fear and confusion in many people. When you have the extraordinary level of ignorance and apathy about our constitutional and political system that exists in Australia, it’s really easy for opponents of change to create fear and confusion. How you fix this is by no means obvious (and it does need to be fixed because the Constitution is quite archaic and even broken in some important respects). Maybe blogging is part of the answer, along with more extensive civics education in schools, and perhaps other innovations like deliberative polling. Tim Dunlop and I have mused about this stuff before, and I’ll try to find some links.

As for the NT statehood referendum, I share your puzzlement. The constitutional model was a perfectly reasonable one. What appears to have happened is that lots of people voted against it because they hated Shane Stone (for which you can’t really blame them), others felt alienated because the process leading up to the referendum was less than optimally democratic, and Aboriginal groups mounted a concerted campaign against it. The latter was probably the single most critical factor, given that Aboriginal people make up almost 30% of the population. As far as I recall, Aboriginal leaders objected to the fact that the proposed constitution fudged many of the pet issues of people like Galarrwuy – recognition of customary law, sovereignty/treaty, constitutional entrenchment of land rights/native title rights and so on. I actually thought those issues were covered in the constitution in an appropriate way, and fairly clearly any mor extensive provision would have alienated large slabs of the non-Aboriginal community, but Galarrwuy et al seemingly wouldn’t settle for anything less than 100% victory. I suppose one can understand their attitude, but I agree it was disappointing.

Martin Pike
Martin Pike
2022 years ago

Jen and Ken,

I was one of those fighting on the hustings against statehood, and it was perfectly obvious why it went down.

One reason many people didn’t want it was that you had a virtual one party state at that time- most Territorians were stunned by Ms Martin’s victory. CLP domination in seats was not so reflective of primary vote, so a good 40% of the population hated the government with an utter passion and many were disinclined to make them more powerful until the politics of the NT matured.

Another was the process itself- a moderate CLP fringe man, Steve Hatton, had a lot to do with it if I remember right. Stone would have loved trashing his work. Extensive consultation led to a proposal that most Aboriginal communities felt consulted on and potentially happy with. Then Stone simply stepped in and threw this away, and replaced it with his own draft constitution put together by the usual back-room dealing rednecks.

It was a lousy constitution, the NT wasn’t ready, and it is good that it fell through at the time.

Freedom Jen? They were already the most recalcitrant runaway government in Australia…

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Martin, you’re probably correct. What you’re really saying is that there were lots of dumb lefties who decided to oppose statehood because they thought Darwin’s northern suburbs were full of dumb, CLP-voting rednecks, so that voting for statehood would just be giving the CLP even more power in this “one party state”.

But that leftie perception of the northern suburbs was always wrong. In fact, it’s not only patronising and contemptuous, but a view that could only have been held by the sort of latte-drinking lefties who seldom venture far north of the Roma Bar. You only need to look at ABS census data to discover that Darwin’s northern suburbs are just about indistinguishable demographically from any other part of affluent urban Australia.

Moreover, typical northern suburbs attitudes were always (and still are) pretty much indistinguishable from the city-dwelling middle class elsewhere in Australia, as the lefties would have discovered if they had ever bothered to discuss issues with ordinary voters and open their ears and eyes instead of blindly preaching dogma.

And another moreover: ALP internal polling had on numerous occasions over the decade prior to 2001 shown that Labor could win an election in the northern suburbs. At both the 1990 and 1994 elections, the CLP managed to recover from a clearly losing position 6-12 months out from the election, by a combination of brilliant campaign strategies (pioneered by people like Howard’s current guru Mark Textor) and the fact that they had much more money to spend than Labor. Labor leaders had always told dispirited rank and file members those facts (i.e. that Darwin was eminently winnable for the ALP), but quite a few members remained so determinedly negative that they simply assumed that leaders were just bullshitting them to keep their spirits up (or to protect the leaders’ own positions). Hence the persistence of the myth of the northern suburbs as irretrievably a redneck haven. In fact all that polling over the previous decade had been dead right, as the 2001 election result finally showed. Pity this arrogant, ignorant myth also resulted in the NT’s statehood chances being scuttled.

Martin Pike
Martin Pike
2022 years ago

Ouch Ken, go for the balls!

Well I’m one of those dumb lefties, and I wasn’t particularly preoccupied with a northern suburbs southern suburbs divide. I realised that victory was only a breath away at times, but also that certain factors (a) diminished the quality of democracy in the NT and (b) might, and at that time it was a very feasible might, keep the status quo for a long time.

They included a virulently right wing press, with no feasible alternative, gerrymander- for example redistribution of the defence force base among several marginal suburbs, and enormous vote-buying power- I had friends at Uni who had stuff all to do with the CLP whose 21st parties were paid for by the CLP, for example.

That status quo contained repugnent elements- I recall race-based advertising (the red hand ads); imprisonment under mandatory sentencing for serious offences like stealing pencils, damaging a fence, and throwing soft drink on a cash register; deals done for improper purposes (such as the one I helped the EDO have overturned regarding Alice Gaol); nepotism- which occurs under any government but becomes chronic when you have an effective monopoly on power; black and gay hating vile rednecks making it to deputy CM (you remember that one don’t you mate?) while waltzing around with gay porn for ‘research’; mate- I could go for hours.

Why would it be dumb not to want to hand more power over to such a government on its terms?

And two counter-questions remain: (1) why should people support a dodgy doc that is substituted at the last minute for the one the community spent months helping to produce, (2) why was statehood such a desperate short-term need that lefties who wanted to wait until a proper, consultative document, which they were confident would facilitate a vibrant, tolerant, democratic state, are “dumb”?

On the dumb point- most academics and top students I knew were dead against it; your law school put my editorial “Just say no to statehood” up in the staff room! I wouldn’t go there…

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Jen just sent me an email about the G-G/President stuff, saying:

Is it a valid question – balancing reserve powers with the mandate from the electorate or parliament? I really want to know and you lot didn’t answer first time I asked so now I asked again in sort of sentences and again in private – jesus what’s a woman got to do?

I thought it might be worthwhile posting my answer:

One of the main arguments against an elected president is that he/she would then have a broad national popular mandate. That is something a prime minister does not have, because he himself is only elected by the voters in his local seat. Thus, it is hypothesised, a President (or elected G-G) with such a broad national mandate might be tepted to defy the PM on the basis that he (the President) has greater democratic legitimacy and popular support. That is potentially very dangerous and destabilising in a constitutional system where pretty well all formal executive power is vested in the G-G, and is only constrained by unwritten and legally unenforceable conventions (understandings) that the G-G should always act on the PM’s “advice” (except in a very limited number of “reserve powers” situations like a government illegally refusing to resign despite losing a vote of confidence in parliament).

Hence my argument that the G-G’s/President’s powers (including reserve powers) need to be spelled out formally and made binding and legally enforceable before we institute an elected president or G-G. Otherwise it’s just too dangerous. And I add to that proposal another one designed to counter what would otherwise be an inevitable tendency for Presidential elections to result in “just another politician” being elected. Most people say they want an elected president, but don’t want to see just another politician elected!! The proposal is, that the Presidential popular election would follow a “preselection” process of popular nominations followed by shortlisting and nomination by a 2/3 majority of Parliament. The top 2 or 3 candidates nominated by Parliament by this process would stand for popular election. That would mean that candidates would not just be partisan party hacks, but eminent Australians enjoying the confidence and trust of both major parties. It wouldn’t guarantee we could never get a dud president, but it would certainly minimise the risks. It really represents a modernised version of that semi-elitist Lockean liberal democratic philosophy we were discussing yesterday, which does indeed have its roots at least partly in Plato’s republic, ideal types, rule by philosopher kings etc (as you suggested).

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Martin

Sorry to be so short-tempered, but it really WAS a silly attitude. There was never any reasonable basis for thinking the CLP was impregnable. Certainly not the fact that Darwin is a one-newspaper town that was staunchly pro-CLP. The same was true of Brisbane until not that long before Joh’s mob got kicked out. In a relatively small regional centre, that phenomenon is mostly because journos and editors are susceptible to the blandishments of ministerial press secretaries who buy them drinks and piss in their pockets. Governments have squadrons of press secs, but oppositions only have one or two.

It’s just one of many advantages of incumbency (as witness the fact that the NT News is now mostly eating out of the Martin government’s hand), and it’s in no sense unique to the Territory. Moreover, it’s an advantange that can be overcome by a smart opposition, at least when the government gets tired and starts making mistakes. So this was no reason to be terminally pessimistic and vote against the statehood referendum.

Nor does listing the litany of CLP government misdeeds over the years provide a plausible justification. When you’re voting for a constitution/statehood, you’re voting for (or against) a system that will enure for a century or more, so you should be looking at the merits of the constitutional document, not the merits of the government of the day. The activities of the government of the day are simply irrelevant to that decision, although people like you obviously convinced yourselves otherwise. You were wrong. So was Peter McNab, who was undoubtedly responsible for posting the anti-statehood editorial in the Law School. Peter also opposed the republic referendum on principle, because he is a monarchist, and the euthanasia legislation for reasons I never completely understood!! Politics makes strange bedfellows.

If you think it was such a “lousy” constitution, what did you think was wrong with it? So far you haven’t made even a single specific substantive criticism. All you’ve said is that the CLP were a bunch of cunts and the process was lousy. In that latter regard, although the process was a lot less than ideal, it certainly wasn’t done by the “usual back-room dealing rednecks”. In fact it emerged from a constitutional convention with a wide range of delegates including people from trade unions, the ALP and aboriginal organisations. They were certainly appointed rather than popularly elected delegates, and that is less than democratically optimal, but you need to keep that in context. The US Constitution was drafted entirely by appointed delegates, the 1891 Convention where most of Australia’s Constitution was drafted was entirely appointed (by the various colonial governments), and the 1897-8 Convention consisted partly of popularly elected delegates (New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania) and partly of appointed ones (Weestern Australia), while Queensland didn’t send delegates to that convention at all. The less than optimally democratic NT process shouldn’t have provided an excuse of itself to vote against the document. A rational response would have been to consider it on its merits. Similarly with the fact that the Convention (with all its democratic imperfections) didn’t holus bolus adopt the model previously proposed by Steve Hatton and his parliamentary committee. It had certainly emerged over a long period and involved lots of public consultation, but it was still essentially the product of a small number of parliamentarians on a committee. It didn’t have any inherent democratic legitimacy that necessarily justified preferring it over the model produced by the Convention.

You have certainly rolled out all the arguments used by opponents of statehood at the time. But with respect (and I’m not just using the expression rhetorically) none of them add up, either separately or collectively. Much more even than the republic referendum, this was a classic example of a motley collection of opponents, pushing a wide range of agendas, managing to confuse and frighten the electorate to vote against a perfectly sensible proposal that should have passed with no difficulty at all in a rational world.

Martin Pike
Martin Pike
2022 years ago

Ken,

Too late in the day to go through it all, but in brief:
You may or may not be right about McNab! Does he blog on here?
Several years have passed and I can’t remember my objections to it, but I do recall having objections to aspects of the content (not just on principle). I remember also having the distinct impression that the Shane Stone remodeling exercise made negative changes, including removing aspects that would have promoted positive relations with Aboriginals (and the Hatton model wasn’t exactly right on far left stuff).
You say it was winnable by a “smart opposition”. Well, remember which faction overwhelmingly dominated labor until very recently?
Your first two paragraphs back up my case, and I stand on my argument that due to the size of the NT and length of CLP incumbency those factors were much more prominent there.

And lastly, you still haven’t been specific as to why the NT needed it. You need to accept that we have different points of view, and for people who didn’t like how the NT was governed there was no attraction in statehood unless the constitution brought with it positive reforms. Being propped up federally made the NT very prosperous, and the only threats to day to day liberty came from the local, not federal, government.

It wasn’t just spoilers, the pro statehood crowd never made the case out.

And arguably it IS worth holding out for a better model, when you are likely to be stuck with it for decades…

Now the republic referendum on the other hand- THAT was a national humiliation!