Quentin’s replacement should be a robot

The most interesting aspect of the reaction to the governor-general’s last Boyer lecture, with its last-sentence support for abolishing the monarchy, is the thinness of the opposition from the left to her expression of her political views.

As the events of the past few days have shown, in politics, to speak is to act. By lending even gentle support to the anti-monarchy cause, the governor-general has reopened the republic debate at least for a few days. It’s a more potent intervention given that the current prime minister once headed a successful push to retain the monarchy, and given that the current opposition leader is also the GG’s son-in-law.

I hope that the view remains strong on the left that an appointed head of state should not be a political player. In this view, the governor-general is supposed to work through and react to a checklist of constitutional questions and otherwise stay mute. One of the errors of Sir John Kerr back in the 1975 crisis was arguably that he gave in too easily to the temptation to become a political actor, instead of sticking to this mechanistic view of his role.

In short, the governor-general needs to be essentially a constitutional robot.

Kerr’s replacement, Zelman Cowen, came to the role politically unaligned and stayed that way, as best anyone could tell. I interviewed him as a student and was annoyed at how much of a cipher he was on political issues. Afterwards I came to think of his approach as important to the post-1975 healing process. The real story was his dedication to being a robot.

Whatever your opinion of Kerr or Cowen, the GG-as-robot view has obvious attractions. The elected government governs, and the governor-general acts only to resolve, in strict accordance with the constitution, actual constitutional impasses. Politics is purely the debate between government and opposition.

Note that this is not necessarily an issue that goes away when the monarchy is abolished. Depending on the replacement constitutional model you prefer, come the abolition of the monarchy we will probably retain the capability to create constitutional impasses. And so a president/governor-general/whomever will have to break them. If we choose a non-monarchical constitutional model minimally different from what we have now, we may still need our head of state to stay out of politics.

Those who are in favour of letting the governor-general advocate abolition of the monarchy, however, are lending aid to a different model. The more the governor-general becomes a political figure, the more the assumption will grow that a post-monarchical head of state should be a political player. That is a model with some interesting difficulties.

The abolitionists are also lending aid to one other cause: the right of our next governor-general to speak out on political issues. Since our next governor-general will likely be appointed by the current prime minister, this is an interesting prospect.

Perhaps because Quentin Bryce is broadly of the left, and perhaps because her controversial Boyer Lecture also advocated gay marriage, a surprising number of people on the left have come to her defence. They should ask themselves what their reaction would have been if she had opposed gay marriage instead – or how their views about the GG’s conduct might change if she were replaced by, say, Tim Fischer.

And those in the centre-left who prefer their GGs robotic should say so, loudly, however much we agree with Bryce’s comments.

Here’s an idea: when it appoints the new governor-general next year, the government could set out what it believes the rules of conduct should be for the role. Done right, that could be a valuable reinforcement to our constitutional structure, both now and post-monarchy. Australians could usefully know a bit more about what the governor-general is there to do.

Note: For the record, I am in favour of abolishing the monarchy; I just don’t care about it much either way as long as we have a robotic governor-general.

About David Walker

David Walker runs editorial consultancy Shorewalker DMS (shorewalker.net), editing and advising business and government on reports and other editorial content. David has previously edited Acuity magazine and the award-winning INTHEBLACK business magazine, been chief operating officer of online publisher WorkDay Media, held policy and communications roles at the Committee for Economic Development of Australia and the Business Council of Australia and run the website for online finance start-up eChoice. He has qualifications in law and corporate finance. He has written on economics, business and public policy from Melbourne, Adelaide and the Canberra Press Gallery.
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Nicholas Gruen
Admin
Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
8 years ago

Well said. I agree on all points. I’m about the most luke-warm supporter of a republic in the country. The real issues are those that you mention.
It’s just an impression, but the current GG strikes me as strangely vain – rather like a predecessor of hers.

john r walker
john r walker(@annesanders)
8 years ago

A mate and I once came up with a cunning plan for a constitutional head of state that would be local (and low cost) but still have all the virtues of a constitutional monarch.
The plan was that we appoint the contents of a ‘never to be opened’ Eskey as head of state ( a sort of empty variable/cypher ). This representative metaphor for all Australians could be carried around with pomp and circumstance and if needed it could be gently shaken so as to make noises at the right moments. And it could be trusted to be very Zen-like when it came to political opinions, it would practically never, even say MU.

Alan
Alan
8 years ago

I think the robot theory of the governor-general is and always has been nonsense. If you want a couple of excellent samples, you might like to examine some of the prorogations granted in Canada since Stephen Harper became prime minster. Robo-GG may be a great new toy to offer the prime minister, but serves no other known purpose such as maintaining democracy or defending the constitution.

Alan
Alan
8 years ago
Reply to  David Walker

There is ferocious regiment in Canada and elsewhere about whether their GG can act independently, The Canadian debate includes, remarkably, claims that if the PM presents advice that they have the confidence of the house the GG cannot look at votes in parliament to verify that advice.

I think the extreme roboGG claims in Canada are simply wrong, but that’s obviously a separate debate.

I don’t have a problem with the governor-general making controversial statements. Both Deane and Jeffery made controversial statements (progressive from one and conservative from the other) and the constitution did not collapse.

I also think that limiting the GG to a strict constitutional role has its own costs.

Anyone who thinks Zelman Cowen did not have an ego simply didn’t know him very well. Anyone who thinks that we can get a competent and appropriate GG so free of ego that they will sit on the PM’s lap and open their mouth only when directed needs to consider that Cowen resigned early because running a university college looked better than serving as Australia’s head of state.

If we want GGs worth having we are going to get people who want to write their own speeches. As long as they don’t intervene directly in party politics, we should not complain when they do.

Gummo Trotsky
Gummo Trotsky
8 years ago

There’s no point made in this post that hasn’t already been made more pithily by Andrew Bolt in various News Limited dailies, nor anything said in comments on Bryce’s character that hasn’t been already been said with much more accomplished bitchiness by Amanda Vanstone in the Fairfax dailies.

Talk about beat-ups: news outlets pick up on remarks made by the GG weeks ago in a pre-recorded lecture written we know not when and, because a couple of the views she expresses put her at odds with Australia’s current Head Man-boy it’s all the hairy chested howler monkeys of the rusted-on-wingnut right are in full cry. Joined it seems, by a few of the self-styled centrists who are apparently not quite relaxed enough to examine the situation and the background before they join in the uproar.

Pure farce.

Gummo Trotsky
Gummo Trotsky
8 years ago
Reply to  David Walker

David,

For Bryce in scrupulous ‘robot mode’ check out her
speech on the opening of the current Parliament. No sign that the Governor-General’s role in OZ politics has been compromised by her conduct there.

I stand by my opinion that this is a media beat-up and pure farce, however intellectualised. But on that score it pleases me to think that I’ve seen beyond the superficialities of the political process to recognise that most of the right-wing outrage is confected and a useful distraction from the current government’s evident problems with actually, you know, governing.

You might also be interested in Andrew Elder’s latest post:

In her recent Boyer Lecture, the Governor-General made comments about same-sex marriage and an Australian republic that are at odds with positions taken by the Abbott government. Opposition Leader Abbott would have bagged her for such comments and implied that this accomplished and tough-minded woman was somehow under the sway of her son-in-law. Prime Minister Abbott, who has to work with the Governor-General, said some mealy-mouthed stuff about how she’s entitled to her opinion, gracious etc. It’s down to a Liberal State MP and former monarchist media strategist who doesn’t have to work with her to voice the government’s true position on this matter.

So with all that said, excuse me if this member of ‘the left’ is disinclined to waste a lot of time on a furore that will pass as soon as the wingnuts find a fresh reason to be outraged at a public figure who has the temerity to disagree publicly with the PM. It’s all flatus.

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
8 years ago

“The government could set out what it believes the rules of conduct should be for the role (of GG).” The liberals do not believe in rules. I had forgotten my rage. Thanks for helping me maintain it David!

stephen bartos
stephen bartos
8 years ago

I’m surprised that so many commenters have not bothered to actually listen to or read a transcript of the Boyer lectures. The Governor General did not make anything like the revolutionary call for a republic that some of the beaters-up have suggested. It was in the context of a much broader musing on equality and rights, more on rights for women and girls, and expressed only in terms of possibles rather than a call to action. For anyone who knows anything about her previous work, a focus on human rights ought come as no surprise.

For a governor general to have no views would be a misuse of the position; all our governors general with the possible exception of Sir Zelman Cowen (who very much saw his role as that of an enigmatic cipher following the Kerr legacy) all GGs have been people, and as such have had – and expressed – personal views.

Republicans who argue these recent statements undermine their case seem to be suggesting that if we elected a head of state that HoS would have no views and be hardly a person. In that case, why bother? JR Walker’s esky would be a better option.

There is an implicit obligation that a GG not engage in party politics. You could hardly suggest that same sex marriage and republican views are politically one side or another, there are sentiments on all sides of politics either way.

The Prime Minister is taking a more sensible approach on this one than ostensible leftists.

john r walker
john r walker(@annesanders)
8 years ago
Reply to  stephen bartos

Thanks Stephen.
Pleased to learn that this whole kerfuffle is just another bit of ‘panic’.

Nicholas Gruen
Admin
Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
8 years ago
Reply to  David Walker

Thanks for your intervention Stephen. I think you’re right – and that I was wrong. I did listen to some of the speech – the bit on gay marriage and noted it’s muted expression. That didn’t seem to me to get her off the hook, but I think I agree with you largely because the two issues are conscience votes within the major parties. If they’re party political then it’s no go for the GG it seems to me.

Still, maybe I’ll come round to the position that I was right all along. It’s not entirely straightforward. If one is a parliamentarian with strong views on one of the two subjects opposite to the GG, one might feel rather aggrieved and subverted in one’s role. (And I presume both are matters of party policy for the Greens which is also relevant.)

ChrisB
8 years ago

As for the republic, my proposition at the time of the last kerfuffle had some resemblance to the Esky proposal, only for monarchs. The king/queen of Australia would be randomly selected by computer from the electoral roll, and their total passivity would be ensured by not telling them. Only the computer would know. The G-G would carry on as before, speaking and acting for the now Australian monarch, and nothing substantive would change except that we could all shyly believe in our hearts that we were it.

john r walker
john r walker(@annesanders)
8 years ago
Reply to  ChrisB

Pay that :-)
Mind you, ‘millions of people around the world, over the years, have been made happy, by a sort conversation with a elderly lady in a floral hat’.
Must add Man of Flowers to the list of Troppo films.

john r walker
john r walker(@annesanders)
8 years ago
Reply to  john r walker

Typo a “short conversation”

Mike Pepperday
Mike Pepperday
8 years ago
Reply to  john r walker

ChrisB, in the spirit of brainstorming, let us examine your whimsical suggestion.

There remains the problem of appointing the next GG. This is THE issue, THE hold-up in becoming a republic. To “carry on as before” the PM has to informally discuss the proposed candidate with the sovereign and if agreeable to her he then writes to her requesting the appointment. The sovereign then writes back commissioning the new GG. Obviously your suggestion could not comply.

But… if you leave out your fanciful computer and just make everyone king and queen then we could comply. We really could carry on as before. Moreover, we would all know that we were it and would not be shy about it.

To so make the people sovereign would be formally simple. It would only require the substitution of “People” for “Queen” is two places in section 2 of the Constitution, they being the only mentions of how the GG is appointed.

Mike Pepperday
Mike Pepperday
8 years ago

John—

The thread may have died but here are few notes I began the other day.

You would have the GG resolve constitutional impasses but stay out of politics. However, such an act is of the essence of politics.

You want that “the elected government governs, and the governor-general acts only to resolve, in strict accordance with the constitution, actual constitutional impasses.”

You spell with a lower case “c” so perhaps you mean the unwritten constitution. But surely nothing could be in “strict accordance” with it. The written Constitution doesn’t say anything about impasses. A GG acting in strict accordance with the written Constitution would be running the country as a dictatorship.

You write as if the GG is not a political figure, however as others have remarked they do speak out. (Even Cowan did later. He was almost in tears as he begged the public to let go of their enthusiasm for a directly elected president. But that was long after his term.) What is the objection? Why isn’t their voicing of opinion a positive thing? If Bryce had spoken against gays, the left would have squealed but what’s your problem? Why should politics be “purely the debate between government and opposition”? What is the actual reason for this determination to make the GG a cipher?

Speaking out is the least of it. It is thought that the unwritten constitution gives the GG four powers. Two are to appoint a PM and to call an election which are usually routine events but on occasion might not be. The other two are to dismiss a PM and to refuse to call an election which are necessarily political.

These powers are anything but robotic and to propose the GG be a robot is to propose major change. You are “in favour of abolishing the monarchy… as long as we have a robotic governor-general.” This exemplifies one significant obstacle to our becoming a republic: everyone wants to use it as an opportunity to install their favourite reforms.

If we set aside reforms to the cConstitution and became a republic where the post-monarchical HoS is the same political player as the GG (to “carry on as before” as ChrisB put it), would that be so bad?

In sum, it seems to me your proposal:
– doesn’t actually make sense in itself,
– is an incorrect assessment of the political nature of our present GG,
– wouldn’t bring any benefit,
– muddies the waters by potentially mixing up rational administrative reform with the emotional identity change of becoming a republic.

john r walker
john r walker(@annesanders)
8 years ago
Reply to  Mike Pepperday

I think you mean ‘David’, yes?

David Walker
David Walker
8 years ago
Reply to  Mike Pepperday

Mike, this is what I get for attempting a quick post on a constitutional law issue, so I have no-one but myself to blame.
* My intent was to propose no change at all except a clarification of the existing rules under which the GG plays a very limited role in the governmental system.
* You often pay a price for colourful metaphors and I have paid it here. In saying the GG should be a robot, I simply intended to convey that the GG should not act like ordinary citizens and air opinions on policy issues. She will still need to make judgments in various circumstances.
* Yes, the G has unavoidably political tasks and is in that sense a political figure. Rather than saying the GG should stay out of politics, I should have said that the GG should stay out of policy debate.
* You have correctly understood my use of the term “constitution”, except that I intended it to encompass the combination of the unwritten and written constitution.
* I am strongly in favour of “a republic where the post-monarchical HoS is the same political player as the GG” – that is, playing by the same rules.

I should add that the best thing in this whole post is the “whimsical” solutions coming from you and ChrisB.

Mike Pepperday
Mike Pepperday
8 years ago

Ah, these people with ordinary surnames. I can’t keep up. Sorry!

ChrisB was whimsy. My modification of him was not.

Section 2 says the Queen appoints the GG. Switch “People” for “Queen” in two spots and change absolutely nothing else in the written or unwritten C. That doesn’t make a republic but it removes the hold-up without affecting the power structures (as popular election and parliamentary appointment do). A republic would be just a formality after that because the other powers of the Queen are all defunct.

Alan
Alan
8 years ago
Reply to  Mike Pepperday

The problem is that if Section 2 read:

2. A Governor-General appointed by the

People

Queen shall be

their

Her Majesty’s representative in the Commonwealth, and shall have and may exercise in the Commonwealth during the

People’s

Queen’s pleasure, but subject to this Constitution, such powers and functions of the

People

Queen as

they

Her Majesty may be pleased to assign to him.

The section would simply no longer make sense and you would have immediate argument on how the People would appoint the GG. 23 million instruments in writing? A random sample? An election? And what is a court supposed to make of ‘the functions and powers of the People’ which are now vested in the GG?

Mike Pepperday
Mike Pepperday
8 years ago

Hi Alan,

When I said “change absolutely nothing else” that is what I meant. Replace “Queen” with “People” in those two places. Make no other change to written or unwritten constitution.

It doesn’t make a republic. There are about two dozen mentions of the monarchy in the Constitution and they would have to be dealt with. Those two replacements just solve the appointment problem. But that is the problem. With it out of the way becoming a republic would not be the intractable difficulty it has been.

23 million? Well, no, only those on the voting roll. I do not see there can be any argument about how the people would appoint. No change to conventions!!! The PM writes to the sovereign and sovereign writes back.

“Dear sovereign citizen,
The time has once again come to appoint a new GG. I recommend Jo Bloggs who has a wonderful record of public service [etc]. I ask you to appoint Ms Bloggs for a five year term by ticking the green box on the card and posting it in the pre-paid envelope. Thank you in advance. Your humble and obedient servant, Tony Abbott, Prime Minister.”

By the green box it would say: “Dear Prime Minister, I am delighted to appoint Jo Bloggs as GG” and by the red one would be: “Dear Prime Minister, I regret I must decline to appoint this candidate. Kindly submit another.”

The vote should be compulsory since the Queen cannot refuse to respond.

It is hard to see the nominee being declined because the PM would withdraw her if the prior media discussion and opinion polls indicated a problem. (A Hollingworth would be eliminated in advance.)

How to become a republic after that? That would be up for discussion and it might, at last, be a sensible one that actually discussed a republic instead of being a stalemated shitfight fixated on who gets to appoint/elect the GG/president.

Personally, I would advocate that all two dozen mentions of the monarch be replaced by “People.” If a monarchy is to become a republic, and if a republic is where the people are sovereign, then that is merely right and proper. Some places require syntax adjustment but it is never complicated. (Some places still wouldn’t make sense but that is our Constitution.)

Alan
Alan
8 years ago
Reply to  Mike Pepperday

I submit this is another minimal proposal that turns out to be anything but minimal.

You are actually proposing a governor-general elected by postal ballot on the nomination of the prime minister, which is going to drive constitutional conservatives batsh*t. Even the wildly undemocratic 1999 proposal involved the opposition leader in the nomination.

You also don’t address the ‘powers and functions of the People’ which is a concept unknown to our constitutional tradition.

Australia doesn’t need a republic because there is some problem with the monarchy. Australia needs a republic because we have a nineteenth century constitution that never says what it means and often does not mean what it says and that does not express any fundamental values except by indirection. Adding even more provisions that do not mean what they say, say what they mean, or express any fundamental values, is not going to help much.

Mike Pepperday
Mike Pepperday
8 years ago

Do I take it, Alan, that you can now see that putting People for Queen in those two spots in section 2 does in fact make perfect sense?

“You are actually proposing a governor-general elected by postal ballot on the nomination of the prime minister, which is going to drive constitutional conservatives batsh*t.”

Not elect. Appoint. No campaign, no policies, no promises, no mandate to rule.

I wouldn’t lose sleep over conservatives but I don’t see why they would object. The suggestion is simply that the people approve the PM’s nominee instead of the Queen. Democratic and ultra-minimal. In itself, it doesn’t disturb the monarchy so even monarchy enthusiasts would find it hard to raise an objection, let alone conservatives in general.

“Australia doesn’t need a republic because there is some problem with the monarchy. Australia needs a republic because we have a nineteenth century constitution…”

Many share your opinion but it is off topic. It is also incorrect in that a lot of people think that there is a problem with the monarchy, which itself must mean there is a problem with the monarchy. People want, as the present GG said, an Australian as head of state. That’s all. It’s a question of identity and unrelated to (other) reforms to the Constitution.

There seems to be a notion that while we are changing the Constitution, we should “take the opportunity” to do some other changes. Might as well. While we are at it. Let’s see now, my favourite ideas for reform are… It’s just not a goer. There is no such opportunity. It was wanting reforms at the same time that brought about the present stalemate. There is no agreement and nothing happens, neither reform nor release of the Queen.

I am talking about what Bryce is talking about: losing the Queen. The best chance of achieving it is by doing it alone and not mixing it up with other constitutional proposals. Change nothing: since the GG is appointed by the sovereign, let the sovereign in the putative republic continue to appoint the GG.

Alan
Alan
8 years ago

I am sorry, Mike, I see this as just another minimalist republic, but one considerably less workable than the other constitutional shortcuts that have ben proposed. It would be a blank cheque for litigation. Under your proposal Section 2 reads (boldface mine):

2. A Governor-General appointed by the People their representative in the Commonwealth, and shall have and may exercise in the Commonwealth during the People’s pleasure, but subject to this Constitution, such powers and functions of the People as they may be pleased to assign to him.

There is just nothing in there to prevent an election campaign, limit nominations to the prime minister’s choice, or allow an autocratic, corrupt, or ineffectual GG to be removed in a timely manner. Indeed a nationwide postal balloon the removal of a governor-general conducted, as you argue, without any campaign, would be a fairly interesting exercise on terms of both democratic theory and reality. There is not even a head of power in the new S2 under which the parliament can make laws to do any of the things you say characterise your proposal.

Monarchists would oppose it. Other minimalists would oppose it. I suspect many direct election republicans would oppose it for its vagueness, for its retention of the monarchy in other parts of the constitution, for its maintenance of the colonial and monarchist title. And those drawn to the ‘ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ argument would oppose this unanimously.

A minimum standard for a republic is that we come out of the process with a constitution that comes closer to describing how Australian democracy actually works that is less obscure and less confusing. Your propose leaves the constitution telling a story where Queen Victoria rules the country through the GG except when Queen Victoria is a national postal ballot under unknown rules for nomination, funding and campaigning.

john r walker
john r walker(@annesanders)
8 years ago
Reply to  Alan

Can I pose the: ‘why bother, whatever’, question?

Alan
Alan
8 years ago
Reply to  john r walker

I think the ‘Why bother’ question is important. Our constitution is built of about 3 layers, the the written ext, the inherited conventions, and conventions and practices that have developed since 1901.

Nowhere in any layer of the constitution is there any statement or provision telling us what Australia is for. All I’m asking for is one little section saying: ‘Australia is a a parliamentary democracy’, although a bill of rights, direct democracy and PR would be nice as well. I think the one little section is one hell of a lot more important than the formal titles or appointment process of the dual head of state.

At present the constitution is the exclusive property of those learned in the law. I think making the constitution the property of the big-p People is a priority.

john r walker
john r walker(@annesanders)
8 years ago
Reply to  Alan

Not sure that I follow how the question of how we appoint a ‘head of state’ has much to do in practice with : Australia is a parliamentary democracy ? We are a parliamentary democracy, no?

Alan
Alan
8 years ago
Reply to  Alan

It depends who you ask but the phrase ‘parliamentary democracy’ is unknown to the constitution. The High Court has managed, by a fairly circuitous route, to find that the constitution provides for a parliamentary democracy, but you really should not need to read judicial decisions to get a basic understanding of the form of government.

These things relate to the way we choose a head of sate because I don’t think minimalism works. Mike Pepperday develops an admirable critique of minimalist schemes in general and then rather weakens his argument by advocating his own version of minimalism.

I don’t think minalism works because ‘minal changes’ to the constitution, in Mike’s words above,

These powers are anything but robotic and to propose the GG be a robot is to propose major change. You are “in favour of abolishing the monarchy… as long as we have a robotic governor-general.” This exemplifies one significant obstacle to our becoming a republic: everyone wants to use it as an opportunity to install their favourite reforms.

Now I am obviously equally guilty of wanting my own favourite reforms, but I think I have coherent and logical reasons. It’s a truism that you have to read the constitution as a whole. Fiddling about with a small chunk of it may seem attractive, but it has repercussions throughout the political system.

The 1999 republic would have immeasurably increased the already overweening powers of the prime minister in particular and members of federal parliament in general at the expense of the people. The Pepperday republic would take us on a wild constitutional adventure. The robotic republic would create an entirely new office with no way to predict (except by looking at the unhappy saga of roboGG in Canada) how prime ministers would behave with the governor-general firmly seated in their lap and the prime ministerial fingers firmly lodged in a sensitive part of roboGG’s anatomy.

john r walker
john r walker(@annesanders)
8 years ago
Reply to  Alan

Linking a new way of appointing a head of state to a raft of other changes is a good way of making sure that
‘it’ will never happen.
Frankly can not see whats so wrong about the elderly lady in a floral hat model (or her grandson). As for things like bills of rights and so on…. :-)

Alan
Alan
8 years ago

The 1999 referendum tested the minimalist proposition that the people would agree to changing only the head of state and nothing else. After an electoral rejection that made Whitlam in 1975 look like a cakewalk, the minimalist argument since 1999 has looked a whole lot like the Black Knight in Monty Python.

Mere endless repetition that a change like that so decisively rejected in 1999 is the only change that will not get decisively rejected like that in 1999 may be comforting, but it does not possess a whole lot of logic.

john r walker
john r walker(@annesanders)
8 years ago
Reply to  Alan

Alan the 1999 referendum really tested the minimalist Vs the lot more model Vs the do nothing model. The result was really %33, %33 , %33 for each model.

Alan
Alan
8 years ago

John

There is no relationship between your claim and the numbers at the 1999 referendum. There is also no relationship between your claim and research into the results since 1999, which shows a large majority for an elected president with codified and very limited powers. Some of the 99 minimalists have shown themselves capable of thought and of changing their minds. Peter Beattie quotes Gough Whitlam as follows:

In January 2006, Labor legend Gough Whitlam wrote to me following similar comments in my book Making a Difference, saying “I now agree with you that Australians will only vote for a republic if they can elect the president. I make two suggestions to you. The rights and duties of the president must be set out in the Constitution, as they are in the constitution of Ireland. The head of state could still be called the governor-general; as the USA shows, governor can be a republican term and need not be a monarchist term.”

Bland statements that calmly divide the nation by a factor of 3 without any resort to actual research are about what the minimalist argument has come down to.

john r walker
john r walker(@annesanders)
8 years ago
Reply to  Alan

whatever

Mike Pepperday
Mike Pepperday
8 years ago

Alan.

Honestly! Alan, your mangled version of s2 is nonsense.

This is surreal. Replace “Queen” with “People” in two places in s2. Absolutely nothing else. When you got it wrong the first time I assurred you that is what I meant and I repeated it, emphasised it. I thought “absolutely nothing else” along with the exact words in quote marks would be impossible to misunderstand. Yet you go replacing it in three places and you change all sorts of other words. And then you complain I don’t make sense.

Evidently I should have said to replace just the first two mentions of “Queen”. I thought that by saying “two places” and because the third mention has nothing to do with appointment or dismissal, it would be obvious that the first two were meant. My whole point is to solve the appointment problem and change nothing else. Nothing else.

Well, a mistake I will not make again. Spelt out:

“A Governor-General appointed by the [Queen] People shall be Her Majesty’s representative in the Commonwealth, and shall have and may exercise in the Commonwealth during the [Queen’s] People’s pleasure, but subject to this Constitution, such powers and functions of the Queen as her Majesty may be pleased to assign to him.”

That sentence is as clear with those two changes as it is without them. Whatever it means it still means except that the people take over the appointment and dismissal from the Queen. The conventions of appointment have been applied federally for over a century (in the Empire for much longer) and no change to those conventions is implied. Everything can carry on and even the monarchists should be happy.

I shall have a read of the subsequent comments but of course it is silly to discuss the legal problems of a sentence that is just mixed-up nonsense.

Mike Pepperday
Mike Pepperday
8 years ago

“A minimum standard for a republic is that we come out of the process with a constitution that comes closer to describing how Australian democracy actually works that is less obscure and less confusing.”

You are entitled to your opinion but that doesn’t make it true. The real minimum standard is that the English Queen be no longer head of Australia. Back in 1999 that is what more than 70% of people wanted. They were not asking for a constitutional re-write.

My interim minimum is even less: solve the GG appointment problem and THEN consider how to become a republic. Somehow the appointment problem has to be solved. If we could just do it, then it would be possible to have a sensible discussion of what sort of republic we wanted. As long as we attempt to solve the appointment problem at the same time as becoming a republic, we will be sidetracked and there will be no progress.

Mike Pepperday
Mike Pepperday
8 years ago

John, the “why bother” question was discussed in the 1990s. It was harped on by every pro-republic notable at every opportunity. It was similarly refuted by every anti-republic notable. The result was that over 70% wound up in favour of a republic (by which they meant dismissing the Queen). That fact alone must mean it is worth bothering with. It is not in the nature of Australia to be a monarchy.

“Linking a new way of appointing a head of state to a raft of other changes is a good way of making sure that ‘it’ will never happen.”

Spot on. One change at a time would already be a victory. Nothing else is possible. Probably nothing else is prudent.

Your 33-33-33 split is a good enough assessment, i.e., any two defeat the remaining one. The only way for a republic to get up is if the two republic factions get together. Of that there is not the slightest prospect. As long as we continue to think that there are only two ways to choose a GG this stalemate will continue.

The two factions are fixated on the question of who gets to choose the GG/president. They are “parliament appoints” versus “people elect.” Logically, there are two other options: “parliament elects,” and “people appoint.” The former is done in Germany and Italy. The latter is done for judges in half the states of the US (the “Missouri Plan”) and for judges of the Supreme Court of Japan.

It is likely that “parliament elects” would be viewed as another “politician’s republic.” That leaves “people appoint” as the only configuration with a chance of getting up.