14 October 2022
14 October 2022
The Australian Republican Movement (ARM) was founded on July 7, 1991. A few months later, Paul Keating deposed Bob Hawke and became Prime Minister. The ARM now had more than a friend in the Lodge – within weeks, Keating was championing a republic.
When he unexpectedly won re-election in early 1993, he had political capital. Gone was his 1980s passion for microeconomic reform – Keating launched multiple cultural crusades. The republic was top of that list and Keating happily endorsed the ARM as the crusade’s HQ.
Hawke, however, was still bitter about losing the top job. In July 1994, Hawke published his memoirs and what made headlines was the claim Keating referred to Australia as the ‘arse end of the world’. Weeks later, Hawke addressed the National Press Club and suggested that while he did support a republic, the debate should be postponed until the Queen had passed. Hawke was spiking Keating’s pet project.
Keating ignored Hawke’s advice and the opposition agreed if elected there would be a republican referendum in a second term. When that referendum failed in 1999, a consensus was glumly accepted by ARM, ‘Hawke was right. Let’s wait till King Charles III. Then the gloves are off.’
Nearly a quarter of a century of repressed republican energy is repressed no more. What’s more, they have a sympathetic Prime Minister – the first to appoint an Assistant Minster for the Republic.
In January this year, ARM released their revamped republican model: the Australian Choice Model. ARM says it’s the product of ‘market research’ (focus groups to re-write a constitution?).
The Australian Choice Model seeks constitutional amendments that will see an elected president at the apex of our legal structure. The president will have the same powers and duties performed by the Governor-General, but without the power to dismiss a Prime Minister with a majority in the House. The president will be elected every five years. All citizens vote but candidates for president must be nominated. The eight state/territory Parliaments will each nominate one eminent figure. The federal Parliament will also nominate three, making a total of eleven. Voters will then choose one of the 11 via preferential voting.
Who will our Parliaments nominate? ARM assumes they’ll be of a similar calibre as our former and current Governors and Governors-General: eminent jurists, military figures, and other wise apolitical figures. Will eminent figures want to jump into the argy-bargy of a presidential campaign? They’ll be asked to accept a nomination knowing there is a 10 in 11 chance of losing (thus becoming less eminent).
All presidential elections involve campaign HQs, fundraising, polls, advertising, pressers, TV debates, scandals, and mud-throwing. Preferential voting means preference deals. Anyone who’s been involved with mere student politics knows preference deals are tawdry affairs. The elected president may have only won a 25 per cent primary vote but scrapped over the 50 per cent mark thanks to being the best preference whisperer and/or having spent 3x more cash than others.
The ARM focus groups missed this point – eminent figures will politely decline a nomination.
By the time that sad fact dawns, we’d have changed our constitution, so must press ahead with the presidential election. What class of person will accept an invitation to get down into the arena and fight out a presidential campaign? The political class.
Political egomaniacs lusting to be President of Australia would lobby the Prime Minister and Premiers to win their backing for one of the eleven nominations. When two political heavyweights negotiate they often arrive at a quid pro quo. A Prime Minister could say, ‘I’ll nominate you and with my good polls at the moment you’ll win but in return you must guarantee to never dismiss me.’ It’s a recipe for tyranny if the two big dogs decide to collude their power. That doesn’t happen under the current arrangements because the palace has the ultimate say and since it does, the Prime Minister and Governor-General stay in line.
Let’s say the polls for a presidential election show a race between a former Liberal Premier and a former Labor Defence Minister (the other nine are polling 1-5 per cent). The contest will divide the nation along partisan grounds and deliver a partisan president.
Being a political figure, the president will not be able to resist commenting on contentious Parliamentary debates. The Prime Minister will have the authority of the Parliament’s support but the president will, in difficult moments, claim a higher mandate – a majority of the people. It’s a recipe for political and constitutional chaos. The president’s power will inevitably mission creep.
The ARM and constitutional monarchists agree on one thing – an apolitical figure atop our power structure is the ideal. Unlike the constitutional monarchists however, the ARM have not thought ahead to see model 2.0 inevitably delivers what they sincerely do not want.
Paul Keating surely has cred with ARM. Days after the Australian Choice Model was released Keating told the Nine papers, ‘The country would be better off remaining a constitutional monarchy than experimenting with a ‘US-style’ presidency. Australia is safer and better with the diffuse and representative power structure it currently enjoys. Under the ARM’s proposal, power would be purloined to an individual, who alone would possess the popular mandate and with it, the primary political authority the mandate would bestow.’ Ouch!
Constitutional monarchies are not perfect but their record in preventing tyranny is close to it. Having the Crown in the power equation constrains political egos.
Australia would be well-served by having a sound republican option in reserve to keep the royals in check. In his first speech, King Charles III signalled his days as a political crusader are over – phew! There remains however one theoretical flaw in constitutional monarchy – an individual inherits the throne and throws their political weight around. They have every incentive not to do so, but if Australia is ever forced to become a republic the ready-to-go model is the Constitution of the United States (and its Bill of Rights).
A fine endorsement of constitutional monarchy is that after 23 years the best the ARM can come up with is so easily debunked and so savagely trashed by the figure who started the whole thing: Paul Keating.
John Ruddick is the Liberal Democrat’s Upper House candidate for the NSW state election.
Andrew L. Urban
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