Wednesday October 22, 2014
Print  



CONSTITUTIONAL

CONVENTION


[2nd to 13th FEBRUARY 1998]


TRANSCRIPT OF PROCEEDINGS


Monday, 2 February 1998


Old Parliament House, Canberra




The CHAIRMAN (Rt Hon I. McC. Sinclair) took the chair at 9.33 a.m.

CHAIRMAN - Delegates, distinguished visitors, fellow Australians, I welcome you all to this historic Convention in this old House of Representatives chamber, where for 61 of the years since Federation those elected to this chamber formed the governments which determined our growth from being a colony of the United Kingdom to being the young, vigorous, vibrant nation that we are today. We acknowledge that we are meeting today on country of which the people of the Ngunnawal tribe have been custodians for many centuries and on which the members of that tribe performed age-old ceremonies of celebration, initiation and renewal. We acknowledge today their living culture and the unique role that they and other members of the Koori people play in the life of this region.

The purpose of the Convention was laid down by the Prime Minister, the Hon. John Howard, in his second reading speech to the House of Representatives chamber on the hill on 26 March last year. In that second reading speech, he said:

The convention will provide a forum for discussion about whether or not our present constitution should be changed to a republican one. In particular:

- whether or not Australia should become a republic;

- which republic model should be put to the electorate to consider against the status quo; and

- in what time frame and under what circumstances might any change be considered.


I now propose on behalf of the Deputy Chairman and me to formally identify the composition of the Convention and to table relevant documents. The Prime Minister has written to me, attaching a copy of a media release of 10 June 1997 announcing the appointment of Mr Jones and me to be Deputy Chairman and Chairman. I attach to that letter a copy of a media release of 31 August 1997 in which the Prime Minister identified the appointment of 36 non-parliamentary delegates. I also attach a copy of a media release of 21 November 1997 announcing the appointment of 40 parliamentary delegates. Other delegates were elected pursuant to the provisions of the Constitutional Convention (Election) Act 1997.

The Electoral Commissioner has written providing me with copies of the notices of resolutions of the election of delegates to the Convention and of his determination, in accordance with section 119 of that act, of the election of a delegate following the resignation of an elected delegate. Pursuant to my powers as Chairman under the act, I also appointed by letter of 21 January 1998 a delegate to replace an elected delegate who resigned.

The Convention will be assisted by Mr Bill Blick of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Mr Lyn Barlin, the distinguished former Clerk of the House of Representatives, and other members of the Convention secretariat. In tabling documents, I would suggest that we table them with them, and I now hand to Mr Blick those documents which I identified in my opening remarks.

The order of proceedings for this morning has been varied to a degree so that following the speech by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Kim Beazley, there will be a speech by the leader of the group, Mr Malcolm Turnbull, with the largest number of delegates here. He will speak on behalf of the Australian Republican Movement and will be followed by Mr Lloyd Waddy QC representing Australians for Constitutional Monarchy. The Convention will then break for morning tea at 10.40 and after our resumption at 11.30 we will have an opportunity to debate the rules of debate and the order of proceedings, to both of which there is notice of motion of several amendments which delegates wish to move.

Prior to our recommencing proceedings, there has been a request from the media to take photographs from the floor of the chamber, following which there will be an official photograph. The Convention will commence its proceedings this morning with a speech by the Prime Minister of Australia. I invite the Prime Minister, Mr John Howard, to address the Convention.

Mr HOWARD - Mr Chairman, my fellow Australians, 100 years ago exactly, the last of the original constitutional conventions was meeting in Melbourne. In an unusually hot summer it could not have been very pleasant for them. There were bushfires blazing around the city, and on one occasion the chamber was filled with smoke. Not surprisingly, the proceedings were less than good tempered. But out of that convention emerged the document which was, in most respects, to be our Constitution.

The founders' work has served us remarkably well; it has endured. More than that, it was outstandingly successful in binding together those disparate colonies, scattered over a huge continent, into a nation. It has brought us together with a remarkable absence of rancour and dissent and provided the rules for governing the nation with both certainty and stability. After nearly a century of dramatic political and economic events, two world wars, a major depression and unforeseeable technological and social change, that is a considerable achievement.

Never before has this historic chamber received such a wonderfully diverse group of Australians. Our moment in history is privileged. Our responsibility is great. Our common bond is Australia's future. It is a vastly different gathering from one of 100 years ago. There were no indigenous Australians at the convention of 1898; it was an all male gathering; the names were overwhelmingly Anglo-Celtic; and I am sure that no delegate was aged under 25.

This Convention has been established in fulfilment of a promise I made to the Australian people before the last election. Whatever may be our views on the threshold issue of whether or not Australia should become a republic and whatever form we might believe any such republic should take, we owe it to ourselves and to the rest of the Australian people to conduct this Convention in an open, positive and constructive fashion. The issues before us do not involve a debate as to who is the better Australian. Nor do they involve a debate about whether Australia is a truly independent nation. There are passionate Australians on both sides of the argument. We need the permission of no-one to remake our constitutional future. This Convention is a time for plain speaking. Those who oppose change should say why. Those who want change should not only say why but also articulate the kind of republic they want.

During the past 40 years, Australia's emotional ties to the Crown have diminished and our relationship with the United Kingdom has been transformed. This is not to denigrate the sense of duty and commitment of the present monarch, who remains in the esteem of many Australians whatever may be their views about the republic. Equally, this nation, whatever its future constitutional arrangements, will forever be in debt to Britain for her gifts of law, language, literature and political institutions. Paradoxically, the developments of the past 40 years are both the main reason that this issue is now under debate and not yet necessarily a conclusive argument for change.

In my view, the only argument of substance in favour of an Australian republic is that the symbolism of Australia sharing its legal head of state with a number of other nations is no longer appropriate. As a matter of law, Elizabeth II is Queen of Australia. As a matter of undisputed constitutional convention, the Governor-General has become Australia's effective head of state. Ultimately, it will be for the Australian people alone in their wisdom to resolve this theoretical conflict between our history and present-day constitutional reality - to decide whether removing the symbolism which many see as inappropriate in the present arrangement counts more than the stability and inherent strength of the existing order.

I oppose Australia becoming a republic, because I do not believe that the alternatives so far canvassed will deliver a better system of government than the one we have at present. I go further: some will gravely weaken our system of government. I believe that modern government is most workable where the essentially ceremonial functions of government are separated from the day-to-day executive responsibilities.

This finds its best expression in the basically Westminster system of parliamentary government which has prevailed in Australia, with effective executive power being exercised by the cabinet headed by the Prime Minister, who are all drawn from and responsible to a democratically elected parliament.

A fundamental characteristic of that system is not only the separation of the ceremonial and executive functions but also that the person discharging the formal functions is so politically neutral both in reality and perception that he or she can act as the ultimate defender of the constitutional integrity of the nation.

I do not believe that any of the republican alternatives is as effective as present arrangements in delivering that outcome. The major goal of this Convention should be to reach a clear view on which republican model ought to be pitted against present arrangements at a constitutional referendum.

I inform the Convention that if clear support for a particular republican model emerges from this Convention my government will, if returned at the next election, put that model to a referendum of the Australian people before the end of 1999. If the people then decide to change our present Constitution, the new arrangements will be in place for the centenary of the inauguration of the Australian nation and the opening of the new millennium on 1 January 2001.

If this Convention does not express a clear view on a preferred republican alternative, then after the next election the people will be asked to vote in a plebiscite which presents them with all the reasonable alternatives. A formal constitutional referendum, offering a choice between the present system and the republican alternative receiving most support in the plebiscite, would then follow. It is the hope of my government that this Convention will speak with sufficient clarity to obviate the need for a plebiscite.

I also inform the Convention that, although on all issues of substance - either dealing with the threshold proposition or republican alternatives, both here at the Convention and subsequently, including in any plebiscite or referendum - members of the Liberal Party of Australia will be free to speak and vote according to their own personal convictions. The only caveat is that any necessary legislation to establish the machinery for a plebiscite or referendum, being itself a matter of government policy, will not enjoy a free vote.

Let me now comment briefly on the various republican alternatives. If one believes in the retention of the Australian version of Westminster, then it is hard to see how such a system, given the Australian political culture, can be reconciled with the direct popular election of a president. Such a process would inevitably create a rival power centre - and I mean a political power centre - to that of the Prime Minister, and thus serve to weaken the parliamentary system itself.

The published opinion polls tell us that there is overwhelming public support for the popular election of a president. That may well be so. It is likely that it is due to the mistaken belief on the part of many people that the popular election of a president would deliver an impeccably neutral, non-party-political head of state who would impartially soar above the whole political firmament. Nothing could be further from reality.

An elected presidency seems to me to be a sure way of politicising the office and creating unparalleled tensions. In an elected presidency, political parties would run candidates. That is certain. It is not idle to think that we could have a Liberal Prime Minister, a Labor President - or vice versa, for the sake of balance - and a minority group or Independents holding the balance of power in the Senate.

A person delivered the office of President of Australia by popular vote, following a party-political campaign - which itself would have been almost certainly preceded by party preselection processes - would feel infinitely more greatly in debt to his or her party than, say, a former Labor or Liberal minister appointed Governor-General under the present arrangements.

Since World War II, Australia has had four Governors-General who have been former politicians: two Labor, McKell and Hayden; and two Liberal, Casey and Hasluck. All behaved with complete neutrality; each was subsumed by the conventions and impartial traditions of the office. With an elected presidency, the conventions and traditions would be quite uncertain at the very least.

The answer advanced by proponents of an elected presidency is that the powers of the president could be codified. This is a more intricate and challenging task than many imagine. Given the almost unique power enjoyed by the Australian Senate, a process of codification would, amongst other things, involve expressly providing in the Constitution that an elected president would have the power to do what Sir John Kerr did in 1975. Some people would retort to that suggestion, `Then don't include the power of dismissal.' However, that would challenge the present role of the Senate, whose essentially coextensive power with that of the House of Representatives is one of the reasons why the Governor-General's reserve powers include that of dismissal.

The proposal of the former Governor of Victoria, Mr Richard McGarvie, a delegate to this Convention, most closely reflects the strengths of our present system without continuing the symbolism of that system, which those who want a republic no longer find acceptable. Under the McGarvie model, a council of distinguished Australians takes the place of the Queen in exercising the only function under the Australian Constitution left to her, and that is to appoint the Governor-General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.

The third frequently canvassed alternative is that put forward by the Australian Republican Movement and recommended by the former government's Republic Advisory Committee. Under it, the president would be chosen by a vote of two-thirds of the members of the Commonwealth parliament. This approach is far less likely to weaken the parliamentary system than would a popularly elected president. Under this approach it may be less necessary to codify the powers of the head of state, although that would very much depend on the conditions for removal of a head of state under any such model.

Perversely, and contrary to current popular belief, this method of choosing a head of state would be far more likely to yield a non-political figure than would a direct election for president. However, the two-thirds approach is not without risks. A head of state chosen by two-thirds of the entire Commonwealth parliament, dealing with a Prime Minister with a small majority in the House of Representatives and not controlling the Senate, could easily be emboldened to believe that he or she were performing more than formal or ceremonial functions.

In parting, I return to the original convention - to the deliberations of the founders. At one stage in the proceedings of the Adelaide Convention in 1897, Edmund Barton, exasperated by the continuing technical discussion, asked, `How are we to do our work if we debate matters of this kind?' to which Isaac Isaacs replied, `It is work which is to stand for all time and we ought to do it properly.' Perhaps Isaacs was being a little ambitious, but the thought is a proper one and it is one which I hope you will all keep uppermost in your minds over the coming days. I wish you all well in our collective deliberations. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN - Thank you, Prime Minister. I now invite the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Kim Beazley, to address the Convention.

Mr BEAZLEY - Thank you, Mr Chairman. I join with the Prime Minister in welcoming delegates to this Constitutional Convention. You have no idea what joy it brings me to see you sitting here and properly using this chamber - a chamber which I loved so much and which I deeply regret leaving. There must be a sense of excitement among us here today as, a century on, to some extent we stand in the shoes of the founders of our nation.

We cannot claim to be writing on a canvas as large as theirs. We cannot claim their erudition. Nobody who reads those proceedings can be anything other than amazed by the capacity of such a large number of people to consider so well such complex issues. And we cannot match the sense that they were creating a nation.

Their meeting followed a more intense and extensive public debate than ours does, but we can claim to be dealing with their unfinished business: their having created a nation, our meeting reflects the maturing of that nation - not least in the fact that there are women, young people, indigenous Australians and many people from a non Anglo-Celtic background at this Convention. Most importantly, we are reflecting our nation's recognition of its identity in a much changed world.

The evolutionary process that the founders of our nation were engaged in naturally reflected the sentiment of the day. In a period in which we were essentially Australian Britons, with a deep sense of being part of an empire, ambiguity was inevitable in our Constitution where the ties to our polity of origin were considered. The surprising feature of our Constitution, given this background, is not in its manifestation of those ties but in the hints of a republican direction. Much in it reflects attention to the republican benchmark of the day, the constitution of the United States.

Further, as Queen Victoria thoroughly understood at the time, the Commonwealth of Australia is an unambiguously republican title. When those of us who served on the last government's cabinet subcommittee started tinkering with the names `Republic of Australia' or `Federal Republic of Australia', we rapidly concluded: why bother.

The opposition's view is that we should now complete the founders' agenda. We have always believed that the things which unite us in this debate are greater than the things which divide us. All of us here, I think, believe in the small `r' republican view that the Australian people should participate actively in the civic life of the nation. In other words, we share a view of citizenship - essentially a republican concept.

We are all citizens of an independent, self-governing nation in which government is carried out through the people's elected representatives. Our nation is a republic in all but name. We argue that we as a nation should recognise the reality of our small `r' republican arrangements by making the necessary adjustments to place the capping stone on the structure: a head of state who is unambiguously Australian; a head of state who is one of us.

As I look around this chamber here today, I see the clearest message that the Australian people - those who voted - could give about their feelings on the issue of a republic. Standing here today, it is impossible to ignore the clear preference expressed in the votes for this Convention for the move to an Australian republic. The Australian people did not vote for a train wreck at this Convention, and they must not get one.

I believe Australians voted for republican candidates because they recognise that Australia approaching the 21st century makes it own way in our region and in the world and our institutions must reflect that fact. We are recognised by other countries for our distinctive achievements in fields as disparate as sport, the arts, political institutions, and science and technology. Those same countries that have learned to prize a vibrant, confident, outward looking Australia find it strange and anachronistic - as many Australians now clearly do - that our head of state is not an Australian.

Australians elected a majority republican convention because, far from seeing dangers in the move to a republic, they see potential problems with a system of government with which, increasingly, Australians cannot wholly identify. They see the danger inherent in a system which does not enjoy the confidence of its people - confidence that it represents their vision of their own future - and that confidence is part of political stability.

What greater proof of relevance to the lives and aspirations of ordinary Australians could our system of government have than the knowledge that any Australian child could one day become Australia's head of state. For us in the ALP, this is a moment of some satisfaction. This Convention is not our idea, and we think its methods of election and appointment flawed. We do not resile from our views that things should have been done a different way.

However, we knew that, when we placed the republican motion in our platform under Bill Hayden's leadership in 1982, if the objective was to be achieved it could never be done on the basis that we owned the process.

Mr HAYDEN - They couldn't win them all.

Mr BEAZLEY - When Prime Minister Paul Keating courageously and firmly placed the issue on the Australian political agenda a decade later, he reiterated that conviction. However, he and his government believed that a workable model should be put into play as well as just simply canvassing the issue. The model was subsequently unveiled in June 1995, and it remains our preferred model.

We advocated, and the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party continues to advocate, this minimalist model. It contains an important feature which I want to raise in the context of our deliberations this week. Labor's model provides for the election of an Australian president on the nomination of the Prime Minister and the cabinet by a two-thirds majority of a joint sitting of both houses of parliament.

Our view is that this method of election causes the minimum possible disruption to our current constitutional arrangements. It is the model most likely to produce a nonpartisan figure and, as such, the breadth of public support a head of state must enjoy. It does not remove the head of state from accountability to an elected, essentially partisan process - the parliament of Australia. However, there would be substantial checks against the virulent exercise of partisanship should a clash between the head of state and parliament's majority occur.

We still think appointment by parliament balances a desire to have an Australian head of state above the political process, with accountability to the elected aspects of it. Others don't agree. We recognise that there are other views and other models. In particular, we recognise that when asked Australians express a clear preference for a president directly elected by the people. Some weeks ago our highest policy making body, the National Conference, took note of that fact. Clearly, such a model demands significant constitutional change. In particular, as our National Conference noted, it would require the codification and limitation of the powers of the head of state and attention to the respective powers of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Our concern when we were in government was articulated many times by Paul Keating. He argued, correctly I believe, that a president so elected would have greater political legitimacy and greater powers than the current Governor-General, and those to the detriment of the House of Representatives and of the cabinet. Such a president could scarcely be `above politics' as Governor-Generals have been almost exclusively in our history. The paradox for so many people who oppose election by parliament is of course that a popularly elected president would almost inevitably be a politician, and one from the major parties at that. Yet it is to avoid such an outcome that many arrive at that position.

But this is just one element in the convictions of many who advocate this model. A deeper view stems from the sentiment that, having decided to change, many want to feel personal ownership of that change. For those of us who lead a daily life in politics like I, we tend to forget that the point of identification of our citizens or the process is not the institutions in which we sit and their personalities but the act of voting. If such views are not to be adopted, then great care and rigour in argument will need to be exercised.

Similarly, we recognise the presence of proposals for absolutely minimal change such as the so-called `McGarvie model' in which the head of state has, in effect, exactly the same powers as the present Governor-General and is appointed or dismissed on the Prime Minister's advice. We believe the most significant difficulty with such a model is that it allows insufficient participation by the Australian people - either directly in an election or indirectly via their parliamentary representatives - to have a say in the election of their president.

In comparing all these models, as we are charged with doing over the coming days, there is one thing of which we will all need to be aware and should factor into our thinking: the balances in our political system have their unwritten subtleties. They go beyond simply the conventions that the Governor-General acts on the advice of the Prime Minister and cabinet, but they are related to it. Any of the models we consider will to some extent rebalance the political process in this country. Even the McGarvie model, with its presiding panel of notables, does this. The events of 1975 probably started this debate, but they were exceptional. The clear reality of political life is one in which the government of the day exercises great power in relation to the Governor-General, with the capacity to appoint and remove him or her.

The expectation in all areas of the political system is that, whatever else is going on in the legislature, the most crucial decisions by the Governor-General on any matter will be based on the advice of the government. Any process that changes that appointment and removal procedure - placing it in the hands of a panel, the legislature or the electorate - produces a subtle rebalancing which will be apparent to Prime Ministers immediately, but will ultimately permeate all other elements of the political process - particularly the legislature, particularly the Senate.

As we move from a constitutional monarchy reliant on unwritten convention, is it possible for a republican constitution to be similarly based when a central underpinning of that unwritten convention, the basis of the tenure of the Governor-General, is substantially changed? If this is the case, is it possible after all under any model to avoid the need to codify other powers and the relations between the various political institutions? In answering these questions, we must understand convention itself as a great Australian republican tradition. In the final analysis, it is the beliefs of the Australian people as to how government should be run that constrain the exercise of power under our Constitution.

Labor believes it is the task of this Convention to resolve these issues. We do not seek to pretend that these debates are simple or that such matters do not require careful thought and deliberation. The stability of our democratic system of government is one of our greatest achievements as a nation and not one we would ever want to see endangered. Equally, we believe that Australians and their special representatives gathered here this week are capable of the thought, the deliberation and the great wisdom required to make this change a reality.

We put our faith in the great traditions of Australian democratic innovation. We are skilled democrats. Not many people know that around the world the secret ballot is known as the Australian ballot. We are among the pioneers in women's suffrage and preferential voting. This great tradition of innovation is also a central support of our stable Australian democracy. We have created great political institutions, both official and unofficial, and have produced a system that places an emphasis on honesty, fairness and stability. We can conclude the final steps to an Australian head of state proud of our record and with faith in our capacity to handle this debate.

The next step after this Convention must be a direct appeal to the people who put some of us here this week. By that time, this issue will have been discussed long enough. In my view, Australians have long understood most of the issues. We can take this opportunity to give those issues a final push forward. Then we must give Australians their say.

Because Australia faces great challenges, establishing an Australian republic is an important part of meeting those challenges, though we must always remember not the foremost among them. It will help us project a new identity, but one which, in reality, we have felt for a long time now - an identity as a strong, confident and independent young nation, engaged with the world around it and excited by the opportunities attaching to its place in the world.

The questions we must face should make the next fortnight an intellectual treat for us all as well as a challenge. This Convention is an experiment in so far as it stands outside the processes the founders considered the basis for future constitutional change. It does, however, have the chance to enshrine itself as a useful adjunct to those processes if we can deal with the complex issues with the breadth of mind that has thus far eluded the institutions formally charged with the task of constitutional change.

No matter what we do here in these two weeks we will all create history. The challenge is to ensure that when it is written its judges will be able to say that we tackled the issues with intelligence and gave a genuine reflection of an independent Australian nation. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN - Thank you, Mr Beazley. I now call on the Leader of the ARM, Mr Malcolm Turnbull, to address the Convention.

Mr TURNBULL - Thank you, Mr Chairman. Friends, I am proud to stand here today as the Leader of the Australian Republican Movement. I and my 26 colleagues are here because 1.6 million Australians cast their first preference vote for us. We are here because thousands of Australians, most of whom cannot be here today, have worked tirelessly in the cause of an Australian republic. We republicans have come from all walks of life and all sides of politics. Our cause has truly been a source of unity in our diversity. I thank them all, especially that little band who held the first ARM banner at Sydney Cove on a cold winter's morning in 1991.

It was also at Sydney Cove 10 years ago that, together with a million other fellow Australians, I witnessed the celebration of our bicentenary. It was said to be the celebration of a nation, yet - the star turn - the principal speech was given not by an Australian but by Prince Charles. Throughout that year, as every great public ceremony came around, we imported another member of the British royal family to preside. Rather than celebrating our nationhood, we denied it. When the world looked to Australia, we showed them what they knew was the monarchy of another country. What was so deficient about us, we asked, that we could not celebrate our nationhood, our achievements, without an endless stream of British royals? Was there no Australian who could safely handle a pair of scissors?

There was nothing wrong with our nation. Australia had become a proud and independent country years ago, but there was something wrong with our Constitution. It still provides that our great Commonwealth is presided over by the Crown of the United Kingdom, of Great Britain and Ireland. Our goal is a simple one. Australia's head of state should be an Australian citizen representing Australian values living in Australia chosen by and answerable to Australians. That is the goal for which we have fought. The Australian people clearly, overwhelmingly, support this change. Our task is to offer them the means of doing it. Our job is to get on with it. The Australian people expect us to present them with the best republican alternative so they can vote on it. Our role is to frame the question. Only they can give us the answer. So we cannot bring about a republic in these two weeks, but if we fail to agree on a model we can certainly delay it by denying the people the opportunity to vote in the referendum before the turn of the century.

To those of the republican persuasion, and I do not spare myself or the ARM in this regard, I would say: keep an open mind. The people of this country will not be entertained by squabbles; they are entitled to expect frank discussion followed by agreement born out of goodwill. There is no monopoly on constitutional wisdom. To those who are unconvinced of the need for change, I have a different challenge. This, Prime Minister, is a time for constructive conservatism. Remember that two things are clear: most Australians want an Australian as head of state and an even larger percentage of them want to vote on it. You will recognise that the duty of responsible conservatives is to ensure that the republican model presented is the best that all of us can agree upon. Your task and the task of all conservatives is to ensure that the best of the old is preserved as we bring in the new. But remember: by failing positively to support the best republican model, you may contribute to the model you regard as least acceptable being approved in a referendum. You cannot win the contest if you stay out of the ring.

There are two big issues at this convention: firstly, what the powers of the new head of state should be and, secondly, how the head of state should be elected. They are intertwined. We believe the new Australian president should have essentially the same and certainly no greater powers and duties as the Governor-General does today and should conduct the new office in accordance with the existing constitutional conventions. We believe the powers of the president should be spelt out in the Constitution. We believe the president should continue to have reserve powers to act as a constitutional umpire in times of constitutional crisis. While we do not believe complete codification is necessary, we believe there are important but non-controversial principles of our democracy which can be usefully incorporated in the Constitution without derogating from the existing conventions.

Our Constitution read in isolation provides a most misleading and inadequate description of our system of government. Is it too much to ask that our most important law should be written in a manner that makes sense to people who are not lawyers or politicians? But we do not propose a change to the substance of our constitutional arrangements. We believe the best method for choosing the president is by a two-thirds majority of a joint sitting of the federal parliament. This would mean the president would need the support of both sides of politics. It would mean the president would have the effective support of almost all Australians.

We do not seek to deny the people a say. By requiring two-thirds of the people's directly elected representatives to endorse the president, we will reinforce the bipartisan nature of the office. Direct election will mean the president has, at best, the support of 51 per cent of the Australian people. If there are more than two candidates running, it could be a figure much lower than that. Our mode of appointment will ensure the president has the support of the directly elected representatives of almost all Australians.

Friends, there is more to democracy than a bare majority. If you want to imagine the effect of this, consider what the public reaction would be if an Australian Prime Minister announced that, before recommending the next appointee for Governor-General, he would consult with the Leader of the Opposition and secure his or her occurrence. Such a move would be hailed as statesmanship, and that is, in effect, all we are recommending.

As to direct election, we believe this can be sensibly considered in two circumstances: where the president has the full power of the chief executive or where the president has none. The two best examples are the United States and Ireland. In the United States, the President is the chief executive and head of government and combines in effect the role of our head of state and Prime Minister. While the American Constitution has many admirers in Australia, we do not believe there is any real support for a move to such a system.

In Ireland, there is a system of parliamentary government not unlike our own, but the upper house has no power to reject money bills. The President has virtually none of the powers of the Australian Governor-General. She is directly elected, but she is an entirely ceremonial figure. To effect this in Australia would require an extensive rewrite of the Constitution. It would certainly remove some of the checks and balances in our system. Most importantly, it would impact directly on the relationship between the House and the Senate.

We must bear in mind that our Constitution allows the Senate equal power to the House. This means there is always the potential for a constitutional impasse to be created. The Senate has the right in the Constitution to cut off the government's money and force it to an election, force it out of office. That power is a fact. At the moment, the consequence of the Senate blocking Supply is a constitutional crisis. That is seen by many as a disincentive to the Senate taking such an action. Perhaps that is why it has only happened once, in 1975.

But, as long as we have the potential for a constitutional crisis, we have the requirement for a constitutional umpire. An umpire must be, by definition, impartial and, therefore, cannot credibly be directly elected. It follows that, to have a directly elected president, you must either remove the Senate's right to block Supply or provide a clear set of guidelines to cover the consequences of such a blockage.

In a nutshell, to have a directly elected president in our parliamentary system, you remove the Senate's power or you facilitate and legitimise it. Either course of action is possible and, what is more, as readers of the Republic Advisory Committee report will know, we have done the exercise; but it poses a political problem, not a legal one. Does any proponent of direct election believe that either removing the Senate's right to block Supply or facilitating it is both achievable and desirable?

We have noted and considered the concerns expressed that, if no codification or only limited codification of the conventions can be achieved, there should be no change to the present method of appointing and dismissing the Governor-General. A Constitutional Council has been proposed as a substitute for the Queen, with the Prime Minister retaining the substantive power to appoint and dismiss. This is by any test the least popular republican model. It would allow the continued instalment of former politicians at Yarralumla. One thing is very, very clear: the Australian people do not want to have a politician as their head of state.

The ARM's method of appointment is the best option for guaranteeing there will be no more politicians rewarded with a stay at Government House. I do not query whether they may have deserved it or not or whether they performed well in their task, but we all know what the people want in that regard.

Mr HAYDEN - A former Governor-General was prepared to invite you to Government House.

Mr TURNBULL - There is merit considering coupling our bipartisan method of appointment with dismissal being effected by a simple majority of the House of Representatives. This would, I believe, address almost all of the concerns raised by the Prime Minister and Mr McGarvie.

We believe that the preamble should be amended. If it is to remain a statement of history, then it should pay appropriate regard and respect to the Aboriginal history of this country. We are all Australians now, and our civic rights do not depend on how long our families have lived here. Nonetheless, the Aboriginal people were the first Australians and they should be overlooked no longer. The preamble should also affirm our commitment to those core political values which define our nation.

In the 97 years of our federation, there has been far too little public involvement in the Constitution and its reform. We believe that the principal obstacle to constitutional change in Australia has been ignorance and a lack of popular involvement. The republican cause is, apart from the 1967 amendments, the first occasion when there has been a genuine popular movement for constitutional change. We feel that there is considerable merit in considering methods of continuing the popular involvement in constitutional reform which this debate has initiated. This could take the form of future conventions. But we do not support the agenda of this Convention being expanded to consider issues beyond those directly related to the republic debate. The Australian people are entitled to receive and consider a proposal which relates solely to the head of state and does not seek to bundle up with it other, no doubt worth while, proposals for change.

A republic will affirm that this is Australia, a nation not defined by race, religion, colour or cultural background. Our nationhood is defined by our commitment to each other and our commitment to those uniquely Australian political values of freedom, tolerance and a fair go. Is it unreasonable or presumptuous for us to say as proud Australians, confident of our future and committed to each other, that our head of state should be an Australian citizen living in Australia and that our national symbols and institutions should be unequivocally Australian? To those who say that it does not matter, I can only say that patriotism is beyond price. The destiny of our nation transcends any issue of the moment. If we are to make a prouder, stronger nation from our diverse community, we need to have symbols and institutions that reinforce the one thing we all have in common: Australia. The Queen of England, good and great lady though she is, cannot do that.

We respect the patriotism of all the delegates here today, but we cannot agree with those who claim to respect an Australia and its Constitution so very much but nonetheless respect its people so very little that they regard not one of them, not even the best, good enough to be our head of state. We do not accept that Australians are so singularly deficient that, unlike almost every other nation in the world, we are incapable of managing our affairs without a foreign monarch. Some of our critics have said that it is all too hard or that it is not worth the trouble. To them I simply ask what is worse: a nation that thinks so little of its people that not one of them is good enough to be its head of state; or a nation which is so incompetent or so timid that it is incapable of changing its Constitution?

This chamber has its share of ghosts, and one who is certainly watching us today is that most committed monarchist, our longest serving Prime Minister, Robert Menzies. Forty-five years ago, in this very chamber, he spoke more sense about the Crown than many of its defenders do today. He was not persuaded by any suggestion that the monarchy was an Australian institution or that the Governor-General was our head of state. The plain truth, he said, is that her majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, sits on the throne not because of some law of Australia but because of the law of the United Kingdom. The Crown, he said, was the sign and proof that, wherever we are in the world, we are one people. His political opponent, Labor opposition leader Dr H.V. Evatt, endorsed the Prime Minister's remarks.

Menzies was not speaking of the Australian people but of the British people, of which he believed most Australians were proud to be part. Only 10 years before, also in this chamber, Dr Evatt quoted with pride the remark made to him by Winston Churchill: `I have always found this about you Australians: the better an Australian a man is, the better a Britisher.'

At least those two great leaders were men of their times. They saw the Queen the way that the whole world saw her then and sees her today: as a magnificent embodiment of the British nation. But we are not a British people today. We are not part of Britain. Those days have passed. We are on our own. The apron string is cut.

British people brought to this country a love of freedom and a right to choose their own leaders. It is a great legacy. Our relationship with Britain is built on history, kinship and shared values. It will be stronger, not weaker, when Australia's president and Britain's Queen meet as equals. Australia will remain a member of the Commonwealth. Most Commonwealth countries are already republics.

We do not honour our history by saying that it has stopped. The founders of our federation did not write in stone. They knew that our Constitution, our democracy, was a work in progress. They gave us a constitution to be not only maintained and defended but also changed to meet the changing circumstances of the time.

We love this nation too much to share its head of state with another country. If patriotism is a fault, then we admit it gladly. There is no honour this country can bestow which is nobler than its citizenship. I will never have a prouder boast than to say that I am an Australian. Our head of state should say the same. We know what the people want. Our job is to deliver it. Our head of state should be one of us.

DEPUTY CHAIRMAN - I now give the call to Mr Lloyd Waddy QC from Australians for Constitutional Monarchy.

Mr WADDY - Mr Deputy Chairman, Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Mr Turnbull and fellow Australians: `Enough' I quote with pride my fellow delegate and co-founder of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, Aboriginal elder and former senator, Neville Bonner, speaking in Queensland on this topic several years ago, when he said, `Enough'. Enough of the talking and hand-wringing about symbols and national identity. Enough of the diversion of money, time and energy into this sterile debate. Only 41 per cent of eligible voters chose to cast valid votes for candidates to this Convention. Almost two million of them voted for anti-republican candidates. The latest opinion poll shows that, after six years campaigning and millions of dollars spent supporting republicanism, support for republicanism in all its forms has fallen back to only 51 per cent. Thus, currently 49 per cent of Australians do not want to change their Constitution.

Australians are still uneasy with the very idea of a republic, and might I say that they are right. We are here to represent vigorously Australia's anti-republican cause. So I say to all those who oppose a republic, wherever you are: `keep the faith'. Take heart that there are millions upon millions of Australians like us who love their country the way that it is with its Constitution, its anthem, its flag and its traditions.

May I say at the outset of this Convention that we anti-republicans respect the aspirations of every delegate here. We do not doubt that all delegates seek what they think will be best for Australia. We hope to participate fully in the proceedings with tolerance, empathy, rigour and, I trust, with humour, but, above all, with success in defending what we hold dear. As you have heard already from three distinguished speakers speaking from their hearts, constitutional change is no easy matter. Those of us who have spent over six years taking part in this debate know that to remove the so-called symbolism of the Crown would be to remove and strike at the very basis of our present constitutional principles.

In 1891, at the then Constitutional Convention considering federation, Sir John Downer identified the cardinal principle of our Constitution, and it is this: that the nominal heads of our executive governments - that is, our Governor-General and the six state governors - are not themselves political players. That principle is over a century old. They are not themselves political players. They occupy a politician free zone. They are impartial umpires. They do not play for any political team. In all but emergencies, they act only on advice given to them by responsible ministers. Those ministers must themselves be answerable to our representatives that we elect to parliament.

This is well illustrated by Mr Keating's statement in 1994 that `Her Majesty would continue to act in Australian affairs as she always has, on the advice of her Australian ministers, and will abide by the wishes of her Australian people.' That perfectly describes the role of constitutional monarchy. Our governors and Governor-General must act in the same way. Just as Her Majesty herself has been the perfection of modern constitutional monarchs, so she is the standard by which all viceroys are judged.

Our founders relied on, and freely chose at the time of Federation from, the accumulated wisdom of 1,000 years of evolution of the British monarchy, the second oldest institution in Europe after the papacy. They chose that system of constitutional monarchy, although they knew that Queen Victoria could never ever come here to the other side of the world. It was a system of government. Ours was to be an absentee monarchy. All Crown powers had to be exercised by the local head of state, the Governor-General, whom Mr Whitlam rightly called - and I regret his absence - `My viceroy, comrades.' Well, he had to get in here somehow, didn't he?

Indeed, when with modern transport a reigning Queen did come here after 54 years, it was rediscovered that even when she was present our Australian Constitution denied the Queen the exercise of any of the Crown powers vested by it in the Governor-General. The Governor-General continued to administer the government in all its fullness in her presence. He was not her agent. He was not subject to any direction by her. His powers, the powers of the Governor-General, derive from the terms of the Australian Constitution, the Constitution that Australians themselves had voted to adopt.

The Governor-General remains above politics. Politics is where the real power lies. He acts on advice without any reference to the Queen in any circumstances. Whilst ever our Senate retains its virtually co-equal powers with the lower House, it is even more essential that anyone wielding that umpire's power both remains above the political fray and is free to uphold the Constitution against those whose actions would subvert it to their own ends.

So successful has our Australian system of government been that Australia is now one of the six oldest continuous democracies in the world. No wonder that we who are anti-republicans are proud to stand up to celebrate our country and defend our Constitution the way it is. It has 98 years on the clock and is hardly run in - `still going strong', as they say.

As a constitutional monarchy, Australia is in good company in the other nations of world. Other constitutional monarchies include countries as diverse as Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Belgium and Holland. Our Pacific neighbour, Fiji, after trying republicanism, is moving to reinstate the Queen, who of course is also head of the multicultural Commonwealth of Nations of 1.6 billion people; that is, Fiji is moving to restore a constitutional monarchy.

Other Pacific Rim countries which independently have Elizabeth II as their Queen include Canada, New Zealand, New Guinea and Australia. So Australia is far from alone in cherishing its system of constitutional monarchy - and it works well wherever it is. But, of course, Australia is totally independent of every other nation and, let me stress, especially totally independent of the United Kingdom.

No-one has explained better than the Queen herself the completely separate, independent role she undertakes in relation to Australia. In 1986 Her Majesty said, `I can see a growing sense of identity and fierce pride in being Australian. So it is right that the Australia Act has finally severed the last of the constitutional links between Australia and Britain. And,' said the Queen, `I was glad to play a dual role in this.' She continued: `My last official action as Queen of the United Kingdom before leaving London last month was to give my assent to the Australia Act from the Westminster Parliament. My first official act on arriving in Australia yesterday was to proclaim the identical act but from the Australian parliament, which I did,' the Queen said, `as Queen of Australia.Surely no two independent countries could bring to an end their constitutional relationship in a more civilised way.' Allow me to repeat that. The Queen said, `Surely no two independent countries could bring to an end their constitutional relationship in a more civilised way.'

As republican delegate Professor George Winterton has conceded, there is no doubt that the Queen of Australia is a distinct legal personality. It cannot be stated too emphatically that Australia has absolutely no constitutional links with any other country. The fact that Elizabeth II is our Queen no more links us to, say, Canada or the United Kingdom than does the holding by any citizen of different directorships of different public companies link them together.

It is thus my profound belief that Australia is utterly independent. I repeat: Australia is utterly independent. I have never owed allegiance to the Queen of anywhere but Australia and never wish to. Australia is a totally sovereign nation. Its sovereignty resides, as the High Court has held, only in us, the people. As the Queen stressed at the time of her Golden Wedding last year, an hereditary constitutional monarchy `exists only with the support and the consent of the people'. It is always our choice, just as it was in 1901 when we chose our unique Australian system of federation under the Crown. It may be useful to keep these facts in mind in the coming debates.

As to the furphy of the head of state red herring on which so many republicans rest their cases, I hope that soon this Convention will hear from the Hon. Bill Hayden, distinguished former Governor-General, who claims he was then our head of state and will say so. So too, the former Official Secretary, Sir David Smith, will I hope describe the dozens of official overseas state visits made by seven governor-generals as head of state of Australia. But, if you choose not to believe them or me, as the phrase `head of state' is only a diplomatic term and does not appear anywhere in our constitution, it can be defined without reference to the Constitution. The matter can be put beyond any argument without altering the Constitution in any way by a simple act of parliament leaving the status, powers and role of the Queen as they are and all the checks and balances of our seven constitutions, federal and state, absolutely unaltered.

Republicans do not want only that; they want to get rid of the Queen. But the republican models they offer are irreconcilable with each other. They are irreconcilable in practice and in principle, as you have heard the previous speakers say today. They cannot agree on a model, but when they do agree on a model that model must be put to the Australian people.

I believe it is inconceivable that Australians, if properly informed, are ever going to vote for a republic which will have the consequences of altering and distorting the federal balance very much to the disadvantage of the smaller states. The choice of a president by any form of election will always come from the Melbourne-Sydney-Canberra triangle, which can, in parliament or at the electorate, outvote the rest.

Since Federation in 1901, the Australian people have considered some 42 constitutional proposals and accepted only eight. None of those six has given more power to politicians. Any republican model will give more power to politicians - if not a politician when elected, a president will certainly be a politician the day after.

As to symbolism, many of us like having a personal link through the Queen with like-minded friendly nations and races throughout the globe who cherish liberty and freedom as we do. I, for one, do not see anything at all inappropriate about the symbolism of having a monarch shared with such robust democracies as Canada, New Zealand and other defenders of liberty, as well as a local independent head of state. But I try to respect, Mr Turnbull, the opinions of those who do.

Of republicans I inquire: what price are you republicans prepared to ask the nation to pay so that you can be relaxed about what you think is appropriate symbolism? Is not the price too high already? It will go far beyond the first deposit of $50 million every five years to directly elect a president.

It is now five years since I first called for a referendum on this matter. It is our belief that it is high time the republicans chose the least worst of their schemes and put that chosen model to the Convention.

Our Constitution has allowed this nation, in the words of its preamble, `humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God' to be strong, stable, flexible and effective, with democratic responsible government guaranteeing our freedoms and our liberty'. Long may it continue to do so. It will, if it is left unaltered. Choose your model, republicans, and let the people decide. We say, `Hands off our Constitution!' In fact, we say, `Enough!'

DEPUTY CHAIRMAN - The sitting is suspended. Please return promptly at 11.30 a.m.

Next Page

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Google






Contents | What's New | Notoriety | Amazon Books | ©Copyright | Contact
whitlamdismissal.com | watergate.info | malcolmfarnsworth.com
http://australianpolitics.com/issues/republic/convention/02_02_1.shtml
©Copyright australianpolitics.com 1995-2014