Michael Danby MHR
Tel: (03) 9534 8126
Fax: (03) 9534 1575
117 Fitzroy Street
St Kilda VIC 3182
PO Box 2086
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Republic Referendum Committee: Report
Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports)(10.21 a.m.) —After hearing
hundreds of witnesses from all around Australia, and after concessions
by pro-republicans to achieve a unanimous report, the Joint Select
Committee on the Republic Referendum completed its inquiry. It was
a great honour to serve on that committee.
committee's recommendation for the long title was unanimous. It is
my view, and the view of many people, that the committee's report
revived a flagging republican cause. The Prime Minister wanted to
include one element of the process in its long title for choosing
the President that he and the member for Flinders think is unpopular.
So be it. I hope the Australian people will, despite all the negative
spoiling, decide that it is time for Australia to have one of its
own citizens as head of state.
regret that some members of the committee, who had not attended the
final report writing session, questioned its achievements. I do not
want to belabour the point, but it was disappointing that the authors
of the minority reports were not there for the final report writing.
One minority report, speaking on behalf of ordinary voters and decrying
the usual `elites' who support the republic, claimed the committee's
report was `too otiose'. `Otiose' means `at leisure; lazy; unoccupied;
sterile; futile; serving no purpose.' `Otiose' is a word better applied
not to the committee's report but to the opponents of the essence
of our report—to those who oppose the republic.
of the principal arguments of the monarchists opposed to an Australian
President and a republic is to claim that under the new system the
Prime Minister would have extraordinary powers to dismiss a President.
Yet, on the contrary, the weight of public testimony by constitutional
experts giving evidence was that the proposed system replicated the
former Liberal Prime Minister, the Right Hon. Malcolm Fraser, undermined
the arguments of opponents of the referendum, such as the member for
Flinders, in public testimony to the Joint Select Committee on the
Republic Referendum when it met in Melbourne. Mr Fraser, responding
to fears about the Prime Minister being easily able to dismiss the
President, told the committee:
you described in your question, Mr Chairman, is the current situation,
because a Prime Minister could dismiss a Governor-General and, from
the moment that it is reported to the palace, the dismissal would
effectively be in place. Her Majesty could say, `But I need this in
writing, I need reasons—I need this, I need that,' but all that
would do would buy a little time until something was put to her in
writing, which she would be entitled to ask for. But she could not
delay it beyond that. Effectively, from the moment of the request
going to the palace by a conversation, the request would be effective.
Fraser said that in testimony on 6 July at our hearing in Melbourne.
problem with our constitution is that, having regard to the powers
that the Governor-General technically has, in reading the constitution,
the only thing that civilises those powers and makes them acceptable
in a democracy is the capacity to be instantly dismissed, and that
reality is the convention. That is the thing that brings the Governor-General's
powers back to the democratic situation and which makes sure that
he cannot exercise the powers which appear to be attributed to him
in the constitution, unless it is so recommended by the government
and the Prime Minister.
was a former conservative Prime Minister of this country saying that
the same kind of situation would apply under the proposed republic
and the various bills attendant to that referendum.
It is good to see passion in this place. Passion is a good thing;
commitment to a cause is noble. However, I have recently begun to
wonder whether the passion expressed by opponents of Australia becoming
a republic is based on an unreasoning hatred of those they consider
to be the protagonists of this republic, particularly former Prime
The member for Fisher's contribution in this debate, in my view, neatly
encapsulated this mind-set which marks the contribution to this debate
of the constitutional monarchists, whom I shall refer to from this
point as the `Queen Team'. As has been pointed out by my colleague
the member for Gellibrand, the Queen Team oddly do not want to associate
their cause with Her Majesty. Indeed, they have spent an inordinate
amount of time talking about `the current system' and how it has single-handedly
been responsible for making Australia the wonderful country that it
is, as if the 19 million citizens of Australia had no role.
The second line of attack of the Queen Team argues that we jeopardise
all this wonderfulness by messing around with the head of state and
particularly with the perceived dangers of the proposed model, which
is the Keating-Turnbull model, as the members for Fisher, Mackellar
and Warringah insist on calling it. The word `model' seems to occupy
as much space in the vernacular of the average monarchist as the Queen.
There is the most insidious and cynical aspect of the monarchist campaign—the
jumping on the direct election bandwagon. I will come later to the
cynicism of monarchists reducing the parliamentary model of appointment
and hypocritically praising, or at least focusing on, direct elections
Let us be clear about this. The situation we have is the Queen Team
forcefully arguing that, if we become a republic, it can only be with
a directly elected President. Why? There is no issue of principle.
The republic haters say, `Well, that is what the people want or so
say the opinion polls.' This begs the question: when was the last
time an opinion poll showed Australians supporting the continuation
of the monarchy? If opinion polls are so important to the Queen Team,
you would think that they all would have ridden off into the sunset
`It is a politician's republic,' they then hiss. The always amusing
Kerry Jones said on the front page of the Australian that the Prime
Minister's latest long title was acceptable to her because, `It still
focuses on the republican model with a president being chosen by the
politicians.' Of course, Ms Jones does not want the people to be aware
that currently the Governor-General is selected not by parliamentarians
but by a single politician, the Prime Minister. Nor does she want
too much attention drawn to the fact that she has dedicated her life
to defending a hereditary institution, the Crown, which is elected
by no-one at all. For all the nasty things our friends in the media
say about parliamentarians, someone actually votes us in. I am not
occupying my seat because I am the eldest son of Fred and Margaret
The final point in this argument is a shopping list of apparent difficulties
with the proposed model, going to show how calamity will befall our
unsuspecting republic. These alleged calamities have all been addressed
by the Attorney-General, the Treasurer, former Prime Minister Fraser
and the former Governor-General, Sir Zelman Cowen. They say these
will be minimal if we do replace Her Majesty with an Australian President.
No matter how tendentious or facile the apparent failings of the republic,
we who support the republic are left with the task of knocking down
these various straw men.
The latest straw man is the allegation that we will change the flag
if we vote for an Australian republic. There is no such plan to change
the flag in the bills. I was there through all the report writing
and I can attest to that. Changing the flag, as most parliamentarians
know, would entail entirely separate legislation. One wonders if the
Queen Team is aware of other places which have managed to replace
a monarch as a head of state without civil war, major constitutional
crises or the sky falling in on their heads.
To achieve their spoiler ends, the Reith-Murray-Cleary axis exaggerates
the powers of the Prime Minister to dismiss the President and points
to this as one of the fatal flaws of the proposition. But the primacy
of parliament, over even a shadow head of state, is the fulcrum of
responsible government. The English fought a civil war to establish
that principle. Charles I was sent to the block to establish that
right of citizens. It is clear that, under the Westminster system
of responsible parliamentary government, a Prime Minister had to have
the ability to remove the head of state.
In the old system, it is the Governor-General and, under the new system,
it is the President who can be removed. This is deliberate; it is
designed in the unlikely event of conflict between the Prime Minister
and the President to resolve a constitutional impasse. There is no
hatred of Britain implied in this change to this new model. Britain
established the Westminster parliamentary system and that system is
the reason why so many people find the Australian democratic system
Moreover, under the new republic, the Prime Minister will be constrained
by having to bring dismissal back to the parliament within 30 days
and having to convince the House of Representatives of the wisdom
of his actions. Of course, no such restraint exists on a Prime Minister
now. Only those who, in bad faith, advance the monarchist cause deliberately
understate the gravity of the Prime Minister dismissing a President.
Can you imagine any cabinet blithely agreeing to dismiss a Governor-General
or a President, or any party meekly agreeing to approve the removal
of a President? Only people with no memory of Australian [start page
9131] history or with an absurd lack of knowledge of the constraints
of political reality would accept this.
I remind Senator Murray and some others in this place that, if a prime
minister were forced to sack the President, it would be vital for
a government to decisively resolve the issue by being able, with a
clear majority in the House of Representatives, to determine the matter.
It may annoy the Australian Democrats, who cannot get people elected
in the House of Representatives, that that is where government is
formed. That is our democratic system and Senator Murray ought to
be open with the Australian people if he wants to make fundamental
changes to our system. I believe that what they really want is a radical
change to the Australian system of democracy. I do not believe Australians
would support that. I do believe that, if they have a correct understanding
of what is proposed with the minimalist change, they will support
the republic and the change to an Australian President.
In our system of government, we want to avoid a constitutional impasse.
We want to provide the stability that underpins this country's peace
and prosperity. Our democratic system is the reason millions of people
have come to this country. We do not want, least of all during a test
of powers, two commanders of the armed forces, two heads of the judiciary
and two heads of the civil service. The dual mandate—the split
of authority, the chaos—is the formula that direct election
advocates like the member for Flinders stand for. I can understand
why the Liberal republican conclave in the coalition camp a couple
of weeks ago felt that the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations
and Small Business is losing all credibility over this issue.
I want to expand on a little noticed point raised in testimony that
explains the necessity for not adopting a joint House dismissal similar
to the proposed appointment process. This was raised by a number of
witnesses, and it particularly relates to the fact that the Senate
might be the primary cause of political tension that gives rise to
conflict between the President and the Prime Minister. It was felt
that, if the Senate, the opposition and a minor party were taken into
consideration by the President in his calculations about actions he
might take, he might calculate that he had the numbers in the Senate,
even given a House of Representatives majority, to take a different
course of political action from the Prime Minister. Again, involving
both houses in the dismissal might lead to a constitutional impasse.
In my view, it is vital for the future stability of our political
system that only the House of Representatives has the power to dismiss.
It is vital, as it will prevent conflict between the President and
the Prime Minister. Anyone relying on the actual practice of Australian
politics knows that only via the parliamentary appointment model will
we get people of the quality of Sir William Deane, Sir Ninian Stephen
and Sir Zelman Cowen.
In his ploy to the direct electionists, the Minister for Employment,
Workplace Relations and Small Business claimed that, if he were successful
in wrecking the referendum, another constitutional convention would
consider the issue of direct elections of a President. It would magically
materialise, of course. The parliament would slap its thighs and say,
`Oh, we've just spent $120 million on this year-long process. Let's
just fund another Reith-Cleary-Murray proposal.' Simply spelling this
out highlights this proposition's preposterous absurdity.
I want to conclude on the issue of direct election of a President.
I have already dealt with the cynicism of the Queen Team's enthusiasm
for this model, but any person who wishes to be taken seriously in
this debate needs to examine the issue from the point of view of principle,
not—as the monarchists do—simply because it is popular.
Let me read the contribution that Sir Zelman Cowen made to our committee
which deals with why Australia ought not to go down the direct elections
road. He told the committee:
What would be the case with direct popular election? Presumably, we
would have competing candidates campaigning around the country to
be elected as president. The most likely scenario is that the political
parties would endorse candidates for election. They would very likely
be a Liberal or Coalition candidate, a Labor candidate, a Democrat
and so on. Where would the candidates secure the resources to run
their nation-wide campaigns—to organise their speaking tours
and their media conferences, to fund their media campaigns and to
distribute campaign leaflets and how-to-vote cards? The most likely
answer appears to be from the political parties. What surer way could
there be of guaranteeing that a politician—a partisan figure—would
be elected as president? Yet the election of a partisan Head of State
is the antithesis of our system of constitutional parliamentary democracy
which requires a non-partisan Head of State.
On what issues would the competing candidates campaign? What would
be the issues on which they would debate to gain advantage, one over
the other? Presumably, they would, like ordinary politicians appeal
to certain sections of the community by advancing policies to favour
this group or that, to emphasise this priority or that. Again, this
seems to me to be the antithesis of our sort of parliamentary democracy
in which the Head of State stands for all the people, and policy issues
are debated and decided in Parliament and in elections for Members
of Parliament. Under direct election, it is highly likely that we
will end up with a president elected with, say, 51% of the vote, after
distribution of preferences, to a runner-up's 49 %.