The process of selecting the next American president will extend for more than a year and cost more than $1 billion. It is effectively a weighted direct election, defeating the original intention of the founding fathers. In the meantime Australia's republican movement is still debating after twenty long years whether the president should be directly elected.
“In Australia, a federal election campaign lasts 30 days and costs less than a single Senate race in California,” writes Paul Sheehan in his recent piece on the interminable American presidential election campaign (“US shows why elections should be a sprint, not a marathon,” The Sydney Morning Herald 5 January5, 2012)
“Anyone who thinks Australia would be better served by having a directly elected president as head of state does not understand why such a model will doom the republican movement,” he adds.
“The debate has never been about attitudes to the monarchy so much as it is about the reluctance of the electorate to add a new layer of pomp and politics to federal government.”
“We have a simpler, superior system in place to the one now on show in the United States”
…direct election proposed…
The republicans have heard Dr John Hirst tell them to change their failed current policy and go for direct election. (We have discussed other aspects of his lecture to the assembled republican movement here.) Dr.Hirst, a respected historian, is an old hand in republican circles going back to the Keating Turnbull Repuablic Advistory Committe.
The movement's policy for the last decade has been not have a policy on what sort of republic they want to impose on this reluctant nation.
But Dr Hirst thinks electors won’t support a republic unless they elect the president. Other republicans don't agree. For example, ACU Vice Chancellor Professor Greg Craven says that once the people understand the dangers of direct election – he for one will make sure they do in any referendum – the republican defeat will make 1999 seem like some sort of victory.
Now Dr Hirst is unfortunately mistaken as to three significant aspects of the 1998 Constitutional Convention. These could have influenced him in his enthusiastic announcement of his particular silver bullet. He misunderstands ARM policy in the convention election, how the non- elected delegates were chosen, and the about final vote.
…mistake about ARM's policy in 1998….
He believes that voters in 1998 had three main choices. They could vote for candidates promising to support the monarchy; “candidates from the ARM who were committed to an Australian head of state elected by the parliament,” and the Real Republicans who wanted the people to elect the president.
Dr Hirst is completely wrong about the ARM. They went to the election claiming their minds were not closed about direct election. But as soon as the poll closed, their minds slammed shut.
Too clever by half, the ARM then tried to manipulate the agenda so that the direct election delegates would be neutralised.
The direct electioneers then threatened to walk out. The Convention was only saved by the mediation of my predecessor Justice Lloyd Waddy who brought the warring republicans together.
… mistake about the composition of the Convention…
Dr Hirst's second misunderstanding is about the composition of the Convention. “The elected delegates met in Convention with an equal number of appointed delegates carefully chosen to represent the community in a balanced way by gender and ethnicity and age.”
No they didn’t. The convention was made up of 76 elected, 40 ex officio and only 36 nominated delegates, not the 76 Dr Hirst believes. Some were chosen for eminence and others for balance so that, for example, youthful and indigenous voices could be heard.
Dr Hirst may be mistaken, but at least he is not like so many republicans who fabricate myths about John Howard. Of the 36 delegates nominated by John Howard, only 10 were constitutional monarchists.
John Howard did not rig the Convention; but how often do you read or hear that he did? Do people who write or announce this lie have no shame?
….. mistake about the vote…
Dr Hirsts’s third error is about the voting. He says that after an exhaustive consideration of all options, the Convention “voted for a president endorsed by a two-thirds vote of a joint sitting of parliament. “
Not so. A check of the records will show that the Keating Turnbull – or bypartisan model – was two short of a majority of the Convention. John Howard had said that if the convention approved a model he would put that to the referendum. Since it was overwhelmingly approved by the republican delegates, he decided that it would be sensible to put it to the people. He was unusually and lavishly praised for this both by the republicans and in the media.
But when the republicans lost the referendum they had to find a reason, so they invented myths about how badly John Howard had behaved and how he had ensured that their republic would be defeated.
Dr Hirst suggests some curious and complicated models for a guided democracy in which the presidential candidates will be chosen.
It is unlikely that the politician republicans would choose any of them. Most are wedded to a parliamentary appointment, although when he was planning to leave Parliament as a result of the loss of the Liberal leadership in late 2009, Malcolm Turnbull announced that he nowcould tolerate direct election.
This was in a media blitz in the Murdoch press in England and Australia (" Malcolm Turnbull returns to the fray," 24 January 2010 ) It seemed as if he were thinking of reviving his involvement in republicanism to replace his parliamentary role .
And nNo doubt the ARM leadership was excited at the thought of the Turnbull millions flowing again into their coffers.
But after John Howard persuaded him to stay in Parliament, he has been very quiet on this issue.
He even appeared at the recent Great Hall reception for The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.