November 3

Dismissal: G-G used power “ not known to exist,” claims law professor

Professor George Williams reveals in his latest promotion of politicians’ republic    that he is a member of the national committee of the Australian Republican Movement. He is also reported to be seeking preselection as an ALP candidate for parliament.

The republican movement does not pay for this free political advertising. Instead, we assume, Professor Williams is paid for by the Herald for writing this.

In it he claims that John Howard’s choice of the appointed delegates to the 1998 Constitutional Convention was such that in general they supported either the current monarchical system or minimal change. This, he says, undermined support at the convention for the direct election of a president.

He claims the appointed delegates skewed the result towards a more conservative outcome, with the model put at the subsequent referendum providing for the selection of a president by a two-thirds majority of Federal Parliament.

The majority of appointed delegates were in fact republican. They skewed nothing. Only about a quarter of the elected delegates supported direct election.  The ARM was overwhelmingly dominant and quite early moved to neutralise the republicans supporting direct election. Indeed so brutal were they that the direct electionists threatened to leave the Convention. They were persuaded to stay by the mediation of my predecessor, Mr. now Justice Lloyd Waddy QC.

To say the appointed delegates skewed the Convention is wrong. The voters inclined to republicanism overwhelmingly gave their mandate to the ARM, which chose the parliamentary model. 1999 concedes model deficient….

Williams says that the parliamentary appointment model “put to the people by the Howard government” had defects. It certainly did, but I cannot recall his saying this at the time of the referendum campaign. Why not?    

“The most significant was a mechanism by which the president could be dismissed unilaterally and without reason by the prime minister,” he now concedes. “Parliament would have been required to approve the dismissal, but could not overturn the decision, nor reinstate the president.”

As we said, this was the only republic known where it would be easier for the prime minister to sack the president than his cook.   

And to say it was “put by the Howard government” conceals  the important fact that the model was the overwhelming choice of the republicans at the convention, and the movement in which Professor Williams  now holds office.

…polls "show strong support"?  …

He claims opinion polls since 1999 have shown continuing strong support for a republic.  Not the ones by the leading pollsters Morgan and Newpoll. Support has fallen, especially among the young.

Professor Williams refers to those who say the existing constitution is at odds with our political and legal independence. How? We could not be more independent.

…attacks succession, without mentioning proposed changes…

He attacks the law relating to the succession without mentioning that significant changes to this are to be discussed by Commonwealth Head of Governments this very month in Trinidad and Tobago.

How sad he will be if it is changed. The republicans will lose yet another stick with which they beat the Australian Crown.

….power not known to exixt. Really?…

As a professor of law Williams makes an extraordinary observation at the end of his piece. He claims Sir John Kerr used powers that had “not been known to exist” to sack the Whitlam government.

Not known to exist? So how was Jack Lang dismissed? Why does this power feature to such an extent in the work of Dr. HV Evatt, The King and His Dominion Governors, and that of Canadian authority, Eugene Forsey


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