The Minister for Finance and Administration, Senator Nick Minchin, has accused Kim Beazley of ‘flip- flopping’ yet again.
Senator Minchin was referring to Mr Beazley’s move to abandon the Keating-Turnbull republican model – the politicians’ republic – which was by overwhelminly rejected by Australians in the 1999 referendum.
Mr Beazley and Mr Turnbull had campaigned across the country for the model which was the strong preference of the republican establishment. Now Mr Beazley seems to favour the Latham model, but Mr Turnbull has condemned it.
“In 1999, Kim Beazley opposed the directly elected President model. Today he has back-flipped and is now backing direct election,” Senator Minchin said.
“The direct election proposal is the most dangerous of the republican models. With our Westminster system, we are one of the most successful and stable democracies in the world. Directly electing a President would be a radical change that would fundamentally alter the checks and balances in our system.
“As Kim Beazley used to think in 1999, the election for such a President would inevitably turn into a political campaign, with candidates backed by the Party machines. The President would then take a far more activist political role that the current Head of State, the Governor General.
“This would be a recipe for gridlock.
“What if the President disagreed with legislation passed by the Parliament? The President could refuse to sign the legislation.
“This would be an American-style system but without the Constitutional processes for resolving a disagreement between the President and the Government.
“Mr Beazley now says you can codify the Governor-General’s current powers – but in 1999, he said you couldn’t codify the current powers.
“It would be virtually impossible to arrive at a direct election president with the conventions that will be in place under this constitutional arrangement. It would be impossible to arrive at that position. You would have to either advance the definition a considerable way towards entrenching substantial power in the hands of the president or retreat them a considerable way to eliminate all powers in the hands of the president.”
“The best way to protect our uniquely successful democratic system of government is to maintain our stable and effective constitutional monarchy,” Senator Minchin concluded.
Senator Minchin is of course right. The Latham model is a recipe for continuous political gridlock which would seriously damage the country.
In the meantime, the Prime Minister told Southern Cross Radio the issue is off the political agenda.
He said that he had not changed his opinion on retaining the monarchy in Australia since the 1999 referendum.
"I don’t see any great need for constitutional change," he said.
He said that if people want to talk about the republic, they can.
"My only observation, as somebody who spends a lot of time talking to the general public, is nobody raises it.
”I don’t find the average person out there raising these matters."
The Prime Minister is correct. David Williamson, who on winning a cruise recently, caused a stir when he condemned his fellow Australian passengers for not being concerned about elite issues. The fact is Australians are very happy with their flag and our constitutional system. Mr Beazley surely knows this.
Is there a deal in the background? Or is he trying to impress the republican commentariat?
The original and very lukewarm endorsement of the republic at an ALP conference was in the wake of Keating-Hawke rivalry and was reported to be part of a deal to shore up support for one side. The other part of the deal was the House of Representatives inquiry into the print media -another waste of money which achieved nothing.
Surely all Australians would agree that constitutional change should only be considered where there is a real and serious problem with the workings of the constitution-not as part of some behind- the- scenes political deal.
Until next time,