December 7

Is this really the republic they want?

The official position of the republican movement in Australia is that it wants a republic, but has not the foggiest idea of what sort of republic. As David Koch suggested on Channel 7 when they launched their disastrous “ Mate for Head of State” campaign this year, this doesn’t take them to first base. No one will take them seriously while they are RWM, ‘republicans without a model’.  But as the leading republican intellectual, Professor Greg Craven, explained to Senator Marise Payne, the ARM’s complicated and expensive policy of having two federal plebiscites before a federal referendum, not to mention how many state ones, are expected to lead to a model in which the president is elected. This will mean that the office will be politicized, and the considerable powers of the Governor-General will become political weapons instead of constitutional safeguards. This will of course make government unworkable.


Some of the consequences may be seen in the French Fifth Republic, which is such a mess that in the last presidential elections there were serious calls for a new Sixth Repunblic. When the socialists were excluded from the second round by M.Le Pen, they coined the slogan, “ Vote for the crook and not the fascist!”  Now, according to Adam Sage, the Paris correspondent of The Times, President Chirac has been accused of manoeuvring a former legal adviser into a key judicial post to avoid being tried for corruption after leaving office and losing immunity from prosecution. This relates to a series of scandals dating from his time as the mayor of Paris, between 1977 and 1995. 


According to The Times report carried in The Australian on 12 September, 2006,  M.Chirac is trying  to appoint Laurent Le Mesle as the chief state prosecutor in Paris. The report says that if this is confirmed by the cabinet, M. Le Mesle would have a decisive role in determining whether the President should be prosecuted in connection with corruption allegations when he steps down. But the use of the word “cabinet” in The Times report could suggest that at least another body separate from the President will make the decision. This is not so.


Under our Australianised Westminster system, political decisions are taken by the cabinet, presided over by the prime minister. The cabinet is not formally recognized under the Constitution, a fact which some opportunist republicans criticized in the 1999 referendum. While some cabinet decisions can be effected by individual ministers under statutory authority, major decisions are effected by the Executive Council, where a minister or ministers formally advise the Governor-General. But the Governor-General is no rubber stamp – he needs to be satisfied that he has the power to take the action advised and that any conditions on the exercise of that power have been fulfilled.


Article 5 of the French Constitution states it is the President, and  not the Prime Minister, who presides over the Council of Ministers. This is the body which will both consider and give effect to the nomination. If M Le Mesle is appointed, the opposition says that he will block action against M Chirac. The head of the judicial union is campaigning against the appointment.  Both Professor Craven and Malcolm Turnbull are on record as predicting that if this model were put in a referendum, the No vote would dwarf the landslide in 1999.



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