May 24

London: Constitutional Convention?

The 1998 Australian Constitutional Convention is being suggested as a model for the British when they consider electoral reform.  The principal weakness concerning the Convention was the use of postal voting which is too open to abuse, as recent investigations and events in the UK have clearly demonstrate.

…the Australian model…



In “Australian lesson on electoral reform,” The Times 13/5,  Richard A. Edwards of the University of the West of England, Bristol argues that the reform of the electoral system needs to be the outcome of a carefully designed deliberative process.

He writes:

“Reform of the electoral system, as with all constitutional change, needs to be the outcome of a carefully designed deliberative process, and not the hasty negotiations for a coalition government. It beggars belief that the parties involved in negotiations failed to give any serious prior thought on how to proceed in our current situation, even though a hung Parliament was highly probable.

“Given that a committee or commission of inquiry will not suffice, what then would be a workable alternative that could be both legitimate and effective? Here the UK could learn from Australia.

“Australia has, from time to time, established conventions to examine important constitutional changes. For instance, the most recent convention debated what model an Australian republic might take. The convention was composed of both directly elected and appointed representatives. The latter were federal, state and territory politicians. The outcome of the convention was put before the people in a referendum for their approval.

“There is no reason why a similar UK convention could not be constituted to examine changes to the electoral system. Not only would it allow a range of electoral systems to be both thoroughly examined and properly debated, it might also canvass other important constitutional changes. Any proposed changes could then be put before the electorate in a referendum for their decision, before enactment into law by Parliament.

“Furthermore, a convention might also have the useful benefit of removing the issue of constitutional change from day-to-day politics, leaving the Administration to concentrate on the urgent business of reducing the deficit.”

…response replete with errors…



This provoked a response from Dr Ian Brett of Widford, Herts.  Published in The Times (14/5) under the headline “‘Fixed’ referendums” (14/5), unfortunately replete with errors. He wrote:

“There is another lesson to be learnt from Australia’s referendum on the possible formation of a republic (letter, May 13). Richard Edwards is quite correct; an independent convention set out proposals for a referendum on a Republic of Australia but when it came to the wording of the referendum the government of the day “fixed” the question.

“The government was anti-republican. The referendum asked: “Do you want a head of state elected by Parliament?”

“Most republicans wanted a head of state elected by the people, not by politicians, and many stayed at home on polling day. Despite all pre-voting polls showing a clear lead for the republicans, the referendum failed to deliver the necessary two-thirds majority.”

“The lesson: politicians will endeavour to fix the result in any referendum or election. They simply can’t help themselves.”




…correction from Melbourne….




Bruce Knox of Melbourne sent this reply published in Times Online on 15/5:


“Dr. Brett is in error and the lesson he draws from Australia is misleading. The question put in the 1999 republic referendum was not "fixed" by the government (which, by the way, to its discredit was not "anti-republican", though the prime minister and a couple of others were); it derived directly from the convention – which approved words provided by its republican members."

"Then again, 'direct election republicans' did not stay at home on polling day (compulsory voting has perhaps some merit) but many had joined the opposition to the republic proposal and voted against what was offered. It appears that to this day those who wish to abolish the monarchy are unable to agree on what might replace it. As for not getting a two-thirds majority in the referendum, in fact the republic proposal got no majority at all, being rejected in all states. “




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