September 19

Mugabe model superseded

During the Corowa Republican Conference in 2001, a Zimbabwean-born academic, Dr. Bede Harris, said he wanted Australia to become a republic.  This was because he wanted his infant daughter to have the chance of becoming head of state.  John Paul, who was sitting next to me, said in a loud voice, to peals of laughter, “We know the McGarvie model; now we have the Mugabe model.” Mr. Justice Mc Garvie was obviously amused. From his look, Dr. Harris did not understand why people were laughing.

 Now, after the McGarvie and the Mugabe models, we have the McKay model.

Hugh Mackay thinks turning Australia into a republic would be simple. A well known “social commentator”, he has come out in a recent book as a republican.  He objects to us sharing our Sovereign with the UK and presumably Canada and New Zealand. He thinks he can overcome the divisions between republicans divided over whether Parliament or the people should choose the President. His solution is that a committee of chief justices and other eminences should choose a list of names, with due regard of course to sexual, or as they say, gender balance.  Parliament should choose three of these to be the candidates in an election without any advertising. The President, he thinks, should be there for a long time. He or she should appoint the governors on the advice each of the relevant premier.

He thinks, rather naively, that it should not take too long to codify the reserve powers. Paul Keating and Gareth Evans tried, and eventually said it was impossible.

The point is that to change our constitution so fundamentally you first have to understand what you are changing. The Crown is our oldest institution, central to the constitutional system. Does Mr Mackay appreciate this?  There is nothing in his book to suggest an understanding of the institution which he wishes to replace.


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