In our piece on the next Chief Justice of Australia, the Hon. Robert French, ( “With the utmost respect,Your Honour,” 31 July, 2008) we should have credited His Honour with distancing himself from a particular sleight of hand the republicans attempted in 1999.
In the Sir Ronald Wilson lecture of 8 May, 2008, “Dreams of a new republic ,” he refers to the plan to make the federal entity republican, while keeping the states constitutional monarchies.
It wasn’t as though the republicans wanted to retain the Australian Crown, our oldest institution, central to the federal constiutional system, and providing leadership above politics.
No. It was nothing more than an opportunistic attempt to make it easier to get the referendum through by minimising objections from the states.
As one republican descibed it, this would have been a "constitutional monstrosity." In other words, a mess.
Had this ploy been successful it would have involved chopping up our indivisible Australian Crown into seven entities, and perhaps opening the door to secession, if any state were so inclined.
In fact one of the Premiers had warned of precisely this eventuality at the 1998 Convention.
It could have ended what the preamble to the Constitution Act describes as our “indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown”
In his speech Justice French said:” It would be a bizarre dichotomy indeed to have a Republican nation with one or more of its States operating under a monarchical constitution.”
That is good – so far.
…illegal and unconstitutional acts to go unchecked in this republic?
But then Justice French makes an extraordinary suggestion. This is that in a republic the Governor of a State be appointed by the Premier. (He gives the Parliament of the State as an alternative).
Presumably this would mean the Premier could remove the Governor.
In 1932 the Premier, Jack Lang, cleared all the bank accounts of the State government and hid the cash to avoid the impact of a federal law found valid by the High Court.
The Governor, Sir Philip Game, demanded that he reverse this. When Lang did not, the Governor withdrew his commission.
Just imagine what would have happened it the Premier had had this power.
Would he have used it to remove the check and balance against the illegal exercise of power?
…. relying on that Mad Hatter’s Tea Party…..
Justice French says he supports the idea of “ some form of preliminary plebiscite as proposed in the 20/20 Summit and a sensible political consensus reached to give effect to their wishes, then it is likely that agreements will be made which would ensure a republican system throughout the Commonwealth.”
We can only assume that His Honour is not aware of that the selection process for the Summit governance panel resulted in a gerrymander of which Robert Mugabe would have been envious.
That is how they secured a vote of 98:1 in favour of a vague undefined republic.
We assume that he is also not aware that the process was so mismanaged that republican Professor Robert Manne likened it to a Mad Hatter’s ( Tea) Party.
We also assume that His Honour is unaware that the principal conclusion of the Summit on a republic was so erroneous it made the Summit a laughing stock.
And we also assume His Honour does not know that the recommendation for a plebiscite was only surreptitiously slipped into the Summit record ten days later.
It is likely that any plebiscite will be designed by spin doctors to ensure maximum support and to paper over the longstanding and well known irreconcilable differences between republicans.
We are surprised then that the process has already attracted such unqualified judicial endorsement.
We are also surprised to read that His Honour thinks there is any chance of a “sensible political compromise” emerging merely because of what will be and is intended to be a fraudulent exercise.
Surely His Honour knows that the only reason for the plebiscite is because the republicans expect that if they approached the issue honestly, that is with a referendum, it would be defeated.
The republicans are proposing a fraud to dupe the public. We predict that if it is tried it will be exposed as such.
Even now polling indicates such a plebiscite would be defeated – and that is before the people have heard the contrary arguments.
….dreaming of a new republic….
For those of you who wonder what is new in the republic which haunts His Honour's slumber, he explains that it is not the republican debate which is new.
It is the vision which is new.
"But beyond the dreams we need a clear vision of the values which we want to inform a Republican Constitution and the essential elements to give effect to them," he explains.
“In this lecture I wish to identify some key values and elements for which I think we should look. There will undoubtedly be, in this audience and the wider community, a variety of visions.
"It is important however, that we continue the debate about the basic values and essential elements to try to forge some kind of consensus to drive the change which is inevitable."
Why do you need to drive something which is inevitable? If it is inevitable why not just wait for it?
His Honour seems to accept that after the landslide rejection of the politicians’ republic in 1999, only a model in which the president is elected by the people has any chance of being approved.
He admits this is likely to result in instability with the president becoming a political competitor of the prime minister.
So he canvasses contrivances to stop this. One suggestion is to a quasi judicial constitutional council to control him.
You sense it immediately. The dream will turn into a nightmare.
His Honour also recommends the constitutional recognition of the Aboriginal people.
Whether or not that will do much good, it will certainly enrich a goodly number of lawyers.
He also argues that popular sovereignty be given legally effective recognition in the Constitution.
Is this a call for citizen rights, such as the right to initiate referendums, and recall representatives, and dare I suggest judges?
If it doesn’t, are these to be meaningless words? Or is this the new vision?
“As a people,” His Honour concludes, “we can afford to set our goals high in moving to a Republican Constitution.
“Those high goals would recognise the convergence of our many histories, and ensure that popular sovereignty is given legally effective recognition in the Constitution, recognise and make provision for the indigenous people of Australia.
“They would dispense with the power of the Commonwealth Parliament to make laws discriminating between people on the grounds of race and provide a mechanism for choosing the Head of State those accords with democratic principle and popular sovereignty.
“These are the dreams of a new Republic. It is not beyond our wit to bring them to reality.”