At a dinner recently, a senior lawyer asked me what I thought of the new Chief Justice of Australia, Justice Robert French, who will be sworn in soon.
Having commented twice here (“With the utmost respect,Your Honour,” 31 July 2008, and “Republican dreams,” 4 August 2008) I expressed the view that while I was sure he was well qualified and well intentioned, his views on constitutional change did not seem to be well thought out.
He replied that he thought the new Chief Justice had demonstrated extraordinary naiveté in contemplating that in an Australian republic grafted onto our constitutional system, the president could be directly elected.
“ Surely he understands that none of the leading republicans would have a bar of that, “ he insisted.
Indeed many of those views were recorded on this site in the three part series, “Republicans irreconcilably divided, Part 3,” 13 June 2008 (if you go to Part 3 you can link to the remaining columns in reverse order)
We may not hear much more on this from the Chief Justice, if he is wise.
In the event of a case reaching the High Court on the issue, and he were sitting on it, there would no doubt be a motion that he recuse himself.
A republican issue is unlikely to come before this bench, but who know what will happen.
There has not been much in the media about this side of the new Chief Justice.
But the following letter from J.A. Kirkpatrick of Darling Point, NSW, pubished under the heading, "Republic Puzzle", in the Legal Affairs part of The Australian on 22 August, 2008, caught my eye.
“Newly appointed Chief Justice Robert French recently delivered a speech titled ‘Dreams of a new Republic’.
“While addressing past injustices to Aborigines and a new constitutional preamble, the thrust of the speech was on ways of turning Australia into a republic. All were lengthy and tortuous.
“Among them was the call for some form of preliminary plebiscite to express the people's will. It is puzzling that a distinguished lawyer should recommend a path without legal standing.
“Although admitting that the Constitution has served Australia well, he is bothered that ‘it is the product of one history’ and ‘the work of white males of British origin’.
“Based on those worries, His Honour says firmly: ‘It is time to update.’
"It seems a strange dichotomy that French can accept an appointment under a system of government he seeks to change.”
…televised republic debate…
Sky is promoting this as the re-opening of the national debate.
Its on Sky TV's breakfast programme at 730am on Monday 25 August, 2008.
Then in the evening ( that is still on Monday, 25 August 2008), at 730pm, there is to be a PowerPoint presentation on the subject “Plebiscite or Referendum: A Briefing,” at the Balmain Leagues Club, First Floor Function Room, 138 – 152 Victoria Road, Rozelle, NSW.
The event has been arranged by Victor Taffa, the Secretary of the Balmain/Leichhardt No Republic ACM Branch.
These follow a very successful conference on our Federal Constitution held under the auspices of the Samuel Griffith Society from 22 to 24 September 2008.
We hope to have more news on this soon.
And from 19 to 21 September in Perth, ACM will be holding its Annual National Conference. This is the tenth since the referendum, and with the possibility of a plebiscite, the theme will be the campaign in 2009 and 2010.