January 31

Warning: Politicians to be given keys to the Constitution

 A referendum proposing an Australian republic with an elected president would fail, predicts a strong and longstanding academic republican, Professor Helen Irving of the University of Sydney.

She also reveals her preferred model for a republic. 

Under this, the keys to a crucial part of the constitution would be handed to the politicians.




The control over how the Head of State would be appointed would be stripped from the Constitution.

The method of the appointment or election and the dismissal would be decided by the politicians. Most importantly this will be decided by the politicians without any reference to the people.

it will be able to be changed at any time at the whim of the politicians. 

To see how undemocratic and dangerous this is, remember that in 1999 about two thirds of the politicians – at least – wanted the very politicians' republic which the people rejected not only in a national landslide, but also in all states and in 72% of electorates.

This proposal is indeed for an ultra-politicians' republic.  [i]

 And one further note of caution. This is the only model on the table, apart from vague references to direct  election and parliamentary appointment. Academic writers have great influence in these matters, as the late Professor George Winterton demonstrated.


…no myths…



At least she doesn't rely on the usual republican myths that John Howard rigged the 1998 Constitutional Convention, that he chose a doomed model for the 1999 referendum or that he fixed the question.


Nor does she go along with the myth that the 1999 referendum was close. It was she says its ''resounding defeat'' suggests another attempt should only be made when there is ''unmistakable evidence of support''.



…direct election to fail…






She dismisses the frequent argument that if only direct election had been put to the people it would have passed, and that doing this will ensure success.

"A powerful no alliance would be certain to form were direct election included in a referendum question. However popular the idea might appear, the record would indicate almost certain defeat "

She says everything we know about referendums in  Australian outages suggest that minimal changes should be sought.

She counsels those who want a republic to be realistic. It will have to leave the Constitution untouched as far as possible.

And in any event, she agrees – without adopting the term favoured by leading constitutional monarchists, ’crowned republic’ – that we are in fact already well on the way towards a republic.

Her proposal is in fact ultra-minimalist.    She now believes the term 'Governor-General’ should be retained as should the preamble. Instead there should be a heading ’Historical clauses’ at the start of the Constitution Act  with a new preamble of the top of the Constitution.

She says that some modifications will be unavoidable.

"The Constitution's references to the Gov general as the representative of Her Majesty will have to be deleted. But," she says, "this is hardly drastic, a reason ACM would stoutly deny. She says the Governor-General hasn't acted as the Queen's representatives for decades."

We find this explanation incomprehensible, although the present Governor-General inexplicably abandoned the practice of making occasional reports to Her Majesty.



….keys to the Constitution… 


 Then she says the deletion of the word saying the Governor-General  ’…is appointed by the Queen’ will be necessary.


She says this will only have a minor impact, but doesn't explain how the government and will be appointed and how he or she will be dismissed. Instead she wants this appear in legislation.

It is of course elementary that the Constitution should state this process because this is something which should be approved by the people and only changeable with the people's consent.

What Prof Irving is proposing is not a minimal republic but an ultra politicians' republic.

What she is proposing is that the Australian Crown, a separate institution which is a central check and balance within the Constitution and the institution to which all politicians, judges and indeed citizen owe allegiance be abolished.

In its place is to be a presidency whose appointment will be in the hands of the politicians.

Not only that. The keys to this key aspect of the  Constitution, the Crown, will be removed from the people.

The keys will be handed over to the politicians.




We received a message on our Facebook page recently from an informed observer who complained that the young did not understand the role, function and history of the Crown. Well of course they don't. This is no longer taught  in the schools and the universities.

Yet the educational mandarins dare to impose on students issue of change to a (politicians')  republic without our students even hearing about the role, function and history of the Australian Crown.

If ever Prof Irving's proposal is put to the people it must be resisted and resistedt strongly.

This means that it is crucial that we continue our program to do as much as we can to educate Australians, especially the young and the new as to the constitutional system which has enabled this country to be the success that it is.


….subject of the Queen…


  Before  leaving Professor Irving's proposal , readers may be interested to know that she  seems to disagree with the late Professor George  Winterton's proposal that section 117 of the Constitution be changed.

This prohibits the states from discriminating against "a subject of the Queen" on the grounds of residents in other states.

Professor Winterton in the 1999 proposal would have substituted the words "Australian citizen" for a subject of the Queen''.

Professor Irving points out that the section protects many non-Australians who are also subject of the Queen. Almost as if she were a royalist you are "Do we want this protection to extend to Australian citizens alone?''


[i] Helen Irving, A constitutional recipe for an Australian republic, 16 Jurist-Diction (Spring 2013) 17


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