Guest Blogger – John Power
Although republicanism has a long history in Australia, the prospect of a republican nation came onto the serious political agenda only after Paul Keating gained the Prime Ministership in 1991. An Advisory Committee, dominated by leaders of the Australian Republican Movement (ARM), on the best way forward was soon formed, and produced its report in 1993. Its most contentious proposal was that the republican head of state should be indirectly elected by the national Parliament. Although this proposal gained majority support at a 1998 Constitutional Convention, it was strongly opposed by an active minority of republican direct electionists. As a result, the proposed republic was decisively defeated in the referendum of 1999. The former ARM leader and Chair of the Republic Advisory Committee, Malcolm Turnbull, now the nation’s Shadow Treasurer, published two instructive books of memoirs on these events.
Following the referendum defeat, the ARM changed course and committed itself to a two-stage reform process, that was subsequently endorsed by a Senate Committee and succinctly discussed in a recent work by Barns and .Krawec-Wheaton. At the first stage, the people would be requested to vote on a simple plebiscite proposal that the nation should proceed to a republic. If the answer to this proposal was in the affirmative, the people would then be asked to choose from a number of models and that model gaining the strongest support (almost certainly only a plurality) would be deemed to have been carried. Some Opposition politicians have already plausibly suggested that this reform process will also fail.
The indirect electionists continue to be strong among republicans, because of widespread fears that a directly elected head of state could come to claim a democratic mandate challenging that of the head of government. In these circumstances, it could have been expected that there would have been a strong Australian republican interest in SP regimes, for all such regimes have to handle relations between a directly elected head of state and a head of government based in a parliament. To date this has not happened.
It is easy for Australian political scientists to be blamed for the ongoing neglect of SP. (For a recent minor exception, see Power). But even if this neglect were to be remedied, some problems would remain. For the rapidly growing corpus of writings on SP is heavily academic in character, and does not yet match in analytical subtlety an outstanding – and unjustly neglected – account of head of state roles, by former Governor of Victoria, McGarvie. In this work, McGarvie provides an astute reading of the earlier gubernatorial ‘corrective’ initiatives of former Governor-General Hasluck, which have themselves been criticised by another former Governor, Green..
Australians stand to gain much from the study of SP regimes – especially if students of those regimes reciprocate by taking into account Australian gubernatorial writings on the pragmatics of relations between heads of state and heads of government.
Barns, Greg and Anna Krawec-Wheaton, An Australian Republic, Scribe Short Books, Melbourne, 2006.
Green, Sir Guy, ‘Governors, democracy and the rule of law’, Constitutional Law and Policy Review, vol.9, No.1, June, 2006, pp.11-16. (This was a revised version of the 1999 Menzies Oration delivered by Green at the University of Melbourne).
Hasluck, Sir Paul, The Office of the Governor- General, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 1979.
McGarvie, Richard E., Democracy: choosing Australia’s republic, Melbourne University Press, Carlton South, 1999.
Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia: Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee, The road to a republic, The Senate, Canberra, 2004.
Power, John, ‘Pointing the way to a republic’ on p.11 of the
Melbourne Age, 17 April, 2008, p.11.
Republic Advisory Committee, An Australian Republic, Vols 1 and 2, Commonwealth Government Printer, Canberra, 1993.
Turnbull, Malcolm, The Reluctant Republic, Heinemann, Port Melbourne, 1993.
Turnbull, Malcolm, Fighting for the Republic: The Ultimate Insider’s Account, Hardie Grant, South Yarra, 1999.
John Power is Professor Emeritus of Political Science in the University of Melbourne. He has a long-standing interest in the relations between theory and practice, especially in the Australian system of governance. In his research interests, he has ranged widely – on local and regional government, executive branches, parliaments, and most recently, heads of state. For two decades he was an active member – and for a time, Secretary – of the Structure and Organization of Government Research Committee of the International Political Science Association. His activities in SOG led him in the early 1990s to play a leading role in the establishment of the Australian Public Policy Network.