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How do we select the leader of an independent Australia?


old man emu
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At the moment Austrlia is a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy that, at the moment I don't wish to become a republic. However, that wish is due mostly to the respect I have for the way in which Queen Elizabeth II has acted during her reign. With her eventual passing, I will join the ranks of those demanding a declaration of independence from the present constitutional monarchy. That being said, my major concern is how this newly independent country will select its Head of State.

 

The current Presidential election in the United States has lead many of us to study in greater detail the manner in which that country's Head of State is selected. The result of that study is that their system seems drastically flawed and the antithesis of the concept of democracy. The main flaw is their employment of an Electoral College. Here the word "college" has the meaning "an organized association of persons invested with certain powers and rights or engaged in some common duty or pursuit". The US Electoral College is composed of persons, granted the power to complete the duty of selecting the President.

 

Basically, each political party nominates a group of persons who would be a State's electoral college members if that party's candidate gains the majority of popular votes in that State. The voters do not get to choose who those individual electors will be. Basically, the electors are party hacks. Thirty-five States even make it an offence for their electoral college members to either fail to give their vote to their party's candidate, or worse, to give it to someone else. Further, The Constitution gave each state a number of electors equal to the combined total of representatives and senators who represent that state in the U.S. Congress.

 

Here's a quick explanation.

 

So the question for an Australian Republic is: Do we select our Head of State by majority vote of the people (popularity poll), or do we have a joint sitting of parliament select the Head of State (clearly open to party cronyism). And do we maintain the customary of our monarchy whereby the Head of State has the power to veto a law, and to instate or terminate a parliament?

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I don't have a problem with the constitutional monarchy, and it seems those crazy Prince Charles ideas like climate change management and organics were a bit ahead of his time... and are de riguer (or however the bleedin' French spell it). My view is this:

  • Australia has a stable political system - so if it aint broke, don't fix it (or, use resources and money fix the stuff that is broken rather than the symbolic stuff that will give no net benefit).
  • We won't feel any different the day we become a republic or some other thing (unless it changes the practicalities of our political system). We suddenly won't be walking around with smiles on our faces that we didn't have before. And, of course, there is the potential for the law of unintended consequences by changing the structure... we could end up with a Trup and Biden battle or something.
  • We will not be perceived any differently by the rest of the world. Australia is an independent country who's symbolic head of state is the Queen of Australia, although, like many other Australians, she just happens to choose to live in another country. Most people I have dealt with in the US, Europe, and Asia don't even know and it is not a factor in international discussions. Let me put it another way, would your view on Canada suddenly change because they went to a republic?

 

I am not a monarchist.. Find them a pain in the proverbial, actually. But I consider myself a pragmatist (maybe not a good one, but a pragmatist, the same). There is no real benefit to it, so why spend all the money and take on risk of screwing it up. Even if Charles and/or William are loonies and try something on, it will just not happen.

 

However, if, as a country, we are so wedded to it, then I guess, since we already have an election to elect the legislature which, despite some gerrymandering which the head of state doesn't interfere with, our constitution and way of life is string enough to say remove the queen as the head of state and have the GG as the offical head of state with restricted powers who is appointed as they are now. Seems the simplest and least painful, but how much does a referendum cost and the subsequent changes for a benefit of zero?

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Sure, speaking as an aspiring egalitarian pragmatist, I agree that "if it ain't broke, don't try to fix it".

 

However I would argue that it is broke.

 

When the governments no longer act for the good of us plebs, government is broken. It is no longer doing what it was invented to do. Australia arguably has too many layers of government and we often see counterproductive clashes between state and federal or even state and local councils.

 

The question is, "How do we fix it without forking it"?

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The queen has nothing to do with Australia except in theory. The Governor-general we have is appointed by ONE person, the PM of the day. We have had a practicing pedophile and a demented fool as GG's. If the GG was appointed by 2/3 of the parliament, we would have a bipartisan one which would be a lot better. No other changes.

This was in the referendum which Australians voted down, influenced by a nasty but cunning attack led by Abbott. The pro-republic campain was so badly done that I suspect Turnbull deliberately threw it. I would cringe at the poor pro-republic ads and get angry at the lies of the pro-monarchy ads.

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I was doing law in London at the time and ironically ducked out of a constitutional law lecture to vote at Australia House on The Strand in the referndum. When I returned, I was asked which way I voted, to which my response was, "I am exercising my democratic right to keep silent.." The law lecturer was sure I voted against it; the students were sure I voted for it... Was quite funny.

 

@nomadpete - I agree.. governments around the world are broken (maybe with the exception of NZ). But the Aussie head of state function is not one of them not a cause of the issues you mentioned. O have always been of the opinioon that laws and tax/finance are complex becase most of the pollies are lawyers and accountants and what better way to keep the professions employed?

 

@Bruce Tuncks - interesting idea to make the selection of the GG bipartisan. However, if the role is made purely ceremonial and we rely on a double dissolution to sack the government, then does it matter that the PM appoints the GG? Maybe a parliamentary committee to vetr an appointment to be of suitable character?

 

 

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Of recent years, PMs have nominated some really good people to be GG, and those people have carried out their Head of State duties very well. But as they say in the superannuation ads, past results are not indicative of future performance. This method is open to abuse. Maybe we should look at the French system used to elect the President. There, the President is directly elected by universal suffrage Candidates must receive signed nominations (known as parrainages, for "sponsors") from more than 500 elected local officials, mostly mayors. There are exactly 45,543 elected officials, including 33,872 mayors so the pool of candidates is deep and political allegiance  is diverse. French presidential elections are conducted using run-off voting, which ensures that the elected president always obtains a majority: if no candidate receives a majority of votes in the first round of voting, the two highest-scoring candidates arrive at a run-off.

 

A problem that has to be overcome is that the Commonwealth of Australia is a federation of sovereign states. Technically, any State can withdraw from the Federation, just as each State agreed to join the Federation. A lot of our Constitution relates to States' rights, so to become independent of the constitutional monarchy, each State must agree to withdraw from the Commonwealth, but to immediately join a new Federation.

 

If Australia was to abandon the constitutional monarchy, I don't see any great change being required except to replace some wording describing the duties of the Head of State, and, more importantly, how that Head of State is appointed. I would not like to see any copying of the US Constitution in as far as the duties and powers of their President. The Head of State, in my opinion, should be like little children - seen an not heard. 

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The main issue with a republic has always been how do we elect/appoint a president and how do we constrain his powers. Most of the public think they should be able to vote for a president but that raises the issue that the president then has a public mandate which he or she might use as justification to push power boundaries. If the president is publicly elected, we would need an air tight set of laws to keep the genie in the bottle. If not, the alternative at worst could be a power freak like Trump, and at best, an annoying flea like Macron. If Australia is to replace one of the world's better governing systems, we need to aim high. Currently, there are not too many role models around the world.

 

Howard's referendum proposal addressed the issue of a president wielding too much power by having the position nominated by a large majority of both houses. His government promoted it as a minimal model with the president basically assuming the GG's role. Howard snuk in a couple of clauses that transferred power from the monarch to the PM, and his proposal of the PM's powers to unilaterally sack the president without reason was a bit suspect. But it was basically a good model if it had a few tweaks.

 

Maybe the other option would be some form of non parliamentary public council to oversee the appointment.

Edited by willedoo
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18 minutes ago, old man emu said:

Technically, any State can withdraw from the Federation

I've often wondered how that one would work given the wording of the constitution preamble (indissoluble).

 

'Whereas the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and under the Constitution hereby established:'

 

When Western Australia passed a referendum on independence in 1933, it went on to the U.K. and was knocked back by their parliament as invalid.

Edited by willedoo
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I didn't know that it was Howard who proposed the idea of a bi-partisan GG. It obviously keeps the status quo with the exception that the GG must be approved by many politicians and not just one. So it keeps our stable system with a small but real improvement. One point to Howard.

 

I once went to a Whitlam speech in which he blamed himself for Kerr. Many labour pollies had told him that Kerr had remarried to a rich society woman and that Kerr was now an enemy of labor. The friendship of the Kerrs and Whitlams was actually with Kerr's previous wife. Whitlam said he wished he had listened....  I say that Kerr would never have been appointed with a better system.

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Thanks Willedoo, I never heard those bits of history before. Gosh the history I have been told was littered with omissions of what I reckon are interesting and important facts.

Well at least I wasn't told real lies like Harry Schnieder was, he grew up in Hitler's Germany and all his life he blamed the Poles for starting WW2.

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The bi-partisan appointment is probably the best of a bad lot. It still puts the appointment in the hands of politicians, but at least it would not be a "job for the boys" situation. At the moment, the people don't have any say in who becomes the GG, but have you ever really got fired up about that appointment? I suppose that if universal suffrage lets the citizens populate the Houses of Parliament and Senate, then it infers that the selection of a Head of State is a rightful function of those occupants of the Houses. Requiring a 2/3 majority for a nominee would prevent the Head of State being from one side of the road or the other. The Head of State would have to be a median strip, provided political parties didn't run all over s/him.

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46 minutes ago, willedoo said:

I've often wondered how that one would work given the wording of the constitution preamble (indissoluble).

The preamble is not part of the Constitution, but it is a guide to the intentions of those who are responsible for it. It would probably be widely agreed that the preamble is no longer fully representative of the views or the sentiments of the majority of the Australian people. The language is arcane, the preamble neither expresses the absolute sovereignty of the Australian people as an independent nation nor refers to democratic values and aspirations, and the process of reconciliation with the original inhabitants of the continent is ignored.

 

The preamble to the Australian Constitution is an appropriate reflection of the values and priorities which were prevalent at the time of federation. It contains no inspirational flourishes or rhetorical appeals to individual liberty. Instead, in dry, measured and calculated prose, it embodies the three unifying features of federation Australia: loyalty to the Crown, belief in God and the shared need to provide national unity for white Australians through the introduction of a federal government.

 

The eight 'separate and distinct affirmations or declarations in the preamble' are:

1. The agreement of the people of Australia;

2. Their reliance on the blessing of Almighty God;

3. The purpose to unite;

4. The character of the union-indissoluble;

5. The form of the union-a Federal Commonwealth;

6. The dependence of the Union under the Crown;

7. The government of the Union under the Constitution; and

8. The expediency of provision for admission of other colonies as States.

 

Of the above only the third, fifth, seventh and eighth are found elsewhere in the Constitution. The remaining four 'have therefore to be regarded as promulgating principles, ideas or sentiments operating at the time of the formation of the instrument, in the minds of its framers, and by them imparted to and approved by the people to whom it was submitted' The legal implications of the preamble, present or new, is one of the more vexed issues of the preamble debate. The High Court has referred to the current preamble for guidance on several occasions since federation. The preamble is not part of the Constitution, it is merely a guide to the intentions of those who are responsible for it. Therefore, legally, the Federation can be dissolved.

 

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In this technological age it should be easy enough to take the pulse of the nation but only use that to ADVISE.

 

For example, it was obvious to blind Freddy that most of Australia preferred Turnbull to Abbott, Dutton, Scomo or anyone else in the LNP front bench.  I'm not sure if the LNP party room actually considered the public at all when they plotted to bring down Turnbull, but if they had some figures saying "86% of the population want Turnbull to remain PM" then perhaps they would have.

 

So perhaps for our head of state we could seek nominations, put the choice to the people in an online poll run by the AEC and use that to advise Parliament.  Then there would need to be a 2/3 majority to ratify them.

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1 hour ago, Marty_d said:

So perhaps for our head of state we could seek nominations, put the choice to the people in an online poll run by the AEC and use that to advise Parliament. 

The "pulse of the Nation" - isn't that the result of the popular vote? The problem we have when we go to vote for the House of Representatives and the Senate is that the dishes the politicians serve up are all-or-nothing concoctions. You might like one Party's plan for dealing with situation A, but prefer another Party'syt's plan for dealing with Situation B. With the system we have now, you can't have a little of Column A and a bit of Column B. You vote for one party and cop their whole stratagem.

 

At least with a separate vote for Head of State, with no other associated factors to consider, such as the Head's political leanings, the waters are not muddied.  But it still allows the politicians to choose the nominees. Whenever has a nominee not been one of the Establishment? We select an Australian of the Year without thought of political allegiance. The nominations for Head of State might follow that lead. However, the role does require a good knowledge of the duties and powers of the Head of State, so although he is popular, would one nominate "Alf" from Home and Away"?

 

Do we go with a "first past the post" result, or our preferential system of vote counting. Would the result either way be "final" or would a joint sitting of the Houses have to ratify the result, and if so, should the ratification rate should be lifted from 66% to 75 or 80%?

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Another thing to consider is that the Senate is necessary as a reviewer of legislation put up by the lower house, but in my opinion it should be entirely apolitical.  What the hell is the use of a second chamber that always votes along party lines?  The original intent was that senators should vote in the best interests of their state.  What's the chances of Eric Abetz departing from the (hard) right if the interests of Tasmania conflicted with his conservative ideology?

 

So here's an idea - how about we make the Senate like jury duty?  Everyone between 18 and retirement age, with no criminal record, is put up for random selection.  You serve a fixed term unless you have a damn good reason not to.

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2 hours ago, old man emu said:

Therefore, legally, the Federation can be dissolved.

I'll have to re-read the constitution to see if that's written into it. I don't know if there's ever been a high court judgement affirming that; there may be. The government used to go to great pains to tell us that Prince Leonard didn't legally secede, yet the tax department classified him as a non Australian resident for tax purposes. In the whole time of Hutt River Province, all revenue earned within their boundary was tax exempt. That consisted of the tourist dollar, but any income earned outside the province, for example wheat sales, attracted tax.

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Looking at all the other republics around the world, do we really want to emulate any of them.

It would be ridiculous to use the USA as an example. Most of the other small countries seem to end up with a dictator who wants to be boss for life. What I see of Frances' Macron reflects well on their system.

Some of our past G.Gs are better forgotten and those that do stack up well seem to be ex military.

As an aside I read in the Australian a few days ago that Peter Cosgrove has written a new book, in which he suggests that Kerr didn't o the right thing when he dismissed Whitlam. I hven't seen the book yet, but it should be a good read.

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What I quoted as the eight 'separate and distinct affirmations or declarations in the preamble' came from an official review of the Constitution. The contents of the preamble do not form part of the legal content of the Constitution. It is nothing more than a statement of objectives for what the Constitution is to do.

 

For example, Part 1 Division 2 Sub Division 3 (1)of the Work, Health and Safety Act says 

(1)  The main object of this Act is to provide for a balanced and nationally consistent framework to secure the health and safety of workers and workplaces by: then goes on to list how that is going to be done,  but does not create any do's and don'ts until Section 2.

 

I have to add another thing to appointing a Head of State. What happens if the Head of State dies or becomes mentally incapacitated?

 

At present the monarchy passes immediately to a successor upon the death of the reigning monarch, or a Regent can step in to carry out the duties if the reigning monarch becomes mentally incapacitated. If we are to appoint a Head of State by whatever means we agree to, then for the continuity of government we need to have a Deputy Head of State to fill the role under these circumstances. Perhaps, if we used the preferential system, then the person who comes in Number 2 would become the Deputy.

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13 hours ago, Marty_d said:

Another thing to consider is that the Senate is necessary as a reviewer of legislation put up by the lower house, but in my opinion it should be entirely apolitical.  What the hell is the use of a second chamber that always votes along party lines?  The original intent was that senators should vote in the best interests of their state.  What's the chances of Eric Abetz departing from the (hard) right if the interests of Tasmania conflicted with his conservative ideology?

 

So here's an idea - how about we make the Senate like jury duty?  Everyone between 18 and retirement age, with no criminal record, is put up for random selection.  You serve a fixed term unless you have a damn good reason not to.

This sounds great, but in practice, I don't think it can be really achieved. There is no chance that Abetzx will depart from his hard right position because someone's ideologiy is driven from the belief that it is best. So while whatever action he pursues based on his ideology is considered by most people as against their interest, he will be of the firm belief it is in their interests because he believes that is what is right. He is using a different yard stick to most people. In the same way, the suggestion of an apolitical chamber is a nigh-on impossibility - because individuals will review based on their version of what they think is politically right.. but I concede, it will be less along formal party alignment.

 

In terms of a head of state, my view is that we have a system now that more or less works.. Kerr being the real outlier, so once in over 200 years is not a bad record - and it is asserted he acted improperly anyway (my understanding is that he did not avail the PM the chance to speak to the queen before asking the queen to dsimiss the government - not sure if that is true or not).

 

If we look at the powers of the GG (from Wiki - as I am not going to read the contitution now, nor the plethora of other sources that define constitutional convention). Note, I have used the term ceremonial to denote on the advice of ministers/PM rather than hosptiality type ceremony such as receiving visiting dignitaries:

  • Appointing Ministers (largely ceremonial).
  • Appointing Judges (Australia seems to have a neutral base of high court judges - unlike the US).
  • Appointing diplomats (agains, largely ceremonial)
  • Assenting to legislation (a furphy to think the GG acts as any real final backstop review in case of a bicameral majority of the same party).
  • Issuing writs of elections (again - mainly ceremonial).
  • Appoint and dissolve parliament (shown to be a real power when not wanted to be).
  • Appoint a deputy (should cover the succession issue doe to mental incapacitation, above).
  • Swearing in and accepting parliamentarians' resignations
  • Apointment of the Federal Executive Council (again, mainly ceremonial)
  • Establishing government departments (mainly ceremonial)
  • Commander in Cheif of the ADF (ceremonial)
  • Royal perogative (which is actually usally assented to on advice of the government - so ceremonial and some are already noted)

 

Given the PM already has the power to appoint the GG and most of what they do is on advice of the PM and/or ministers, is there even a need for a GG at all - and our head of state is the PM as nominated by the majority of parliament? If we want a ceremonial head of state that the PM can go to for advice (in the same way as the UK has a weekly meeting with Lizzy), then fine. But, we have already voted the government in who nominate the PM who is in all practical terms the head of the state as virtually everything the GG does is on the advice of the PM or ministers. I think, form all of the above, you would remove from the perogative the right to appoint/dissolve parliament, and let parliament decide outside term limits (e.g. the double dissolution automatically dissolves parliament). I am not sure how judges are appointed, but whatever is being done to keep them relatively nuetral should be enshrined in the constitution. Then it won't matter if there is a GG, or if only the PM nominates the GG. No need for bipartisan or stipulated majorities.. We have voted who we want to run the country already.

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Perhaps the need for a Head of State is in response to the need for stability of government no matter who is PM. Let's face it. We've had more PM's in the past 20 years than there have been lives of parliaments.  The PM is elected by the majority Party holding government, and we have seen how the internal machinations of Party members have either severely distracted the PM from governing, or have actually done the Julius Caesar act on the PM.

 

One of the things that holds Australia out as a stable country is that its Head of State has been a steadying hand on the tiller of the ship of government.   For 120 years our Head of State might have been a monarch living in a distant country, but the monarch's representatives, bar one, have been bipartisan in the conduct of their duties. We have never tried to lynch a Governor-General, or a State Governor. We have not had the political fights that other countries have had to endure.

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All true, OME, but how much of Australia's stability is due to good old fashioned apathy?

 

My biggest beef is with regard to the lack of cohesion caused by running the country as though it is half a dozen separate countries all with their own laws. And pretending we are (dare I say it) "One Nation".

 

For instance;

We, the public, bear the cost of paying for a separate state department of education for each state, as well as another department of education run by the Federal Government. What a waste!

 

We have national standard building codes, but the final say on my house relies on an inspection by a local council inspector. It is subject to State and council Development Approval, which may include all kinds of different rules and limits which vary from council to council and state to state. What a waste!

 

The lack of continuity caused by our Separate States is counterproductive and is costing individuals, corporations and the nation as a whole by making it so difficult to compete in the world market.

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It is definitely ridiculous for  Nation with a population of only 25 million to have some things controlled by a Federal government (such as income tax) and others controlled by State governments (such as education). However we are getting some semblance of uniformity in WH&S and traffic law. The stupid thing is that, take WH&S law There is a Federal WH&S Act that covers activities on Federal land, while at the same time each State has a WH&S Act that virtually is a direct copy, word for word, of the Federal Act, but it applies on non-Federal land. For example, a roadworker working on the roundabout on Dight St Richmond is covered by the NSW WH&S Act, but a worker 50 metres down the entry road, over the speed humps, is covered by the Federal Act.

 

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The problem with framing consistent laws is the the Federal Government can only suggest to the States that they have the same wording in their laws. The States hold on rigorously to their sovereign rights. It can be good, though. Imagine if there was only Federal law. Would the State borders have been closed as they were to control COVID? On the other hand, could the bushfire disaster been handled better if the Federal Government had been able to come right in as soon as it became apparent that the situation was getting critical?

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Having one law fits all across the country would be stupid. We have seen in Qld, how the attempt to fit building codes fro other states is so stupid. There are whole subdivisions of Victorian type houses in Qld and they do not suit our climate. The building industry really shows how it can be financially  good thing to use interstate regulations for housing . They have done away with the house on high stumps, because slab on ground is cheaper, but they gave no thought to what happens when it rains, and does it rain in N Qld.

Several years ago I saw a subdivision of Victorian houses at Ingham and wondered why. First good flood and they all went under water.

Daylight saving is another thing states can't agree on. Why would you want to get up earlier and then have a longer hotter evening?

Governors may assent to legislation, but it makes not a jot of difference. When Qld did away with many Shire governments, it was done on a pack of lies by the Qld premier and the Governor wasn't in the least interested in the corruption used to get that legislation up.

The whole thing is really window dressing and we have had good and bad window dressers over the years. At least popular opinion eventually got id of the paedophile approver, who was appointed by our worst PM.

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