(DO WE NEED A)
Despair of a republican
BY DEREK STRAHAN
All Rights Reserved Copyright (C) 1999 Derek Strahan
Derek Strahan is a Sydney-based free-lance writer and composer. He holds a BA Cantab degree in Modern Languages (French & Spanish)
Despair provokes me to write this plea for rationality in the ongoing debate about whether or not Australia should become a Republic. Despair, because, in its current phase, the debate consists of adversaries bashing each other with slogans. Despair, because words are being used loosely, with little regard for meaning. Despair, because the entire debate is centering around who should replace the Queen and Governors in a Republic, and how this person should be appointed. Despair, because this question is a furphy, and because no one is debating whether or not such a replacement is needed!
It seems to me that there are three primary issues to be addressed, in considering if Australia should become an independent republic. (In the following by the term "leader" is meant "chief executive"). The three primary issues are:
1) How the leader is chosen.
2) How the leader can be sacked.
3) Who owns or has title to the land which makes up the nation.
As regards a leader, I would prefer to live in a country whose leader is elected by universal suffrage, rather than in a country ruled by a leader who inherits power because of birth. The problem is that Australia has both systems, so the choice is not straightforward.. As most of us know, Great Britain has no written constitution. It is governed according to a body of law established by precedent over many centuries and this constitutes the law of the land. Since there is no written constitution, there is no special restraint on altering laws by Parliament, and major changes can be made without special majorities or referenda, sometimes in only a day. To speak of constitutional monarchy, then, is misleading, since it implies that the monarchy is bound by a given set of restrictions. It is not. It is only bound by custom, and that custom is entirely dependent on what is called royal assent.
Is this system of government relevant to Australia today? Not unless you retain the monarchy. It seems to me that if you don't retain the monarchy, then you have to find equivalents for the safeguards which monarchy is seen to provide against abuse of power by rulers. Under law, at present, the real rulers of Australia are the various Governors, State and Federal, since they represent the authority of the Crown, and Parliament only acts by royal assent (of the Crown), of which the governors are the legal representatives. A question to ask is: do we want a ruler, or do we want a leader? Monarchs rule, and the people they rule are subject to the rule of the monarch. In law, at present, all Australians are subjects of Her Majesty. Under a secular government, the leader does not rule: he, or she serves. The people the leader serves are citizens. Which is preferable? To be ruled or to be served. Most Australians, I think, would prefer their leader to serve them, rather than to rule them. They would rather be citizens than subjects.
The simple solution to the question of how to elect the President of the Republic of Australia is to have no President. Or, if we must have a President, let us rename the Prime Minister, and call him or her, the President. Let's not get fixated on names! What we are talking about is executive power.
If this course is taken, then it remains to devise a means by which the people can sack the Prime Minister/President, if necessary. This power should surely reside not in one person (as at present), but in the law. The judiciary must have the power to impeach, and limits to the power of the leader must be defined in law. The U.S. manages this issue effectively, in accordance with its written Constitution. Unlike Britain, Australia does have a written Constitution which surely must be modified to reflect the new reality of a Republic.
The Monarchy has indicate that it will withdraw from Australia, if that is the will of the Australian people. If it does withdraw, it becomes vital for Australians to know what laws will be enacted by our own Parliament to determine in what statutory body is invested primary ownership of the land which constitutes the nation. The debate on land title should become an intrinsic part of the debate on the republic.
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