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Republic? More Power For Politicians (p6 of 11)


The principal slogan of the Republican Movement is "An Australian as Head of State". They say an Australian should replace the Queen as head of state for this nation. Their campaigning to this time has included extensive reference to the fact that the Queen and, more particularly, other members of the royal family represent Britain and not Australia in international trade and sporting events. They fail to explain what 'head of state' means. Also, they fail to explain that it is by agreement entered into in 1926 that the Governor-General represents Australia (as part of the recognition of Australia's independence) while the Queen represents United Kingdom.

Interestingly, the term 'head of state' is itself misleading. Historically, 'head of state' was a term only applicable to Republics. Therefore, it is not surprising that the term does not appear in the Constitution. If the term does have application to Australia under our present system of government, we must define the term.

In Republics, the term 'head of state' normally applies to the person who exercises executive authority, signs legislation into law, commissions and receives diplomats, signs the commissions of officers of the armed forces and opens parliament. These are the functions of the Governor-General. If Australia becomes a Republic, these will become the functions of the President. Would the President be head of state because he would be responsible to exercise those functions? If the answer is "Yes", then (if Australia has a 'head of state' now) the Governor-General must be the 'head of state' now.

The Governor-General is an Australian, his many recent predecessors have been Australians and it is unthinkable that any future Governor-General might not be Australian. The office of Governor-General is open to all Australians. Of course, the Republicans' cry that the 'office' of Queen is not open to Australians is true but is totally irrelevant.

The Queen has no power or function in or in relation to Australia except to appoint the Governor-General and formally to terminate his appointment if ever that became necessary on the advice of the Prime Minister. Neither she nor the British government nor anyone in Britain chooses or recommends the person to be appointed Governor-General. The Queen makes the appointment on the advice of the Prime Minister of Australia alone and termination of appointment would also be on his advice alone.

Although the Queen appears to act simply as a 'rubber stamp' for the Prime Minister in appointing the Governor-General, there are two advantages over direct appointment by the Prime Minister. The first is the symbolism that should remind the Governor-General, the government and the people of Australia that the Governor-General's powers and discretions are subject to the royal oath of office. The second is that there is a 'buffer' between the Prime Minister and a hasty appointment (or dismissal).

The proposals for the appointment of a President are that a committee of 32 people (including 8 members of Federal Parliament, one member from each of the State and Territory Parliaments, and 16 persons chosen by the Prime Minister who are not members of a Parliament) would recommend a short list of names to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister would then, in a joint sitting of the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, move that a named Australian citizen be chosen as the President. If the Prime Minister's motion is seconded by the leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives, and affirmed by a two thirds majority of the total number of the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, the named Australian citizen is chosen as President (proposed section 60).

Features of this proposal include the following:

Although this proposal does not appear to introduce any real limitation on the Prime Minister that restricts his ability to exercise a personal subjective choice, there might be some people who think the proposal a good one. Even so, it would be no reason to vote 'Yes' at the Referendum. If this proposal is a good idea it could be applied to the present system by ordinary legislation without destroying the historic basis of government.

Under the proposed section 62 of the Constitution it would be in the personal discretion of the Prime Minister to remove the President from office. If the Prime Minister does remove the President, he must seek the approval of the House of Representatives within thirty days. Although the Prime Minister must seek approval of his action within 30 days (if the House of Representative has not been dissolved or expires within that time) the approval he needs is a simple majority of the members of the House of Representatives. The Senate is not consulted. Interestingly, if a majority of members of the House of Representatives does not approve the removal, the President is not reinstated. The effect of this section is that it is entirely in the personal power of a Prime Minister to remove. a President whenever he chooses.

The present 'reserve power' of the Governor-General to remove a Prime Minister might continue for a President, but this is uncertain. The question would be whether an unexpressed 'reserve power' to dismiss a Prime Minister would continue in the face of an expressed power for the Prime Minister to dismiss a President. However that question might be answered, the reality under the proposed arrangements would be that the Prime Minister would be in full control. This is made clear by the proposed section 59.

Written and authorised by Dr David Mitchell,
18 Proctors Rd. Dynnyrne, Tasmania 7005

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Resource: Printed: 2022-06-26
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