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  Issue No 11 Official Organ of LaborNet 30 April 1999  




Guest Report

Neville Wran on the Yes Campaign

Campaigning for the republic referendum has begun and republicans everywhere must take to the campaign trail with vigour.

There is an assumption abroad that because of the enthusiasm generated by the Constitutional Convention a year ago, we the electors are on top of the issues and fully understand what the referendum is all about.

The reality is that misconception and misinformation about the referendum, and its subject matter, is rife throughout the Australian community.

From the republican point of view it is imperative to keep it simple.

Also, it is easy to keep it simple, because the substance of the question - preamble included or not - is: "Do we Australians want an Australian as our Head of State?"

United or disunited, all republicans - irrespective of their view as to the mode of election or appointment -can reasonably be expected to support this fundamental proposition.

Indeed the majority of Australians have in their hearts and minds already answered the question "Do Australians want an Australian as their Head of State?" with a resounding "Yes". It's probable that a great number of Australians had already answered "Yes" to that question by the end of last year's Constitutional Convention.

The task is to rid the debate of misinformation and misconception; to emphasise and re-emphasise the simplicity of the fundamental referendum question; and to make it clear that there is no menu of options from which to choose and that a "Yes" or "No" answer is required.

The next important task for republicans who want to have the republic in place at the turn of the century, is to compare the stability, the safety and the reasonableness of the model to be submitted to the people at the referendum with the proposals advanced by those who advocate a general election to elect the president.

The direct electionists are irreconcilably divided. None of their models cobbled together at the Constitutional Convention addressed the power of the Senate to create a constitutional impasse and, hence, the need for an impartial umpire, in the form of a president, to resolve the impasse.

Whilst superficially embracing a motherhood principle - that of the popular vote - this approach is a recipe for chaos and confusion and, in the light of day and commonsense, does not bear scrutiny.

By now it is abundantly clear that in the final analysis what Australians do not want is a politician as their Head of State. I share that view.

Politicians carry all sorts of political baggage with them, not the least of which are policies and other commitments stemming from their political party allegiance, past or present.

Under the direct-electionists proposals, each political party would nominate a candidate for the presidential election. Once nominated, each candidate would have the financial support of his or her political party, and resources of the political parties would be thrown behind the various candidates.

The candidates would espouse policies - some consistent, some in conflict, with the policies of the government of the day - and a full-blooded election campaign would ensue. It would be entirely predictable that serving Federal and State politicians would join in the campaign to support the candidate of their parties' choice. At the end of the day, one candidate would win the election and become President.

Does anyone believe that the winner would at that moment exchange his or her biased political coat for an impartial one, free of bias and political commitment to the Party which helped him/her become President? To believe that, is to believe that there are fairies at the bottom on the garden.

One result of such a political campaign is that you could end up with an ALP President and a Liberal PM or vice versa - hardly a recipe for good stable government. Rather a ready-made recipe for conflict and instability.

Direct elections will produce political presidents. In the Australian context, once that is understood, and accepted, the direct-electionists' case is destroyed.

Even if a candidate was not a politician, within the popular meaning of that term, when the campaign for President commenced, he or she would certainly be a politician by the time the campaign ended.

We cannot have our cake and eat it too. Australians want one of their own as the Head of State. At the same time, they do not want the present system of parliamentary democracy interfered with.

That, however, is exactly what the Ted Mack (or is it the Ted Mack/Peter Reith) proposal would do. Ted Mack wants the President to be an executive American-style President, with the attendant structures which are part of the U.S. system. There is no room for the Prime Minister. Cabinet Ministers could be appointed without the benefit of election by the people.

Mr. Mack's proposal needs to be fully ventilated. He wants to dismantle our Westminster system and replace it with some poor relation of the U.S. system. The sooner the public knows that the better. What he is on about is an executive president - a political president. The Ted Mack proposal is the classic instance of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Another direct-electionists, Mr Clem Jones, has a proposal which is completely at odds with Mr Ted Mack's American system. Mr Jones seemingly wants to retain some of the features of our so-called Westminster system, but his proposal, as articulated at the Constitutional Convention, fails to confront the power of the Senate and the Constitutional impasse the Senate can create. He seems content to have a political president and leaves the impasse unresolved in the vagueness and uncertainty of the language and terms of his proposal.

Already fifty-nine per cent (59%) of Australian electors are in favour of the preferred model.

At every critical stage of the process provided by that model, the Australian public is involved and the final approval of the nominee for president, by a two-thirds majority of both Houses of Parliament, means that the successful candidate will have bipartisan support - because never in the history of Federation has any one party commanded such a majority.

In other word, the preferred model delivers:

- An Australian as our Head of State;

- An Australian who is not a politician;

- An Australian selected by a process characterised by the involvement of the public.

- An Australian who is capable of being impartial in the resolution of a Constitutional impasse.

The preferred model provides a step in the right direction of constitutional reform.

It provides an opportunity, at long last, to have one of our own as Head of State, with the prospect of further reform once this critical first step has been taken.

But this is only the first step. Last year's Constitutional Convention resolved that, if a republican system of government was introduced by referendum, then not less than three years, or more than five years thereafter, the Commonwealth Government should convene a further Constitutional Convention with two-thirds of the delegates to such convention being directly elected by the people.

The referendum vote in November is not the last step in this historic process: it is the first step - the step which will give us the right to have one of our own - an Australian as Head of State - and within a short time to have the process committed to the scrutiny of a further Constitutional Convention, with the prospect of such changes as the Constitutional Convention deems necessary.

We must take this historic opportunity to vote for an Australian Head of State. The opportunity that the referendum offers may not be available again in our lifetime.


*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 11 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: The Young Republican
Jason Yat-Sen Li stole the show at the Constitutional Convention with his community consultation compromise. Now he faces a bigger challenge, convincing Australia to vote Yes.
*  Unions: ACTU Moves on the Republic
The ACTU Executive has endrosed the Australian Republic -- but it's given Howard's Preamble the short shrift it deserves.
*  History: And A Hundred Years Ago
Just as it was a hundred years ago, it is important that trade unions and their members are actively involved in the current republic debate.
*  Reader's Forum: John Passant
A Workers Online reader explains why he'll be voting "no".
*  Review: Mountain Men and Women Framed
Working Lives, a history of working people from the Blue Mountains, looks back to illuminate future challenges.
*  Labour Review: What's New at the Information Centre
View the latest issue of Labour Review, Labor Council's fortnightly newsletter for unions.
*  International: Performers on the World Stage
Australian performers know better than most the importance of identity, self and place. That's why they are committed Republicans.

»  Unions Challenge: Reclaim the Republic
»  Freeloader Legislation on the Agenda
»  Unions� New Years Eve Plea
»  Skill Shortage Leads to Tiling Crisis
»  Apprentice Chefs Get Fairer Share of the Pie
»  Rail Workers Strike for Passenger Safety
»  Living Wage Sparks New Activity
»  ACTU Endorses East Timor Action
»  WorkCover Troubles Can�t Hit Injured Workers
»  NSW Young Labor Turns 50!

»  Guest Report
»  Sport
»  Trades Hall
»  Piers Watch

Letters to the editor
»  Computer Decision Can;t Be Taken Lightly
»  Unionists Return From Timor
»  Latham Misses the Marx
»  Help Another Student

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