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Tuesday, 20 April 1999
Page: 3855

Senator BROWN —My question is to the Special Minister of State. Is it true that the republic model to be put to Australians at this year's referendum provides for instant dismissal of the president by the Prime Minister with no road to restoration for the president no matter how popular or correct he or she has been? Is there any other country on earth which gives this power to a prime ministerial equivalent? Is there anywhere on earth where the president will be so vulnerable and potentially miserable?

Senator ELLISON (Special Minister of State) —The proposed section 62 of the Constitution Alteration Bill proposes that the Prime Minister have the power to remove the president by written notice, and that is of immediate effect. The proposed section 63 then provides for an acting president to take that place.

In relation to the question that Senator Brown has asked, in accordance with current practice, the Prime Minister has an existing power to remove the Governor-General, and it is something which the government fol lowed from the communique of the Constitutional Convention. The Constitutional Convention required, however, that the Prime Minister did have to seek the approval of the House of Representatives within 30 days, and that has been accommodated in the legislation. A slight variation in the government's proposal is that, if the Prime Minister is defeated in that vote in the House of Representatives, it is not taken as an automatic vote of no confidence. However, it is a matter of fact that you would get political reality that would flow from that: you could well have a resignation by the Prime Minister; you could have the acting president remove the Prime Minister for an act of dismissal which was not supported by the House of Representatives. So the government is of a view that there is enough political sanction there to affect any vote by the House of Representatives which would overrule the Prime Minister's dismissal of the president.

This is part of a draft bill which is open for discussion. Submissions were asked for by 16 April. If Senator Brown wants to make a submission on this, there is still time to put that in. I will take it on board if he has a concern about that. But as I understand it, there would be nothing to stop a president who had been removed from standing for re-election at a subsequent time. So whichever way you look at it there are safeguards there, and the provision is in keeping with the current situation.

I might just advise the Senate, whilst we are on the aspect of the referendum, that when this matter was last before the Senate there was some comment about public education. Senator Brown might be interested to know this. The expert advisory panel has been appointed today by the government. That advisory panel will provide advice on proposed materials to ensure that the public education program is fair and balanced. Sir Ninian Stephen will be the chair of that panel. The other four members are Professor Cheryl Saunders, Professor Geoffrey Blainey, Dr Colin Howard QC and Dr John Hirst.

Senator BROWN —As a supplementary question, I ask the minister whether the provisions under this constitution that the government is making for the dismissal by one member of parliament, albeit the Prime Minister, of a president appointed by two-thirds of both houses of parliament could have led to a situation in Tasmania in 1989 where the then Premier, Robin Gray, would have been able to sack the Prime Minister and prevent the establishment of the Labor-Green accord government. I repeat the question: can the minister cite one country anywhere on earth which makes a president so vulnerable to a prime minister that he can be dismissed on a simple written note by the prime minister with no redress and no avenue for his restitution to office?

Senator ELLISON (Special Minister of State) —I have already said that this situation exists in Australia at the moment and has existed since Federation 98 years ago. But I can say to Senator Brown that there are safeguards in this; they are safeguards which were recognised by the Constitutional Convention last year and they have been accommodated.

Senator Brown —Madam President, I raise a point of order. The current Prime Minister cannot sack the Queen.

The PRESIDENT —Senator, I think you are debating the issue. There is an appropriate time to do that. There is no point of order.

Senator ELLISON —The Queen does it on the Prime Minister's advice. It is taken as a matter of form that the Queen would follow the Prime Minister's actions and advice and do that. I say to the Senate that we do have the safety of an approval mechanism, a ratification mechanism, by the House of Representatives, which has to take place within 30 days.