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Tuesday, 10 August 1999
Page: 7174

Senator LIGHTFOOT (8:56 PM) —Vox populi, vox dei: the voice of the people is the voice of God. And if the voice of the people on 6 November decides for a republic, then you will hear no more from me with respect to that subject. But I want to say something about that now before 6 November. At least one of the questions we must ask is what the best system of government is. No-one could deny that in the almost 100 years of federal politics and federal parliament in this country we have had one of the most enviable political systems in the world. There is no question about that.

We are in fact one of the four or five oldest continuous democracies in the world and yet we are one of the youngest, in terms of our country. Are we to give that away for a largely unknown system, a system that has not been proven, a system that is hybrid? At least the system that we sometimes refer to as the `Washminster' system that we have today—a cross between Washington and Westminster—has been proven to work. It has been proven to work because we were largely in those years a homogenous society. But we do not know whether the system that we may inherit in the future is going to work. I do not want to be part of the machinery of government that brings us into disrepute or brings insecurity or that changes that which we have that is secure, safe and proven in the country in which we live, one of the greatest countries on earth.

We are in effect a Crown republic. You hear Senator Cooney and others speak of a foreign head of state. We have had for some decades only an Australian as head of state. Yes, we do have a Queen of Australia, and that is unique. But there is nothing wrong in this world with having an unelected monarch as head, titular or absolute. Take our most significant trading partner, Japan: the United States and its allies in 1945 and 1946, under General McArthur, deemed the monarchical system in Japan as the best possible system for Japan. And they are our biggest trading partner. Do we denigrate Japan because they do not have an elected titular head?

The same goes for Thailand, for the revolving monarchical system in Malaysia, for the absolute ruler of Brunei and for the important part that the sovereign of Jogjakarta plays in the most populous nation north of us. And the same goes for New Zealand and for other countries around the world. Are we in this parliament going to denigrate those people and those nations that have an unelected head of state? Even the Swedes still tolerate—and, in some cases, revere—their head of state, the King of Sweden, whose family was put there by Napoleon as part of a quid pro quo for not invading Sweden. And still today that system endures. Sweden, on the other side, was arguably one of those systems, one of those particular governments that they would have liked Australia to be, but I do not think it suits Australia. Notwithstanding that, if we are going to adopt the Keating-Turnbull system of government we must tread very carefully.

Are you aware, Mr Acting Deputy President, that if we adopt the model as proposed for the referendum there will be no fewer than 69 different constitutional changes? I am not going to spell out all those constitutional changes, but they are quite significant. There is no minimalist McGarvie model. There can be no minimalist McGarvie model. There can be no minimalist model. We are going to make a fundamental change to our lives. I hope that if this change does happen—God forbid—it does work.

The nominations are the flaws in the model. Half will be politicians. That is the Nominations Committee. All are to be appointed by a Prime Minister, but the Prime Minister has the power of veto. He can ignore the recommendation of the committee anyway. Why would you want to set up a committee when one person, in the very antithesis of a democracy, can deny the nomination of that committee? Good quality candidates will as a result, I believe, not promote themselves or put their names forward if a veto is so readily available to the recommendation of the committee. You need bipartisan support, as we always have with referenda questions. If we do not get bipartisan support, or significantly so, it will fail, and I trust it will fail.

I do not want to pass on to my constituents or my children or my grandchildren a system that is flawed, particularly when that flawed system would replace a system that works well. Yes, you can go back to 1975, and say, `The system didn't work there.' I would argue that the system did. I would argue that only once before in the old British Empire, now the Commonwealth of Nations, has a Prime Minister been dismissed. Students of history may correct me, but I think it was Lord North that was sacked by George III for losing the American colonies. I would hate to see a Prime Minister of Australia sacked for losing Australia. That ought to be a salutary lesson for us. We are not established, as my dear friend and colleague Senator Robert Hill said, by a foreign parliament. We are established as a result of a progressive act of this parliament, assisted by the imperial parliament, to become totally independent. We are beholden to no-one. We are a proud, independent Crown republic—something unique in the world. We can join the ranks of the also-rans, but we are unique in the world.

I refer to those proposed slight amendments to the referendum question by the Prime Minister whereby we would mention both the Queen and the Governor-General being replaced with a President. Some would of course argue, as they have, that that is not enough, but it never is. When you give in, the one that makes the first offer always loses. Others want to take it a bit further. Others are saying that the present words should be replaced with `Australian President'. It is a tautology. I thought it was abundantly clear to everyone but the most stupid among us that it would be an Australian President. But if we say that, where does it stop? Do we then say that it should be the `Australian Queen'? That is what she is—she is Queen of Australia. Should `Queen of Australia' be replaced by `Australian President' or `Australian Governor-General'? Let us put `Australia' before `Governor-General'. Let us put `Australia' before `Queen'. The argument is completely fallacious. It is not a valid argument.

I thought the Prime Minister went more than halfway towards agreeing with some of those who were belly-aching because they could see the numbers on the wall. They are good at doing numbers. Senator Forshaw is good at numbers. They could see the numbers on the wall that it was not going to work. You were finding that your people were leaving you in droves because you want the model that allows a President to be elected by two-thirds of parliament and then allows that President to be dismissed by a Prime Minister at his whim; by the Prime Minister writing to the President, saying, `You are dismissed.' Full stop. Period. Nothing more. What an awful thing to replace one of the greatest systems in the world.

Senator Forshaw —Rubbish.

Senator LIGHTFOOT —Senator Forshaw said that Australia does not have one of the greatest systems in the world. I am surprised by that. Tertiary educated Senator Forshaw says `rubbish' to one of the great systems of Australia. I can tell you, Senator Forshaw, that in Northern Ireland they would like to have our system. In Northern Ireland they would like to have something like what we are proposing. Only the most bigoted Irish Catholics would not accept that, and only the most tormented of our Protestants would not accept that. That is why there is trouble there.

I want a system for my country, for my constituents, for my children and for my grandchildren that works. I do not want to experiment with their future. It is their future. Never before, except in time of war, will the young people of Australia have a more serious conundrum to answer: do they want to retain a system that works, that gives them security, that is the envy of the world, or do they want a system that cannot be demonstrated to be working anywhere else in the world? This is not the Swiss system—the cantonments there control the federal parliament of Switzerland. This is not the United States system we are proposing where the President is directly elected. This is not the German system. But I will tell you this: there are countries throughout the world that have replaced their monarch to their detriment, to their sorrow, and where vast damage was done.

Some examples that spring to mind very quickly are Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, followed then perhaps by Tsar Nicholas of Russia and then Franco, who overthrew the Spanish monarch and then on his death restored the Spanish monarch. There are plenty of these examples that show you that, if transition is not smooth and if transition does not have bipartisan support, we are in for trouble. Senator Cooney mentioned Dorothea Mackellar, who wrote My Country:

I love a sunburnt country,

A land of sweeping plains,

Of rugged mountain ranges,

Of droughts and flooding plains.

I love her far horizons,

I love her jewel-sea,

Her beauty and her terror—

The wide brown land for me!

That is My Country . I do not want radical change. I do not want anything even coming close to revolution. I want the system that evolves to be that which is best for the people of Australia, that is best for my state of Western Australia and my children and my grandchildren. I do not want a system based on bigotry. I do not want a system that is based on old hatreds. I do not want a system except that which offers something better than the one we have. And no-one is prepared to tell me how much better any new system, any model you want to give me—a direct elected President; a President elected by two-thirds of parliament—is going to be; how much more bread it is going to put on the table, how much it is going to drop unemployment, how much it is going to bring in health terms to Aboriginal people, how much it is going to lower our national debt. No-one has told me these important things yet, and I will be waiting for those who speak opposite to tell me how much more benefit it is going to have for us.

I do not know whether there is that much more I can say. Even if Senator Forshaw has not got my message yet, I think that he could probably listen a bit longer. But there is one more important thing I want to say, and that is: what is the role of the states? What happens constitutionally if the federal government chooses to go to a republic or the people of Australia choose a federal republic? Does that mean that the states automatically will be forced to go along? Does that mean that Western Australia, Queensland and some of the smaller states will be forced to follow? Does that mean we will have our Constitution overlooked in those states? Does it mean that the High Court in its omnipotence that has not been changed, where we at least had one last appellate court of appeal to the Privy Council, will deem in all its authority that, because the federal government went to a republic, all the states must go to a republic too? Does that mean that a republic and a monarchical system in one, two or more states is incompatible with the federal system?

These are questions—and they are serious questions—that we must ask. The path to a republic is not strewn with roses and flower petals; it is a serious question that we must all face. But it comes down to the people in this house, in this chamber, as to whether we decide on a republic or whether we decide to retain the present system. Because, if we do not have bipartisan support—if we do not have nearly bipartisan support—it will not be successful.

Some of the republicans have already said that they can smell defeat, and may that be so. But they have already said, `If it fails this time, we will whack it up again in a couple of years time.' I do not think that is on. I think one day we will have a republic. We are not ready for it yet, and we will not be ready for it for a long time to come. But I ask you in my closing words to consider what Premier Richard Court said at the Convention. He said:

The states' position on this issue of change to the Constitution is fundamental.

I remind the chamber that it was the states that created the Commonwealth, not the other way around. So far, I have heard no-one speak about the states' position. I have heard no argument put about the states. I have heard no-one in this house say that the states are fundamental to the massive change that we are about to question. At worst, the states not wanting to become a republic could secede from the federation. At best, each state would have to re-write its own Constitution, have its own President and establish its own rules for nomination, appointment and dismissal processes. To facilitate a move to a republic, a state referendum would be required to amend provisions of the Constitution Act of Western Australia, including those relating to the Governor.

It is not a simple move. Please, I ask through the chamber to the people of Australia: think seriously about what you do on 6 November. It is not that far off in terms of our history. Ask seriously what you can do. There is no minimalist change. Do not give up something that has been tried and true and is the envy of the world for something of which we know not much about.