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Republic: debate on the referendum.



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SANDY McCUTCHEON: Welcome to the program. The referendum on whether Australia becomes a republic or not is now less than a month away, and both the yes and no camps have launched their campaigns. At first glance the glossy television commercials are similar. Both sides present Australia as a diverse country that we should be proud of. The yes case argues we’ve advanced and grown and should stand on our own and that the proposed model won’t substantially change our system of government. But the no campaign, an alliance of both constitutional monarchists and republicans who reject the model on offer, says the so-called minimalist model puts our safe and stable government at risk.

 

Perhaps surprisingly, the Queen doesn’t seem to be an issue for either side, and a poll out today shows that those voting no are more concerned that they can’t vote directly for the president than a fervent desire to retain the Queen as head of state.

 

The no campaign slogan: Vote no to the politicians’ republic. And tonight, on Australia talks back , is the no campaign scaremongering when it urges us to retain the status quo or risk stability and success? Or is there more to the minimalist republican model than meets the eye? Is, as the no campaign argues, the devil in the detail?

 

The number to ring, right around the country, 1800 802 341.

 

David Elliott is from the Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, one of the groups who make up the no campaign. Welcome, David to the program.

 

DAVID ELLIOTT: Thank you.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: So what message is the no campaign selling voters in the next four weeks?

 

DAVID ELLIOTT: Our message is quite clear. Our message is that you have a system of government that has succeeded for nearly 100 years, a system of government that has survived war, peace, famine, prosperity, a system of government that is the envy of the world - five million immigrants can’t be wrong. And you’re asking us, Mr Turnbull, and the ARM is asking us to sacrifice that stability, sacrifice that unique part of Australian society and replace it with something that is untried and untested, replace it with something that even the most learned constitutional lawyers suggest is questionable, and replace it with a system of government where only the politicians can vote for the head of state.

 

Now, it just doesn’t make sense, and so ACM is saying: be cautious, vote no. Remember that many people have spent years and years and years designing the Australian Constitution and don’t replace it with something that was drafted in the last four days of the Constitutional Convention.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: So David, why no mention of the Queen?

 

DAVID ELLIOTT: We’ve mentioned the Queen quite regularly. And Australians for Constitutional Monarchy was established because we want to remind people that the sovereign, the Queen, and the constitutional monarchy that she represents, is the cornerstone of our great system of government. But the republicans have set the agenda. The yes republicans have given us such a pathetic option that debate has moved on. This debate has been going for eight years and for seven of those years yes, it was: do you want the Queen or do you want an Australian head of state? Do you want an Australian president?

 

And we’re saying we have a sovereign, we have the Queen, we have an Australian head of state in the Governor-General. But you’re asking us to replace that with what type of model? And we scratch the surface, and their model is a politician’s president, a politician’s republic and a system of government where the president can be sacked by the prime minister, and a system of government where the president is answerable to nobody but the prime minister.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: David, the no campaign is urging voters to reject this republican model, and almost implicit in that is an acceptance that a republic is inevitable.

 

DAVID ELLIOTT: Well no, that’s not true. That’s the type of hype that the ARM’s putting out. The no case is made up of real republicans, the no case is made up of constitutional monarchists and there’s a broad church, a broad coalition of people that are opposed to this model. So there are lots of people in the no case, including the 30,000 members of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy that are saying: we have a system of government called constitutional monarchy and it works, therefore say no.

 

But political life as it is in Australia, we’ve got a coalition with people who are real republicans. Now, we respect their opinion and we respect the fact that they want to say things like: well, if you’re going to have a president let’s make sure that h e’s voted for by the people.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Let me just finally raise some of the issues which seem to muddy the waters from time to time, and one of them is constitutional monarchists like Senator Bronwyn Bishop mentioning the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazism in the context of this campaign, others pointing to Indonesia as a republic we might emulate if a yes vote wins. What evidence is there that Australia would ever become like either of those two countries, and if not, why mention them?

 

DAVID ELLIOTT: I’m surprised that people are so offended by the fact that there’s a lot of people using this opportunity to talk about history. Why can’t you mention other republics? We’ve been talking about the American republic, Ted Mack will talk about the American republic and that is a system of government. The Weimar Republic was a historical lesson that people learnt when you have an impotent president. That’s the only thing Minister Bishop was saying. We were also using examples of the Indian Republic, the Chinese Republic, the Chilean republic, the Republic of Fiji, the Republic of South Africa. What’s wrong? Have the thought police gone mad? Have we now become so politically correct in Australia that we can’t mention those republics that we all feel are unsavoury? We’re just talking about politics here. There should not be taboo words when it’s an open and robust debate.

 

I think these republicans have all of a sudden become so thin-skinned and so nervous that they’re trying to censor us. I just can’t believe that type of behaviour.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: David, thank you very much indeed for your time. David Elliott, from the Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, arguing the no case. And we’ll hear from Ted Mack, a member of the no committee shortly, and of course from some republicans as well.

 

John, in Brisbane, welcome.

 

JOHN: You may be surprised to know that I’m not frightened at all to say things as they should be, and I observed the whole of the Constitutional Convention there in the old Parliament House. I am a member of the Australian Republic Movement, helped set it up in Queensland, so I’m not frightened at all.

 

The real issue here is that the Prime Minister at the present moment is the only one who has a say in terms of who will be the Governor -General. That’s no say for the people of Australia, and of course what is proposed by the bipartisan model is that the people of Australia, for the first time, will have a say. They will nominate whoever they want to as a suitable president. There would be a review committee which constitutes a diverse group of all the cross-spectrum, 32 members, and they actually draw up a short list and present it to the Prime Minister who is supposed to take it to the Leader of the Opposition and seek a consensus about the most suitable name.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: So do you see the no campaign as scaremongering?

 

JOHN: It’s worse than scaremongering. It’s totally misrepresenting the position, because they keep saying that it is the politicians electing the president. It is not correct. What then happens is that the Prime Minister moves the motion about the agreed, most suitable candidate, the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives seconds that motion to indicate the consensus and then the whole of the joint sitting of all of the members of parliament representing everybody in Australia votes to confirm the people’s nomination. That’s what you’re not hearing.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Thank you very much indeed, John, from Brisbane. Let’s go to Ted.

 

TED: Sandy, it’s a great time slot but my lunches are a little less exciting these days.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Mine too.

 

TED: Mate, I think the whole Constitutional Convention has been flawed since the government had the opportunity to appoint the first 50 per cent of the delegates.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: So you’re saying the process was doomed right from the start?

 

TED: I think so, and the whole process, you could pick out a whole myriad of different things. But I think the essential thing that people aren’t looking at is: if the question was does Australia want to cut the apron strings from Great Britain and get rid of the Queen, you’d have 90 per cent voting yes tomorrow. But I think they’re trying to, as has been said, muddy all the waters and make things much more complicated.

 

And there are too many issues that weren’t dealt with, such as the problems with a dual head of state and other problems like that. But I just think there are people who have vested interests that didn’t want it to work out that way. And I think it will fail in three states - in Western Australia, Tasmania and Queensland.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Ted, we’ll watch your prediction. Thanks very much for your call. We’ll go to Newcastle, and Brian.

 

BRIAN: I was going to suggest an alternative to solve the impasse between the two republican models and actually present a symbol of Australian egalitarianism and that will be to have no head of state at all.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Yes, but it’s a little bit late in this whole debate with the referendum basically knocking at our door for us to go down that track at the moment, isn’t it, surely?

 

BRIAN: I think it raises the question if we’re going to have the possibility of a direct election later on, as Kim Beazley’s proposing, then we can perhaps think of other models. I’m surprised that it was never actually discussed at the Constitutional Convention seriously to actually look at what the role of this head of state is. And what we’re going to end up with is basically just another president like the hundred or so other presidents that turn up at the UN every now and again for a free feed.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: So you think this minimalist model is just a little too minimalist and we’re missing a chance to actually make some real changes?

 

BRIAN: And actually put an Australian stamp on our form of democracy and say something to the rest of the world. I don’t think anyone outside Australia is going to bat an eyelid when we have another president who just looks like everyone else’s president.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: All right, Brian, thank you very much for your call.

 

Let’s bring in Professor Cheryl Saunders who’s Deputy Chair of the Constitutional Centenary Foundation. Cheryl, welcome to the program.

 

CHERYL SAUNDERS: Thanks, Sandy.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Now, the no campaign says under this model the president will be appointed by politicians, not the people. Is that a flaw in the republican model?

 

CHERYL SAUNDERS: It depends on how you think the president should be appointed. It’s true, of course, that literally two-thirds of the parliament must take the final step that leads to the appointment of the president. As you know, a long and complicated process goes on before that, which does include a public nomination procedure which was one of the elements of the model that was added to it by the convention to try and bring some of the direct election republicans on board. So it depends. Really, it’s a matter of preference at that point, Sandy.

 

But one of the helpful things that the foundation has found in trying to explain the model to Australians is to compare it with present arrangements. If we’re not shooting for the most perfect possible model, how at least do these things match up with what we presently do? And, of course, at present we have a system under which the Prime Minister advises the Queen on who to appoint as Governor-General. So on that analysis, under either model, you have politicians having the final say.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: But in a slightly more democratic way, but just slightly?

 

CHERYL SAUNDERS: Under the proposed model?

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Yes.

 

CHERYL SAUNDERS: Yes, I think it is more democratic, if you regard your democracy as involving a wider range of people or the representatives of a wider range of people. Clearly under the proposed model there would be more elected representatives and through them more people involved, and I think a little more transparency.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Government these days, Cheryl, is dominated by the executive, the cabinet and Prime Minister who aren’t directly elected to their positions. Can you understand why many people want a direct say in who our head of state is?

 

CHERYL SAUNDERS: Yes, I can understand it, and I think on a number of fronts. One of the ways in which we try to think about our representative democracy sometimes, or one of the ways in which the politicians talk about, is to say you have your choice at election time. You know, every three years, every four years you vote and in between elections it’s very much our style to say the government and the parliament is entitled to get on with it. And I think that there’s a bit of an attitude out there that says: well, if elections are so important let’s have this other one as well.

 

So there is that, and I think that there is an inherent interest in checks and balances amongst the Australian people, and they sometimes see a directly elected president as being part of that as well.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Cheryl, I’m interested in a remark that you slipped in, and that was almost an aside when you said ‘if we are not shooting for the best possible model’. It makes me feel that perhaps you feel the minimalist model is too minimalist.

 

CHERYL SAUNDERS: No, I wasn’t trying to imply that. I think that everybody has their own view about what would be the best model in any circumstance, whether we’re talking about the republic or any other aspect of the Constitution. But the reality of life is that constitutions are always a compromise between a wide range of people and our debate on this republican model is no exception. It may get up or it may not, but if it does it will have been a model that has been crafted to bring on board a broad coalition of Australians, just as the original Constitution was.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Cheryl, dismissal of the prime minister by the president or vice versa is an issue many people are concerned about.

 

CHERYL SAUNDERS: Yes.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: How would the dismissal powers change under this republican model?

 

CHERYL SAUNDERS: As opposed to the present system?

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Yes.

 

CHERYL SAUNDERS: Under the present system the Queen would dismiss the governor-general on the advice of the prime minister. There’s no doubt about that. The only question about which the various contending groups do disagree is how long it would take the Queen to act. I don’t know if you saw the Financial Review this morning, but there’s an article in there by Malcolm Fraser and Doug Anthony who say that, in their view, it might take as short a period as a couple of hours.

 

But, nevertheless, on any view there would be some delay under the present system in the dismissal of a governor-general. Under the proposed model the dismissal would happen instantly. The prime minister can sign an instrument and the president would be dismissed. So if all you focus on is the actual moment of dismissal, then there is a delay built into the present system which wouldn’t be there.

 

If you stand back a bit and look at the system more widely, there are some other relevant factors, and one of those is that under the present system the prime minister also can choose the person who would take over from the governor-general. Under the proposed model the prime minister would have no sole control over that.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Cheryl, just briefly before we take some more calls, overall what do you make of the no campaign’s case that we risk stable and safe government if we vote yes?

 

CHERYL SAUNDERS: My own view is that the stability and success of our system of government has got not a huge amount to do with the head of state. Of course the system of government as a whole and the head of state is relevant to it in that sense, but our success lies in our democracy, the willingness of both our people and their representatives to play by the rules and in our independent court system interpreting and applying our Constitution. Those are the keys to the quality of our government.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Cheryl, I’ll come back to you. Our guest, Professor Cheryl Saunders, Deputy Chair of the Constitutional Centenary Foundation.

 

In a moment we’ll be joined by a man who’s seen the way the Constitution operates first hand for years, and that’s Harry Evans, the Clerk of the Senate. It will be a pleasure to have him with us in just a moment or two.

 

But we’ll go to Kalgoorlie first a nd Vera. Hello, Vera.

 

VERA: Sandy, I would dearly like to ask a question to your guests. I am a republican and I would much rather vote for a president myself, but I find that the debate has been hijacked in many ways, probably by the monarchists themselves.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: In what way have they hijacked the debate?

 

VERA: I think they have hijacked the debate because now they’ve brought in the presidential election people. They are now, I think, in the same group as the monarchists, aren’t they?

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: And you see this as a dangerous development?

 

VERA: I think very much because myself I am now in a quandary where I have to decide whether I vote for the present system for the simple fact that I am a republican, or don’t I and wait for another referendum which may never happen, a referendum that will just ask me pure and simple whether we want Australia to be a republic or a monarchy.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Yes, and you must have some fears, as many people have said, that if the politicians have charge of the process, this may be the only republican model we ever get to vote on.

 

VERA: Yes indeed, indeed.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: All right. Vera, I’ll leave it there because we’ll get a response from Professor Cheryl Saunders in a moment or two. But let’s go to Jim in Melbourne. Hello, Jim.

 

JIM: I think we’re all pretty poorly informed. We were never taught all this stuff in primary or secondary school, and my feeling is we’re in the dark, basically. I mean, I don’t understand the whole debate, personally.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Yes. But how much time have you spent looking at it? We’ve been debating this since before the Constitutional Convention.

 

JIM: A few years. I really feel that the Yanks are better informed than we are. I mean, they’re taught their constitution and stuff from day one in primary school.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: So a bit of a flaw in our education system about civic duties and civic rights and instruments of civil power?

 

JIM: Personally, I don’t understand it.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: An interesting comment, and one probably that we don’t pay enough attention to.

 

Let’s go to a man who does understand it, and that’s Harry Evans, Clerk of the Senate. Harry, welcome to the program.

 

HARRY EVANS: Hello there.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: You have concerns about this republican model. What are they?

 

HARRY EVANS: The fundamental concern is whether it gives the Prime Minister too much power over the head of state. There’s been a neglect of the question of how the existing system of government works, and if you study all the text books about it you will see that they all agree on the point that, in certain circumstances, the head of state is expected to maintain the system of government by exercising some real power, and sometimes exercising it against the advice of the prime minister or the premier of the day.

 

Examples of that have occurred in Australia over the years. For example in 1987 when Premier Bjelke-Petersen in Queensland was overthrown by his party, he went to the governor and said to the governor: I want you to sack some of my ministers who have opposed me. And the governor said: Well, I’m not accepting that advice; I think that I should wait and see who can form a government with the confidence of the Assembly. So his advice was rejected. He complained about that and said: well, this is terrible, the governor not accepting my advice.

 

But people who know how the system is supposed to work said: Well, that’s what the governor is supposed to do. The governor is supposed to preserve the system of government even against an over-powerful and desperate premier or prime minister.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: So a situation that we’ve just heard from Cheryl Saunders where the prime minister can sign an instrument and basically instantly dismiss the president is not to your liking?

 

HARRY EVANS: Under the existing system the removal of a governor, or a governor-general, is likely to be a messy business, and I’m sure Premier Bjelke-Petersen said to himself: Now, how can I get rid of this character? Well, it would be messy and I don’t really know how it would work. I’d have to go running off to the palace.

 

But if he had the power to dismiss the governor or the governor-general in the federal sphere instantly, do we not think that a person like Premier Bjelke-Petersen would exercise that power? Have we, in this model, significantly weakened the head of state in a circumstance like that? And there have been other occasions in Australia as well where governors particularly, but governors-general also, have exercised their powers against the advice of the prime minister of the day - properly in the view of the constitutional experts on how the system’s supposed to work. Now, have we weakened, in this model, the head of state in those sorts of situations, and left the whole system at the mercy of a megalomaniac prime minister or premier?

 

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Can I just turn to the quandary that I think a lot of people who are pro-republican have? Vera, from Kalgoorlie, put it very clearly. She said that she wants to be able to directly elect the head of state and she is now in a quandary because the constitutional monarchists and the republicans for direct election have teamed up together, and she doesn’t know or doesn’t trust that, down the line, if she votes for this model that there will be any opportunity to change it. Can you see, with all your years of experience, any government down the line changing the model if it gets up?

 

HARRY EVANS: Well, a proposal to change the Constitution has to be passed by both houses of parliament which means it has to be passed by the lower house, which is controlled by the government of the day, and so a proposition to change the Constitution will not be put up unless it’s supported by one or other of the major parties which in normal circumstances controls the House of Representatives. I think that prime ministers and premiers, which usually control the party that controls the House of Representatives will feel very comfortable with this model. They will say: well, I’ve got the power to dismiss a governor-general under this model; do I want to give away that power? I don’t think so.

 

So I think if the model is put in place in this referendum, the chances of changing it will be very slim, unless there’s some great scandal in the future about the dismissal of a governor-general - a president rather - a president chosen in some sordid circumstances or dismissed in some sordid circumstances, a great popular upheaval about that, and a government will be forced to put some change. Barring that sort of thing, I don’t think further changes will be put.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Harry Evans, I’ll come back to you in a moment. Cheryl Saunders, how do you feel about that?

 

CHERYL SAUNDERS: About the likelihood of it being changed?

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Yes.

 

CHERYL SAUNDERS: Well, I agree with Harry that changes don’t come easily and governments and parliaments don’t like to change things in ways that are going to constrict their own powers. For a direct election republican at this particular moment, I think things are very difficult because you’ve also got to say to yourself: how likely is it that we’ll get another vote on this at all?

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Yes, all right. We’ll come back to you and we’ll also be joined by Wendy Machin who is the Deputy Chair of the Australian Republican Movement in a moment or two.

 

Let’s take some more calls first, and go to Derek in Melbourne.  Derek, welcome to the program.

 

DEREK: I’m totally confused after all this. The supporters of the Queen of England are doing a fine job of this fantastic smoke screen. I thought we were electing an Australian to be head of state, to be the head of our country, not an English person. To me that is absolutely and completely fundamental. I came to this country to be an Australian not to be anything else but Australian, and it is very, very important that an Australian is the head of the state.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: No matter how they’re elected?

 

DEREK: No matter how they’re elected. I think it’s absolutely vital and the rest is all a tremendous smoke screen by them. Look, under the present system, don’t forget, we sacked a duly elected government, and the Queen of England slept in her bed. She didn’t even know anything about it. It was her representative who sacked him. To me that was one of the utter disgraces of this century.

 

I just recently went through London on the way to the UK. I was told not to mention this but I really feel passionate about it. I, with my Australian passport in hand, had to get in the queue of the aliens. They don’t even recognise us over there.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Okay, Derek. Thank you very much indeed; it’s a complaint I’ve heard before.

 

To Joy at Wentworth Falls. Hello, Joy.

 

JOY: I am a republican. I don’t like this model but I am going to vote yes.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Even though you’ve just heard that there is very little chance there’ll be any change later?

 

JOY: Let me explain why I’m going to vote yes. Both sides of politics said that if the yes vote gets up they will abide by the Constitutional Convention’s decisions. One of the decisions was that we would have another constitutional convention in five years to look at changes that still need to be made.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: And you think that will happen?

 

JOY: If we vote no when both sides of politics at that time said that they would. I think it would be very hard for them to back away from it.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Joy, thank you very much indeed. Good point. Let’s go to Ethel in Perth.

 

ETHEL: I just wanted to say that while we’re criticising the proposed model, we’re not looking too closely at the present model which involves inherited power, and I don’t like inherited power. I think inherited power allows power structures to be built up, and I think this has happened both in England and Australia, the list of countries that are involved in it. And I think they’ve become entrenched in society and I think that this is more dangerous than anything like ... I think it’s even a threat to democracy because of this power structure that can be built up over time with inherited power. It’s just automatic power. It’s not judged by any real moral standards or anything like that.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Not by democratic means. All right, Ethel, thank you very much.

 

I want to come back very quickly to Professor Cheryl Saunders. Cheryl on that issue of another constitutional convention five years down the track, any faith in that happ ening and, I guess changing anything?

 

CHERYL SAUNDERS: Yes, I actually do have faith and I’m glad that Joy mentioned it. What Concon said was that if the referendum’s passed, there should be another convention within three to five years and that it should look at the model but it should also look at other constitutional issues. And this was another of the items that got some of the direct election republicans on board at the convention, and I think that other delegates have some sort of moral obligation to press for it too.

 

If the referendum’s successful, I would expect a lot of people to be raising the question of that convention, and neither side of politics is firmly committed to it, as far as I know, but I think that there will be a lot of talk about it.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: All right. I’ll come back to you in a moment; I’ll also get a comment from Harry Evans on that in a moment or two. Let’s bring in Wendy  Machin. Wendy’s Deputy Chair of the Australian Republican Movement. Welcome to Australia talks back .

 

WENDY MACHIN: Thanks, Sandy; nice to be with you.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: You’ve heard what Harry Evans has to say. How do you respond to criticisms that this model doesn’t address the dismissal issue adequately?

 

WENDY MACHIN: Yes. I was interested in what Harry had to say and I don’t really think he was considering the full processes involved. See, Harry talked about the head of state exercising their powers - and there are a couple of quite significant powers, including the power to sack. What he didn’t point out, he was sort of talking in the future, he didn’t point out that the powers proposed under this model are exactly the powers exercised by the Governor-General today, which some of your callers have made that point. So the powers don’t change. The Governor-General today could do anything that has been put up that I have heard in this debate.

 

But the other point that I think needs to be made is, in terms of dismissal, if, say, a prime minister was annoyed that the head of state wasn’t going along with their political agenda and decided to dismiss, he would automatically have that position fill ed by the most senior state governor. So I think I heard Kerry Jones say the other day that there would be a gap of 30 days until parliament had to be recalled where there would be no one in the job. That is not so. The practice now is if the Governor-General is not around is that his or her job will be filled on temporary basis by the senior state governor. So there would always be someone as our acting head of state if the head of state was dismissed.

 

Secondly, the prime minister then has to go back to fill the position and adopt this public nomination and consultation process. It has to go back to parliament. It has to have the support of both sides of the house. So even if the prime minister did sack the president, he can’t put one of his mates in his place anyhow. So there’s actually nothing to be gained. If you want to go back to the Joh Bjelke example that Harry gave, he would not be able to put someone in the job that would go along with his agenda.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Would the parliament have the power to reinstate the sacked president?

 

WENDY MACHIN: No, that is not made provision for in the model.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: So if an injustice had been seen to be done, there is no way of reprimanding the prime minister by reinstating?

 

WENDY MACHIN: No, there is definitely a way of reprimanding the prime minister. The prime minister risks losing the confidence of the house. The prime minister potentially puts his job on the line, and that of his government, and that is dependent on a vote of the house. But secondly, there’s nothing that says that after parliament is recalled and after we go through our nomination and selection process again, there’s nothing that would preclude the head of state from being chosen once again by the parliament, which would, as you say, be a big reprimand, a big slap in the face for the prime minister.

 

I mean, they are extraordinary circumstances. I guess we have to point out that this is a situation that is most unlikely but, indeed, we have to be prepared for it.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Let me come to probably the biggest and most contentious issue, and I guess some of your fiercest critics have been republicans who want a president elected by the people. If we’re going to amend the Constitution and get rid of the Queen, why not change it so we have a directly-elected president? The majority of people polled in Australia, people who dislike politicians anyway, are all going for a directly-elected president model. It’s not something that is going to go away.

 

WENDY MACHIN: I find that one of the ironies of the debate, that people want to have an election for a president because they don’t like politicians. I mean, my view, having been involved in it for a while is that mostly if you have an election you have policies and political campaigns and parties and after an election you end up with a politician. So I find that an irony.

 

However, going back to some of the callers that you’ve had tonight, a few of them have said: I’m a republican, I would like to elect the president but I’m going to vote for this model. I think people, and those people are demonstrating great common sense. There is nothing in this model that says we cannot in future progress to direct election. This does not rule it out. This is quite a minimalist model, and frankly it appeals to conservative people like me. I would not support direct election because that’s my personal preference, and I think you would find a far bigger split between conservative supporters and others, and that would make it very difficult to get up.

 

We have not seen any proposal from those advocating direct election. We have people like Ted Mack and Phil Cleary who have been saying: this is democratic, we should do it this way, but they have told us nothing about how we would do it, what sort of voting system we’d have, how that would change our system. Kerry Jones and David Elliott from the monarchists say that this current model, this minimalist model is terrible because it’s so radical, it involves all these changes to the Constitution, the bulk of which are things like changing the word ‘governor-general’ to ‘president’, which is not particularly complicated. But you’ve got Kerry Jones and David Elliott saying that this is terribly radical and it’s awful and puts our whole system at risk, yet they’re lined up with people like Phil Cleary and Ted Mack who openly advocate a much more radical system which involves much more change to our whole system of government.

 

So they’re not actually telling us that. They’re not saying that this is a radical move away from what we’ve got. They’re just saying: if we can’t have it our way we don’t want it at all; vote this down, and then take us on trust. And I don’t think that’s good enough and I think the group out there - and I believe you have someone coming on the show in a moment - who are calling themselves the ‘Yes and more campaign’ - are adopting a much more Australian, a much more egalitarian approach.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Wendy, stay with us, I’ll come back to you in a moment or two, and we will incidentally also be joined by Ted Mack, who’s the Chair of the Real Republic, part of the no campaign, arguing that this model isn’t good enough and we should reject it; and Pat O’Shane from the ‘Yes and more campaign’. It gets more interesting by the moment, but let’s hear what you have to say. Let’s go to Frank in Sydney.

 

FRANK: My primary point is I think that the debate has been quite overshadowed by the mechanics of government side of it.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Isn’t that an important part of it, though?

 

FRANK: It is an important part of it, but also a head of state is a symbolic figure, and the monarchy has been a very effective symbol for this nation. If you read things about the First World War and so on, it was a very effective expression of who we were and where we were going and how we saw ourselves. Now I think it is a very bad symbol. The monarchy is a sectarian institution. What other office of state would we submit to being subject to some sort of religious qualification? It is a sexist institution in that the male get precedence over the female and it is a socially biased institution in that it depends on the principle of heredity. Now I think our society is against all of those thing. It’s not sectarian, it’s not sexist and it at least has the idea of an egalitarian thing.

 

Now, it doesn’t really show all of those things all that well, but it at least should be moving towards them. We need a symbol of our own, and the monarchy most emphatically is not adequate.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Frank, thank you very much indeed. Peter, in Canberra, thanks for waiting.

 

PETER: I’d just like to say that I do think this is a bad model. I think it’s a dangerous model, and it’s a clumsy model.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Why is it a dangerous model?

 

PETER: Basically because the Queen does one thing for us. She gives us a non-political head of state. I think the Governor-General is the head of state, quite frankly, and I am a person who has prepared scores and scores of documents for various governors-general to sign. I didn’t prepare one of those documents for the Queen to sign. It’s the Governor-General who actually runs the country, and I think that a lot of your republican people actually want a governor-general but what they’ll get is somebody very different.

 

I’m thinking of the enormous power the model gives to 32 faceless men and women who are actually the selection committee. I mean, if I had to have a president, there’s no doubt in my mind that I’d want to elect ....

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Sorry, when you were talking about the 32 faceless people, this is the committee made up the public who will bring up the short lists, yes.

 

PETER: A number of them won’t be faceless, there’ll be the premiers and so on. But the fact is that 16 of those people will be appointed by the prime minister of the day.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: But at the end of the day the PM doesn’t even have to take the advice from that committee, does he?

 

PETER: This is the point, Sandy. I believe that what you would get if the model gets up, and it may well do, what you’ll get is powerful interests like the media for example who will be able to build up momentum for a certain person.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Sure.

 

PETER: And those 32 people, many of them having been chosen by the prime minister of the day, he can pick the people he wants to choose, and they’re going to give him five people who, pretty well, any of them will serve their purpose, but he can pick one. You’ll get somebody who is essentially a political president. Now, that would be very undesirable. But if we have to have a political president, why not elect the president.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: All right, Peter. Thank you very much indeed. I’m going to leave it there. Cheers, mate.

 

Ted Mack is Chair of the Real Republic, part of the no campaign arguing the model, as I said, is not good enough. Ted Mack, welcome to Australia talks back.

 

Ted, what sort of republic are you advocating, and what do you mean by a ‘real republic’.

 

TED MACK: There’s a fundamental change taking place in the Constitution if this referendum gets up. You see, at the moment the monarchy is the head of state and has the power. Now, if you change to a republic, that power, that authority of that position must pass to the people. What is happening in this model is it’s passing to the parliament. Now the governor-general and a new president has two functions: one is to symbolise and represent Australia, but the other one is to be a check on executive government, and that’s why he can’t be answerable to executive government. He must be answerable to the people.

 

Now, under this model, because of that instant and irrevocable dismissal procedure, the governor-general is robbed of his independence.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Do you think we will ever, if this model gets up do you think we’ll ever have the opportunity to change it and get a government of any sort to agree to a directly-elected presidential model?

 

TED MACK: Of course we will. The fact is that just on two thirds of Australia want to become a republic. When a no vote gets up in November it’s going to become an election issue at the next election. Now, this is exactly the arguments that were used against federation in 1898. Everybody said you have to vote yes for this model because if you don’t we’ll never get another chance at federation for decades. And of course they got a referendum 18 months later.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: But Ted, why not vote for this model and then work on refining it?

 

TED MACK: Because, as Harry Evans said, once ... do you think that once the two major parties get additional power they will give it up? Of course they’ll hold another convention and will discuss all sorts of things around the edges, which are important in their own right - a bill of rights and all sorts of other things - but that fundamental change will not happen. This is really a very radical model that is being proposed.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: So your plan is that if this model is defeated, as you hope, your next move will be to make it an election issue?

 

TED MACK: It will certainly be an election issue, and I think Kim Beazley has already indicated that that’s the case, because I know that Kim Beazley and a vast number of people in the Labor Party are very uncomfortable with this model. For a party that had traditions of extending the franchise wherever possible, I think this model runs right against Labor traditions.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Ted, thank you very much, indeed. Ted Mack, Chair of the Real Republic.

 

And let’s quickly go to Pat O’Shane who is from the Yes and More campaign. Pat, welcome to Australia talk backs.

 

PAT O’SHANE: Thank you, Sandy.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: You want a directly-elected president but you’re prepared to vote for this model, trusting that you can change it down the track. Now, we’ve already heard from Harry Evans and other people like that that this will not happen.

 

PAT O’SHANE: Well, I don’t know that anybody can be quite so adamant about that. I think that what Ted has just had to say is absolutely correct in respect of the transfer of sovereignty from somebody like the monarch to the parliament and that in fact sovereignty must reside with the people. In all of that I absolutely agree with what Ted has said.

 

As to whether we vote yes to a republic and simply get the change that is proposed by politicians - that is that the head of state be an Australian and that is the end of it - I think that is a highly debatable point. I agree that politicians do not give up power very easily, but at the same time I would have to say this: I think that we have witnessed the beginning of the sea change in terms of the Australian electorate and their dealings with their politicians. That was most clearly demonstrated, I believe, in the Victorian elections and we’ve had an expression of it in New South Wales in the past week and we will see more expressions of it in the near future.

 

We have got to the point in others words, in my view, in my assessment of what’s going on in this country, where the people are not going to be prepared to be dictated to by politicians forever. The people are going to start dictating now. Ted, in a sense , acknowledges that insofar as he says if we vote no then this issue will become an election issue. Sure. To what extent it does become an election issue I would have some doubts, actually. That is a moot point. But I take the view - and I had come to this view after a great deal of heartache over the whole issue, because let me say this: I believe that politicians from both sides of the political fence in this country have hijacked these issues for their own ends, let’s be honest. Nevertheless, I have come to the view that it is far better that we vote yes at this point and then campaign for further changes than that we say no and, as it were, go back to square one.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Pat, I have to leave it there, because I’ve run out of time. But thank you very much indeed. That’s Pat O’Shane, from the Yes and More campaign, which wants a directly-elected president but has decided to support this model in the meantime.

 

And Harry Evans, how realistic is the Yes and More campaign’s hope that they can accept this model and make changes later?

 

HARRY EVANS: Can I just jump back to that point about the president being dismissed immediately being replaced by an acting president? One of the quirks of the bill is that the prime minister could dismiss anybody who’s an acting president as well. So by serial dismissal notices they could get rid of any person in line to be acting president that they don’t like as well.

 

The other point is that the president will be inhibited in properly exercising the powers, knowing that the prime minister can sack him or her on the spot. And you won’t get a proper exercise of the powers as you did in Queensland in 1987.

 

But going on the point about whether more constitutional change is likely, there’s still the problem that - and it’s one of the great defects of the Constitution, I think - that constitutional change can only be put to a referendum if it goes through both houses of parliament. There’s a bottleneck there, a gate, and there are gatekeepers, and I think that is a very significant problem. You have no procedure for getting something to a referendum without going through parliament, which, basically, is controlled because one house is controlled by one of the major parties of the day.

 

Now, as I said, you may get a popular uprising, perhaps caused by some sordid affair involving the appointment or dismissal of a president, but you’ve still got the gatekeepers in place there, with enormous powers and great ability to manipulate things. And I think that’s an enormous hurdle.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Harry, thank you very much indeed. Harry Evans, the Clerk of the Senate.

 

Cheryl Saunders, just a very quick comment from you on Pat O’Shane and Ted Mack - maybe on Ted Mack’s point about the no campaign and then making it an election issue. How realistic do you think Ted Mack’s assessment is?

 

CHERYL SAUNDERS: I have no doubt that Ted and his colleagues must be making that assessment. It seems to me to be highly unrealistic in fact. There has been a lot of money spent on this referendum campaign already. If you count in the Constitutional Convention, we’re probably talking about $150 million. If there’s a no vote on this occasion, I suspect that it will just be chalked up as another no vote in the long list of failed referendums in Australia which the politicians find pretty hard to cope with.

 

So it may well be that it will be an election issue and that there’ll be another round, but I think there are a lot of factors working against it.

 

SANDY McCUTCHEON: Cheryl Saunders, thank you very much indeed for your time. Professor Cheryl Saunders is Deputy Chair of the Constitution Centenary Foundation.

 

And that’s the program.