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ARM wants to re-ignite interest in republican debate following resignation of Governor-General.

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Monday 26 May 2003

ARM wants to re-ignite interest in republican debate following resignation of Governor-General


MARK COLVIN: Well, on the other side of the political spe ctrum, the Australian Republican Movement today said the current system was "broken and needed fixing". The ARM says the Governor-General's position is now merely "subject to the personal and political imperatives of the Prime Minister". 


The Chair of the Australian Republican Movement is Professor John Warhurst. A short time ago I asked him what had changed given that all Governors-General were appointed like this. 


JOHN WARHURST: It always has been, Mark. But I think these sorts of events reinforce for the Australian community what has always been the Constitutional case. This is the bigger issue that we are concerned about. 


MARK COLVIN: But if it's been that for successive Prime Ministers and if for instance, the New South Wales Premier Bob Carr thinks it's still a good idea to keep it that way, what's wrong with it? 


JOHN WARHURST: Well we believe that a system that's closed and undemocratic is not the sort of system that we want in Australia today, and we would say the same thing about Premier Carr's comments on the role of the Premier in appointing a State Governor. 


We believe that the Australian community and republicans across the country will want a more open and inclusive process. We have actually been saying that for the last few weeks, not bursting out into print today. 


And every time that we discuss a Governor-General and the appointment of the governor-general, we will take the opportunity to make the bigger point that really this ought to be a discussion about moving to an Australian republic. 


Tinkering with the method of appointing Governors-General is something that we will support if we think that it's moving the case forward. But our ultimate goal is an Australian republic. 


MARK COLVIN: Well how do you answer, though, the point raised by Mr Carr and the others that there seems to be no way to make the system more publicly accountable without giving the Head of State a mandate that could possibly override the mandate of the Government? 


JOHN WARHURST: Well, I don't actually agree with that point of Mr Carr's or the point that's been made by others. There's a great deal more consultation goes on even in the appointment of high court justices than goes on in the appointment of an Australian Governor-General. And I think if there was bi-partisan consultation at the very least then you would avoid the sort of party politics that's going on at the moment. 


We want an Australian President and for the time being an Australian Governor-General, whose appointment is one which has been discussed and supported by a wide range of parliamentary opinion, as well as community opinion.  


And that is just not the case at the moment. And so whenever something goes wrong, in the case of Dr Hollingworth or any other Governor or Governor-General, the Prime Minister or Premier will be subject to party political attack. 


MARK COLVIN: But aren't we back in the exactly the same kind of dilemma as surfaced during the Constitutional convention, that whether you're talking about President or a Governor-General, you've either got to choose between somebody who is chosen by the people in what would amount to a referendum or a presidential election, or somebody who is chosen by a small and probably unrepresentative group of people, or by the Prime Minister himself? 


JOHN WARHURST: No, I can't agree with that at all. I think in terms of the balance of power and status between a Prime Minister and a Governor-General, there's a vast room for improvement and broadening of the consultation process that goes into selecting a Governor-General, and ultimately an Australian president, without destabilising that relationship. And we've only begun to explore those possibilities. 


MARK COLVIN: Do you think that this crisis has given you new momentum towards getting another Constitutional convention or another referendum? 


JOHN WARHURST: It's another incident along the way. I think anything which directs attention to the role of the Queen's representative in Australia is good for the Australian Republican Movement. 


By the time of the next election, we will be five years out from the Republic Referendum. That's plenty of time and it's overdue to get back to the issue of a Constitutional referendum. 


We would hope that by the time of the next election that all sides of Australian politics would be committed to the first step, which is a plebiscite on the general issue of an Australian republic. 


MARK COLVIN: Professor John Warhurst of the Australian Republican Movement.