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Putting the facts straight on the power of the prime minister



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2 γ August 1999

M edia Release

P a ttin g th e facts s tra ig h t on th e P ow er o f th e P rim e M in iste r

Former Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, and his Deputy Prime Minister, and former National Party leader, Doug Anthony, have today joined forces to put the facts straight on the power a Prime Minister could wield if Australians voted to become a Republic in November.

In a jointly signed letter (see attached) to Conservatives for an Australian Head o f State, Malcolm Fraser and Doug Anthony have exposed a great untruth being peddled by senior monarchists who claim that a Prime Minister would have far too much power if we vote to become a Republic.

Malcolm Fraser and Doug Anthony are FRIENDS of Conservatives for an Australian Head o f State. They share the objectives o f this organisation which is to move to an Australian as our head o f state without tampering with our successful system o f government

Contact: Malcolm Fraser AC. CH - on phone number (03) 9654 1822

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Ph: (02) 9233 2156 Fax: (02) 9371 7620 GPO Box 3955, Sydney NSW 2001, Australia

TH E RIGHT HONOURABLE MALCOLM FRASER. λ-C, c h .

25* A ugust 1999

M T H R O O k a n z t o w e r .

SS COLLINS STREET

V ICTO RIA 5000

TELEPHONE: 6 1 .W 6 S * 1822 FACSIMILE; 61-S-WS4 I SOI

D ear Sir

A ustralians are being seriously m isled on one major elem ent o f this R epublican debate. W e w anted to draw this to your attention as w e believe it has a particular im portance and goes to the heart o f the issue before the A ustralian people on 6 N ovem ber.

Senior M onarchists are claiming that the m odel being pu t to the people gives th e Prim e M inister far too m uch power b y enabling him to sack th e P resid en t

T his argum ent needs to be exposed because it is the reverse o f the truth. U nder the proposed m odel for a Republic, while the President w ould have the sam e pow ers currently held by the Governor General, the Prim e M inister w ould have m uch less pow er than he does now.

U nder current arrangem ents, the Prim e M inister nom inates a person to be G overnor General· H er M ajesty accepts that nomination. The G overnor G eneral holds office at the Prime M inister’s pleasure. The norm al term fo r a G overnor G eneral has been around 5 years but the term s o f an appointm ent

w ould m ake it possible for the Prim e M inister to dism iss a G overnor G eneral, at any p o in t during his term, by the simple process o f asking H er M ajesty to en d the appointm ent . .

It is over th is point that there is confusion. M onarchists are im plying th at H er M ajesty could argue the point w ith the Prim e M inister and could, as a last resort, refuse to dism iss a particular Governor General, even though the Prim e M inister h a d requested it. This is ju st not so. By convention, H er Majesty w ould b e bound to accept her Australian Prim e M inister’s advice.

T here are no credible circumstances in w hich H er M ajesty w ould reject the advice o f h e r A ustralian Prim e Minister.

The independence o f Australia, our integrity as a nation, depends entirely on the M onarch alw ays accepting the advice o f her A ustralian Prim e M inister in relation to A ustralian constitutional affairs.

A n A ustralian Prim e M inister, in current circumstances, holds great pow er in relation to these m atters.

Today, th e Prim e M inister has unfettered choice as to w ho w ill or w ill no t be proposed to H er M ajesty as Governor G eneral H e has com plete personal discretion concerning any recommendation to dism iss that G overnor General. H e has com plete personal discretion over any choice to replace that G overnor

General. Indeed, it w ould be possible in one letter to propose to H er M ajesty the dism issal o f a G overnor General and in the next paragraph to propose a new person as the G overnor General’s successor.

It can be seen therefore that the position o f the M onarch does n o t and cannot offer any protection against w hat may be regarded as irresponsible behaviour in A ustralia.

A ustralia’s recent history gives us experience over the concerns a particular G overnor G eneral h ad about being sacked i f he discussed particular issues w ith the Prim e M inister o f the day.

W hen w e com e to the Constitutional model that is being proposed for the Republic, w e find the position is quite different The Prim e M inister w ill need to take into account persons nominated from a consultative process and h e w ill need to secure th e support o f the Leader o f the Opposition for th e nom ination ultim ately chosen. This is a far cry from the current unfettered right that the Prim e M inister now possesses.

W hile it is true that the Prim e M inister still has a pow er to dism iss the President, th is pow er is heavily circumscribed. There w ould be a debate in the Parliam ent about the dismissal. Before a perm anent replacem ent can be m ade, the Prim e M inister w ould have to go through the consultative process and

again secure the support o f the Leader o f the O pposition so that th e tw o-thirds vote can be assured through Parliam ent

T he legislation also provides that the senior Governor or President o f a State w ould stand in place o f any dismissed President o f A ustralia from th e m om ent that p erso n left office. In other words, there could be no vacuum. M ore im portantly, the interim replacement would not be som ebody chosen by the

Prim e M inister. The Prime M inister would not be able to put a stooge in place as indeed h e could in today’s situation. These are substantial and desirable curbs on the Prim e M inister’s power.

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Opponents of the Republic may argue that the Prime Minister would sack the senior Governor or President of a Stale but that would not advance dm cause or an irratinoal Prime Minuter because it is not conceivable that such am en could go through all fee governors or presidents ofthe States, sacking each one in turn.

In current circumstances the Prime Mini star selects the person to be proposed to Her Maj esty and Her Maj city accepts that nomination. The Prime Minister may ask that the pcrion'g eppointment bo tam initcd i t anytime. Her Majesty, with b minimum delay of a few hourt, would accept that itfcomfnmdatiqn· In the same breefh the Prime Minister could propose a replacement whom he knew would do anything that he wished. In today's world the Prime Minister does have unfettered power. · .

In this g rn o f the debate, wc are talking etthe edge o f politics, where a certain degree o f irrationality must be in place before a n y c f these arguments would have relevance in the real world. However, if we go to that edge, today's situation is indeed dangerous. Ih e Republican modal necessarily

circumscribes the Prime Minister's power and creates a much more stable situation. ' .

In claiming that the proposed Republican model would give the Prime Minister unreasonable power. Monarchists are turning reality on its head.

We believe these arguments are important A number of people who are well disposed towards the Republic, hive been concerned at the thought dial the proposed model might give the Prime Minister loo much power because o f bis capacity to sack the President. Wc have Sound that when the situation is ·

explained tiicir minds have beenpttt ei case, Could we ask your organisation to give these arguments in whatever to m yea choose the widest publicity possible.

M r Andrew Robb Convener . . .

Conservatives for an Australian Head o f to n e G FO B ox 3955 SYDNEY NSW 2001 .

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