Extracts from the book

Extracts from A Democratic Way to Australia’s Republic

Following is a series of extracts from Robert Dawson's book A Democratic Way to Australia’s Republic selected to give you a preview of some of the ideas and proposals in the full text.

They reflect a cross-section of the opinions and suggestions offered in the book including consideration of what might become of Australia’s membership of the Commonwealth of Nations, would we get a President of integrity and how a democratic republic of Australia might best be achieved.


To assist in locating the text when you read the book, we have included a page reference at the end of each extract.

The real reasons for changing to a Republic

In recent years there has been an upsurge of interest in republicanism in Australia. We should not lose sight of the fact that the proposed change to republicanism is not predominantly a political change nor is it driven by a need for legal reform nor is it, as Kirby suggests (1993, p. 62), “out of deference for misunderstandings” held by our Asian neighbours. It is first and foremost a social change. The move to republicanism is driven by motivations such as an Australian sense of identity and individuality as well as a sense of independence that has never before existed so strongly in the minds of Australians. Therefore it is unfortunate that the little debate there has been is mostly about political and legal issues. While the resolution of such issues is essential for a successful transition, the wider social issues must also be addressed before any real progress can be made.

Because the issues are seen here to be predominantly sociological ones, this dissertation addresses not only the political and legal issues from a layperson’s point of view, but also overriding humanitarian, ethical and social considerations.

(Page 9 under the Introduction to PART 2. ESTABLISHING THE REPUBLIC)

Australian innovation once led the world

Farrell and McAllister (2006, p. 1) describe Australia as a “trailblazer in terms of the opening up the electoral process” and they quote Overacker (1952: 15) as having said “no modern democracy has shown greater readiness to experiment with various electoral methods than Australia”.

These innovations were not without political intrigue, nevertheless they were world firsts.

It is nothing short of amazing that our country has chosen not to build on the brilliant work of our ancestors. The minimalist model and the modified minimalist models (to provide for elected presidents) recently proposed for our republic are feeble attempts to devise a merely adequate model. Their authors avoided any changes to the existing system except, of course, in matters directly relating to the appointment of the President.

If the system that is best in the world differs significantly from all other systems we should determine how to achieve it and be brave enough to embrace it enthusiastically. So often the only thing we have to fear of change is fear of change itself.

(Page 34 under Introduction to PART 3. A MODEL FOR THE REPUBLIC)

A democratic model

… it is advocated that a whole model or models for the Republic should not be put to the electorate for adoption or selection but rather that all single issues should be individually decided by referendum. When all the various issues are decided, they will collectively become the truly democratic model for implementation.

(Page vi of the PREFACE)

Achieving the change to a Republic

… it is proposed that the best procedure would be to begin by conducting a referendum to (i) confirm that the electorate does indeed want to change to a republic, (ii) give to the presidency the present powers and duties of the Governor-General and the Queen and (iii) decide the few individual issues necessary for the establishment of the presidency. This three-part procedure is described herein as the “interim first step” because changes to the constitution will be minimal at this initial stage. After the Republic has been thus established, with a president installed, all of the other individual issues could then be determined by follow-up referendums to progressively change the Constitution into its most democratically acceptable form.

Thus the parliament would proceed with a combination of:

1.         Initiating another (or second) republic referendum asking the electorate;

            (i)  if it wishes Australia to become a republic,

            (ii) if it wishes to transfer all present powers and duties of the Governor-General and the Monarch to the presidency as an interim first step (that is, change the Constitution to incorporate all of the changes proposed in the previous (or first) republic referendum of 6 November 1999 except those changes pertaining to items (iii) and (iv) immediately following),

            (iii) questions for determining procedures for the nomination of presidential candidates, the method of appointment of Presidents, funding of the presidency and any other decisions which would have to be made before the Republic is established,

            (iv) if it agrees to give the President the power to initiate referendums independently of, and extra to the Parliament’s powers, and

            (v) questions, which are not immediately essential for the change to a republic but which might also be conveniently asked at that time.

2.         Passing conditional legislation prior to the next (or second) republic referendum—conditional in the sense that it would be subject to the change to a republic being adopted by the electorate as a result of a positive response to the first question of the next (or second) republic referendum (i.e. that Australia should become a republic) and the appointment of the first President.

The legislation would require that:

• further, future referendums to be put to the electorate, as soon as it is expedient so that eventually all substantial issues will be democratically determined.

• the further, future referendums would be conducted under the President’s authority if the outcome of the next (or second) republic referendum permits it otherwise they will held be under the authority of the Parliament.

The further, future referendums would be held to resolve; (i) what extra powers and duties, if any, shall be given to Presidents beyond the minimalist powers and duties of the interim first step, (ii) questions addressing out-of-date or otherwise inadequate clauses of the present Constitution, (iii) questions addressing shortcomings of the Constitution by proposing changes to it, and (iv) questions offering the adoption in principle of a Bill of Rights and a Bill of Obligations of citizens.

(Page 17 under Chapter 5. CHANGING TO A REPUBLIC)

 A means to an end

… although there is a model discussed … , it is not proposed as a model to be offered in a referendum for adoption. It is used only as a means to an end. That is, to assist in determining (i) procedures to bring the Republic easily into existence, (ii) procedures for changing the Constitution to what would be most acceptable to most Australians, and (iii) suggested questions and answer options to those questions for the next (or second) republic referendum. At least one model is needed to put these procedures and questions to the test.

Thus the model given … is an estimate of what would be the most acceptable form of republic. It is known throughout this dissertation as “the estimated model” …

(Page vi of the PREFACE)

Maintaining links with Britain

The changeover procedures proposed in this dissertation acknowledge the Australian links with Britain and are intended to show continuing respect for the Queen and respect to the British people in general. They maintain, not inappropriately, the maximum number of vestiges of our British heritage (to satisfy those who value them) while at the same time, they should not offend any people who do not value them. Maintaining the maximum number of these vestiges should bring about a minimum of disharmony in both factions and might be the means of achieving a republic sooner than would otherwise be possible.


What about the Commonwealth?

Australia’s position in the Commonwealth of Nations need not be threatened by the adoption of republicanism. Many nations have retained their status as members of the Commonwealth after becoming republics and they are now the majority of Commonwealth members, e.g. Malta, India and South Africa. Thus, those who want Australia to remain a member of the Commonwealth should not feel threatened by a change to republicanism. In addition, there is no reason to expect that anybody other than the Head of State of the United Kingdom will continue to head the Commonwealth.


A President of integrity

The most important feature of the estimated model is that Presidents could be ultimately responsible for all appropriate issues requiring ethical and impartial judgements. Therefore, they could take responsibility for all such issues that are presently the responsibilities of the Government and the High Court.

Thus, according to the estimated model, Presidents will have been elected because the electorate saw them (in this and all other presidential contexts) as individuals whose integrity is unquestionable and incorruptible, whose judgement is considered sound and who would not exercise any political or legal biases.

This approach has been inspired by the former monarchical system where the Monarch (a person without extensive legal training) was the ultimate destination in the line of appeals and was relied on to satisfy all of the above criteria even though the selection of the Monarch was not by the electorate. However, it is apparent that this duty of the Monarch has lapsed.

(Page 38 under Chapter 9. SOME INDIVIDUAL ISSUES)

Presidential powers and duties

To be workable, these extra powers and duties for the President (beyond those of the present Governor-General) should not overlap with those of the Government nor the Judiciary. Therefore it will be suggested that they could be associated with such non-political actions as ensuring the proper conduct of the Parliament, ensuring the proper procedures for enacting legislation are carried out, policing constitutional issues and upholding the Constitution generally, being responsible for the funding of some independent federal chartered bodies (former statutory and other official bodies) so that political interference would not be possible.

It would also be the sworn duty of the President to protect citizens from political and judicial interference in matters concerning the liberty and equality of Australians, commuting sentences and granting pardons for humanitarian reasons. To be effective, any such interference should be unconstitutional, and all such judgements made by Presidents should be enforceable.

There is no unbiased person or high authority presiding over many of these decisions at present. Prime Ministers should not be expected to fill this role as their position is a political one and is bound by party policy as are elected governments.

At present members of the judiciary have some involvement in these decisions but only when requested by the Government if it happens to be politically expedient.

(Page 38 under Chapter 9. SOME INDIVIDUAL ISSUES)