Depends what Republic you’re talking about


How could we throw all this away?

According to an Age/Nielsen poll getting some airing this morning, support for Australia becoming a Republic has plummeted:

An Age/Nielsen poll taken earlier this month shows support for a republic is now running at 44 per cent. This is the lowest level since 1994, and well down from the peak of 57 per cent in 1999, the year the question was tested in a national referendum.

The national poll of 1400 people found almost half (48 per cent) are now against the idea. Such a level of hostility has not been recorded since the late 1970s, when about 61 per cent were against a republic.

I wonder what the question was. I want us to have a republic, but I’d rather the status quo to a direct election model. (Our recent election was presidential enough – we don’t need a Head of State representing one party.) So depending on what then question was, I might have responded with a “no”.

Before the referendum, people probably answered “yes” to the republic question in polls because we thought it’d be a fairly straightforward matter replacing the British Queen with an Australian – but now we’ve been through such a divisive referendum, with no model gaining even close to majority support, it’s not surprising we’re no longer so confident. And, hence, that we’d prefer to leave things be till for the moment. In some ways, so am I – I’m sufficiently disturbed by the direct election model to prefer no movement to movement in a direction which might result in such a step backwards. I’d vote for a minimalist model like the 2/3rds one Keating proposed, but I’m realistic enough to know that it won’t be offered again for a long time – and that even if it was, it’s too easy to destroy by demonising it to the ignorant as a “politicians’ republic” (even though it’s much less likely to result in a politician president than direct election).

The only tragedy here is that the electorate is ignorant enough of our actual parliamentary system that they can fall for lies like the “politicians’ republic” campaign. But the only way to counter that is with better civics education. And we’ve been waiting for that even longer than we’ve been waiting for a republic.

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15 responses to “Depends what Republic you’re talking about

  1. I’m actually in the opposite situation as you. There is no way in hell I’d support a republic where politicians pick my president. I want to vote for MY president. That fact more than overrides the concern about a popularity contest, or overly political candidates. Do you honestly believe the Liberals if they had the numbers, would appoint a non-political president?!? Just look at all their appointees during the Howard years.

    Also, what if 2/3 of the parliament cant agree – considering how polarized the parliament is, I’d be surprised if they could agree on a president at all. The fact is, Australians will never even want to think about a Republic until Liz croaks it – and given how long the queen mother defied the grim reaper – it wont be for quite a while.

  2. “There is no way in hell I’d support a republic where politicians pick my president. “

    Of course, in a direct election model, politicians would pick their political party candidate just as they do now – the difference is that the Head of State would almost certainly be someone almost 50% of the population detests.

    The idea of making 2/3rds of the politicians pick a President is that almost by definition it couldn’t be one of them. (As opposed to now, where the GG is just appointed by the PM.)

    “Do you honestly believe the Liberals if they had the numbers, would appoint a non-political president?!?”

    How likely is it they’d get 2/3rds of the seats of both houses of parliament?

    “Also, what if 2/3 of the parliament cant agree – considering how polarized the parliament is, I’d be surprised if they could agree on a president at all.”

    They’d have to pick a non-partisan candidate, that’s all.

    If we directly elected the President, then they’d have some sort of mandate that would conflict with parliament. That is a massive change, and would require completely altering our political system – and not for the better. Not in the direction of more representative government, but back towards a “leader” with solitary power.

  3. I used to be on of those people who wanted a directly-elected president, but the more I’ve come to understand the very specific and limited powers granted to the Governor General I now support the ⅔ appointed model.

    What’s lacking, and has always lacked, is actually explaining to the people what powers our representatives have and what the benefits of a non-partisan president would be. Most people don’t give a shit, and sadly they look to the U.S. as some pinnacle of democracy because that’s the way the media portrays them (and the way the U.S. portrays itself).

    Just look at how successful certain media representatives were at putting a big question-mark over the head of the GG. She’s pretty much powerless except in a very limited number of circumstances, and this is isn’t one of those. If she put in a Labor government without House support, parliament wouldn’t survive the first sitting.

    But anyway, people just don’t understand and don’t want to. I had somebody at work tell me that the Greens have more in common with the Liberal party than with Labor … and they were serious! Now some people are demanding we go back to an election because the result is taking too long. Apparently a couple of weeks in caretaker mode will see us invaded by terrorists or “boat people”, or something.

  4. I could live with a direct election, but the powers would have to be very carefully spelled out. It seems to work OK in Ireland.

  5. I’d be worried about “power creep” over time.

  6. Wisdom Like Silence

    A direct election would only result in a Head of State that divided the country. What would be the point?
    That being said, you’d want someone who would unify the country, and most punters (my new code for the retardedly politically apathetic normal citizens) would think that would mean they elected them.
    The biggest obsitcal to an Australian Republic with an Australian Head of State is not RSL and Bowls club patrons who play God Save The Queen instead of Advamce Australia Fair, but finding the way to explain to punters what a 2/3rds would actually mean, without diagrams, flowcharts, or difficult words.

  7. At this point, I’d accept pretty much any model for a republic.

    The Queen of Australia; head/desk.

  8. That’s what worries me – by the time this comes up again, we might be so sick of the monarchy we’ll vote for a bloody direct election republic, seriously undermining our parliamentary democracy.

    I mean, it’s been plenty undermined already by the big parties and their increasingly “presidential” leader campaigns, but the electorate has just told them to get stuffed. It’d be tragic to take a step backwards just to get rid of King Charles.

  9. Getting rid of the King or queen or Englang is in no way a step backward.
    Anything is a step forwards from there.

    I guess I’m not quite so pessimistic on the question of direct election.

  10. that was some nice typing!

  11. Splatterbottom

    The introduction of a republic would be a good opportunity finally separate legislative power from executive power in this country. Then we could have a popularly elected head of state with real power.

    As to Charles, while people would no doubt like t o acknowledge our civilisational debt to England, I don’t think the Australian people want a tampon fantasist as head of state.

  12. Wisdom Like Silence

    Popular meaning what? 50%+1? Direct election could work but the idea of an American style, divisive, vicious, permanent election cycle is tiring.
    What kind of mechanisms could be installed to stop candidates from political parties being put up for election?

  13. Of course, in a direct election model, politicians would pick their political party candidate just as they do now

    Why do you assume that candidates for GG would need to be party affiliated?

    I had always assumed (perhaps naively) that a direct election model would mostly involve candidates with no party affiliation at all. Especially if it remains a largely powerless office.

  14. Splatterbottom

    If the role is to remain largely ceremonial then it may be better to try to achieve some consensus, rather than reserving the role for in-laws of leading ALP power-brokers. Picking the first lady’s favourite cleric didn’t work out so well either did it?

    The fact is that the people would rather not trust their politicians on this. Even so it would be better to have the matter voted on in a joint sitting than the current system of letting the governing party choose behind closed doors.

    One effect of having the GG appointed to represent the Queen is that they are less likely to try to expand their power than if they were elected, either by the people or by parliament.

  15. Wisdom Like Silence

    Head of State would come with alot of gravitas, mondo. Even if it had no extraordinary powers, outside of meeting foriegn dignotories and visiting Gallipoli.
    Any widely publicised office is like chum to those bastards.

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