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Kim Beazley's cascading series of plebiscites and referenda. Print E-mail
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Tuesday, 10 April 2001

At the 2000 ALP National Conference, the Hon. Kim Beazley said: “We need a process which gives all Australians a greater sense of ownership and genuine involvement in any proposal for a republic. As I have said publicly, this could be achieved with the three-step consultative process which would begin with a plebiscite on the threshold question: Do we want an Australian as our Head of State.

If a majority of people agree, a second plebiscite would follow to determine the preferred mode of selecting the Head of State. Finally, a constitutional referendum would be held based on the outcome of the two plebiscites.”

Subsequently, in Perth on 7 October 2000, Mr. Beazley indicated the first plebiscite would be held in conjunction with the Federal election following his first term as Prime Minister.

 If Mr. Beazley were to become Prime Minister in 2001 in the normal course of events this would be in 2004.

It seems that Mr. Beazley intends to leave the States to their own constitutional processes, which will (constitutionally or at least politically) require separate referenda.

The proposal must be opposed for at least three reasons: cost, abuse of process and constitutional instability. This proposal is a waste of money. More than $150m was spent on trying to produce a satisfactory republican model. In fact two flawed models were produced.

The cost of two more plebiscites, a referendum, as well as State referenda, and just the minimal changes necessary, will probably not leave much change from a billion dollars. And this is not an issue that enthuses the Australian people.

 Once they know how much it will cost, and how much is being diverted from health, roads and education, they will be unforgiving.

This proposal is an abuse of process. The founders of our country made a conscious decision that the Constitution should only be change through a Swiss-style referendum, where the people know exactly what changes are proposed.

The founders were well aware of the abuse of the constitutional plebiscites in the preceding hundred years in France or in French-occupied territories . Constitutional plebiscites have too often been designed to confuse the electorate, to obtain a majority by deceit, and to give a blank cheque to government.

 The first plebiscite will be crafted to do precisely this. This proposal is an invitation for constitutional instability

The worst feature of the proposal is that the first plebiscite is intended - and by its wording will be designed to achieve no less than a vote of no confidence in the existing constitutional system. Nothing at all is being offered in its place, for no republican model will be on the table.

What is being offered is a decade of constitutional instability, a cascade of plebiscites and federal and state referenda. And that with no guarantee whatsoever that any new constitutional system will be ultimately acceptable to the people.

 It is difficult to conceive of a more irresponsible proposal. That is why we urge all Members of Parliament to condemn this proposal in the clearest possible terms.

 
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