Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Sunday, 07 March 2004
It is extraordinary that any one would believe that Australia should follow the German constitutional model. While Germany has excelled in music and the production of motorcars, she has not, over the long term, excelled in developing a system of governance, and certainly not one which we, with our long record of constitutional government, should imitate. There is also the contradiction of trying to mix the Westminster system with a republic, which the French found to be beyond all of their ingenuity. The death of the French First, Third and Fourth Republics is evidence of this. The problem is that Westminster requires that at its heart there be an institution beyond politics-the Crown. Because the presidency is invariably politicised, this danger has been neutralised in some republics by almost completely emasculating the presidency, which would not be acceptable in Australia. A referendum to remove the reserve powers, thus increasing the powers of the prime minister would be doomed to a landslide defeat in Australia. That is why this has never been attempted. 


Recent news on the attempts to fill the German presidency should persuade Australians not to go down that path. According to The Economist, choosing Germany's federal president ought to be easy. "The head of state has no real power, and is chosen indirectly every five years by a federal convention that has no other function. Yet finding the right candidate has often proved hard. This time, the opposition has been quarrelling for months over who should succeed the (Social Democrat) president, Johannes Rau, in May. Conservatives and liberals have been trying to agree a joint candidate--who should win, as they hold a majority in the federal  convention : On March 4th the_ parties finally agreed to nominate Borst Kohler, a Christian Democrat who is  boss of the International Monetary Fund. "As the Economist says, being federal president is not such an easy job. "The president is supposed to be a monarch of sorts, and a force for social and political cohesion. But lacking royal legitimacy and real power, a president must use the bully pulpit to be effective. So a president's success is measured by the quality of his speeches. Theodor Heuss, the first president, was considered a master, who spoke often about the Nazi past His successor, Heinrich Lubke, was a failure (one speech in Africa began ladies and gentlemen, dear negroes"). "In a Westminster republic, the president has to be elected by the people, or by a college, for example a joint sitting of both houses of the parliament. Some constitutional engineers think that by avoiding direct election, they avoid the problem of the president being-and behaving- like a politician. Tell that to the people of Trinidad (if you doubt this, read Justice Ken Handley's paper on Trinidad on this site)

And as The Economist says, indirect election makes the selection process arduous, because it becomes a  political power game. (But would not direct election also involve politics?) "The game has been messier this time, because on its outcome has hung the career of all three opposition leaders. The wheeling and dealing has made some worry that the office has been permanently sullied by party politics. "See this article with graphics and related items at http://www.economist.com For Australians, the answer is simple. We have a system which is the envy of the world-why change it, whatever some politicians think.