Like A Lead Balloon - Senate Committee Report On Republic
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Tuesday, 07 September 2004

After putting off the tabling of its report, the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee slipped it in on the day when nobody, especially the media, would take any notice-31 August, the last day they sat before the election and just when everyone was distracted by the evidence Mr Scrafton was giving to another committee.

And so it was. Apart from a small, easily overlooked paragraph in the Australian Financial Review on 1 September, the report was ignored by most of the Sydney media. Had the Senators realised it was a complete waste of time and money? (Not theirs,of course, but the taxpayers.) As Senator Scullion, who dissented, said the issue whether Australia should become a republic had already been considered in the referendum. Nothing had changed since then to suggest the question should be reconsidered. He thought it inappropriate and unnecessary to revisit the issue now. How right he was. Even the republican senators must now realize this. Otherwise they would not have tabled their report in such a way to ensure it would be ignored.

The majority Senators obviously still have their noses out of joint because of the landslide rejection of their preferred model in 1999. They just don’t understand that NO means NO! It is absolutely extraordinary that the Senators still insist there must be change, but have no idea what the change ought to be. They were so burnt last time when they chose the model, they, and the ARM, are dtermined not to do that again. But it certainly does not help their reputation for leadership and responsibility.

They deal cavalierly with Sir David Smith’s powerful argument that the Governor-General is our Head of State. It is a pity that they fall back on Dr Bede Harris' and Sir Anthony Mason’s dismissal of his argument as “nonsense’- although I seem to remember that Sir Anthony went so far once to describe this as “arrant nonsense”. This resulted in Sir David Smith’s extraordinary demonstration at the Samuel Griffith Society that Sir Anthony was, to put it politely, not very well informed. (You can read-and enjoy- this on the site

At the Committee’s bidding, Dr Harris prepared a short comment on Sir David’s paper. He says the term Head of State is a political, not a legal term and means whatever the user wants it to mean. No its not, Doctor! It is a term of diplomacy and international law, a point I explain in The Cane Toad Republic. So why is Sir David’s argument “nonsense”? He explains inexquisite detail that the Governor-General exercises the executive powers of the Crown. (When section 61 0f the Constitution says these are vested in The Queen and exercisable by the Governor General, the use of the word Queen there surely means the Crown.)

The committee proposes two plebiscites and a referendum. The ALP senators have backed away from Mark Latham’s unworkable proposal that all this be jammed into one term! It is now to be over three terms, and always at the same time as the election. It will still cost a large amount of money which will have to come out of, say, education, defence etc. Did they consult Mr Latham before putting this out? If not, it is quite a slap in the face for the Leader, or did he have second thoughts? He must now understand that he would not want to have his first term dominated by this divisive debate. We at ACM would have of course played our part had that foolish timetable been kept.

The voting will be compulsory. It is extraordinary that a Senate committee- a committee from the states’ house - would actually recommend that the first plebiscite be decided by a simple national majority. It seems the Senators are prepared to override the interests of their less populous states, leaving the decision to be determined by the Sydney-Canberra –Melbourne triangle.

The first question will be whether Australia should become a republic with an Australian Head of State separate from the British monarchy. What they actually want with this is a substantial vote of no confidence in the best constitution in the world, without anyone knowing what will be put in its place. But I can already see a decent argument that the substance in this question has already been achieved! In other words, some people voting yes might believe they are voting for the status quo, particularly after the High Court has said that the Australian Crown is separate from the British Crown. Oh, we will have fun with that first plebiscite!

The second plebiscite is to be compulsory and preferential. (Senator Marise Payne, the Liberal Senator, has had second thoughts about the second plebiscite, but she still wants the first plebiscite. She has listened to Professor Craven’s sensible argument that this process will lead to an unworkable direct-elect model, which will be defeated anyway.)

There will be five models, but get this. These will not include the present Constitution! At least if they try to change the Flag, the law John Howard introduced- which can be repealed- requires that our Flag be among the choices. The Senators and the ARM know of course that on a preferential vote, it is likely the existing tried and tested Constitution would win. So we can’t have that. After all, the first vague, ambiguous spin doctor designed plebiscite is intended to kill the existing Constitution!

The five models are all by courtesy of the ARM. (It was convenient that an ARM officeholder actually sat on the Committee-have they never heard of conflict of interest?) The models are first, prime ministerial appointment, which hardly anyone wants; second, the 1999 model, again, believe it or not; third, appointment by an electoral college similar to the Senate-imagine the cost, and fourth and fifth, two types of direct election. One is a guided democracy version resembling some of the banana republics, where the politicians tell you who are the candidates. The other is direct election where the candidates are chosen in some other way. Office –bearers and former office-bearers in the ARM, perhaps? Because the last two models won’t work-not that the other three are up to much-the committee says that someone will do what Gareth Evans finally concluded was impossible-codify the reserve powers!

Then there will be a convention to settle these and other amendments to the Constitution. It will definitely not be elected-the noble Senators would not trust the people with that task! It will be filled with "constitutional experts"-read for that "republican constitutional experts." They might as well just have the ARM do that. But in their slavery to political correctness these will be chosen by both Houses to reflect-you guessed it –ethnic, gender, age and other diversity. I’m sorry but the republican constitutional experts I know don’t exactly fill that bill.

Then at long last, nine or ten years later, at the earliest-here will be the referendum. This will result in another, probably greater, landslide rejection-if the process gets that far. In the meantime there are two really sinister proposals. One is for education-but education about republicanism under the direction of a parliamentary committee which like this one will no doubt be stacked with…republicans. Then there is a proposal to do away with the usual Yes No case which goes to every voter in favour of information prepared under the guidance of the very same republican cabal.

The Senate Committee has achieved one thing in its hidden report-this whole process is totally and irreperably discredited.

Until next time,

David Flint

- Unnecessary and inappropriate, says Senator. -