Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A choice between Monarchy, Republic or a different Republic? It's not even that simple!

The Vision 2020 Summit meeting (which, if nothing else, proved how lucky we are not to live under a system of "direct democracy") apparently came up with the idea that
First, there will be a vote to ask the electorate whether it wants a republic. If a majority say yes, there will then be a few years of discussion about what sort of republic we should have. Once a model has been chosen, there will be a second referendum to amend the constitution.
We are Sentire Cum Ecclesia are NOT HAPPY with such a suggestion, and for precisely the reasons suggested in this article in today's edition of The Age: "It's not just yes or no to a republic" by John Roskam.

Roskam notes that we should be more than just a little wary of the suggestion that came from the Summit, if for no other reason than that "98 of the 100 people in the governance stream at the summit supported a republic." That is far in excess of the support that the republican movement has in Australia generally (about 55% to 60%), but it is a result, as Roskam notes, which is "not surprising, given the composition of the summit".

As Roskam points out, there are not one, but two main sorts of republican in the Australian republican movement:
Any government that offered voters only a yes or no vote on the republic would not be offering Australians a genuine choice. It is disingenuous for anyone to claim that the debate about an Australian republic is about only two choices. The debate is actually about three choices: no change, "minimal" change (a republic with a president, probably chosen by the parliament), and "maximum" change (a republic with a directly elected president).
So lets ask the question: What would a plebiscite asking the question "Should Australia become a republic?" actually mean? Because in fact there are two issues driving the republican movement in Australia--two quite different issues which are confusing the debate. They are:

1) Should we have an Australian as our head of state? Behind this is a sense of national pride and independance and perhaps a touch of anti-English sentiment in some quarters.

2) Should we be able to elect our own head of state? Behind this is a rather more left-wing radical kind of democratic yearning that believes in the "sovereignty of the people" sort of goverment.

Those who are driven mainly by the first idea are likely to be content with a minimalist republican model. Those who are driven by the second are more likely to be driven by a maximalist model. But let it be quite clear: They are supporting the idea of a republic for two very different reasons, which may well make it impossible to find agreement across the board on an acceptable model for a future non-Monarchical Australian constitution.

Of course it works in reverse too. I am a constitutional monarchist, not because my loyalties are particularly tied to the English monarch (although I am her obedient subject and very fond of her and her family generally), but because I believe constitutional monarchy is a stable system of government which maintains a workable separation between the office of the head of state and the democratic political system. I would actually be very happy with an Australian Monarch as I have outlined in the Schütz Model (see side bar).

Roskam is right: The Australian people will not be able to sort out whether they SHOULD be a republic until they sort out WHAT SORT of republic they should be. And they won't be able to sort that out until they sort out exaclty WHY they really want to be a republic in the first place.

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