Sunday, July 05, 2009

Why do I retain the Governor General in my Proposal for an Elective Constitution Monarchy for Australia?

Fr Greg Blevins wrote to this morning saying:
Just read you proposal for an elective monarchy in Australia. One thing I don't understand: with a resident monarch, why have a Governor General?
Ah, you see, this is the beauty of it all.

Australia as it exists at the moment is actually federation of separate British Colonies. All the Colonies (now referred to as "States" in the "Commonwealth of Australia") have their own Governor, directly chosen by the Premier of the local State Parliament and appointed by the Queen herself without any Federal participation in the process. The Governor General is the same sort of beast writ large, chosen by the Prime Minister and appointed directly by the Queen without any participation from the State governements. So we have two quite separate teirs of Government, both directly and independently related to the people and, through their governors, to the Crown.

The next oddity is that under the current constitution we currently have an absentee monarch, sharing our monarch with Great Britain, Canada, New Zealand and a bunch of other places. This works very nicely as the Monarch has zilch input in the way our nation operates politically except for the business of appointing Governors and Governors General. In fact, it is hard to know why anyone would want to change this system - we get the best of both worlds: the stability that comes from constitutional monarchy and the self-determination that comes from democratic independence. And we don't even have to pay for the Monarch.

Effectively we have a vacuum at the top of our political system - one that the Republicans would like to see filled by a President. Proposals for a Presidency have reached all sorts of complications about the way in which such a president would be appointed. Mainly the argument comes down to whether he/she should be appointed by direct vote of the people or through some form of parliamentary concensus. But it is also complicated by the question of what powers the president would have in the political process. This in turn is complicated, because there has been a great deal of debate as to what exactly are and are not the currrent powers of the Governors/Governor General, especially since the dismissal of the Whitlam Government in 1975 by the then Governor General, Sir John Kerr. Would a President have the powers to do that? If he did, and if he were a popularly elected leader, that could create a very unstable situation.

My proposal for an Elective Constitutional Monarchy for Australia (in effect, proposing that we have a Sovereign head of state who is elected FOR LIFE by a very particular and predictable process) aims at making the only change necessary in order to have an Australian Citizen as our Head of State, and leaving everything else in place as it currently is. After all, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Retaining the State Governors AND the Federal Governor General would keep the Elected Head of State at a safe distance from the day to day political process. The sole political activity and power of the Monarch would continue to be the appointment of Governors at both state and federal levels (on the recommendation of the Premier of the Parliament), just as it is in the current system. In every other respect the role of the Soveriegn would be purely ceremonial - thus filling that "vacuum" at the top of our political system which is currently filled by our Absentee Monarch.

My system also solves the question of how to elect the Head of State by a similar process of removing his/her election as far from the day to day democratic political process as possible, thus eliminating any possibility of volatility and instability (the same thinking is behind the idea of election FOR LIFE - somthing that should be no trouble when the only political power of the Monarch is the appointment the Governors). I borrowed the idea for an "Elective Monarchy" from the Holy Roman Empire, where the Emperor used to be chosen by a group of princes who had the role of "Electors". Let the "Electors" be the "princes" of our political system, I thought, namely those Governors and Governors General that remain in the new system. These Electors are people who have been appointed by the leaders of the democratically elected parliaments and appointed by the Crown. They have a limited term of office, but their office is not dependant upon the government who appointed them remaining in power. As a college working together, they, and not the rather more volatile Parliaments, are well placed to do this duty. Add to that that the Governors are generally not in themselves politicians, but "elder statesmen and women" of our nation, and they seem the perfect choice to elect a new monarch on the death of the old one.

Any way, that's my thinking. I reckon it would not only work, but would flourish as a system of governement for our nation.


At Monday, July 06, 2009 7:37:00 am , Anonymous Joshua said...

How about just have the Chief Justice of each State appoint the Governor thereof (on the advice of the State Premier), and the Chief Justice of the High Court appoint the Governor-General of Australia (on the advice of the Prime Minister)?

In Tasmania, it has become fairly common for the Chief Justice or former Chief Justice to become Governor, Lieutenant Governor, or Acting Governor...

At Monday, July 06, 2009 1:37:00 pm , Anonymous Ttony said...

The two bits I still don't understand are: what the inherent deficit is in the current situation that a "monarch for life" would address (unless you believe that a monarch's having several realms is for some reason I haven't guessed inherently bad); and why your "monarchy" (I still think what you describe is a republic) needs to hang on to so many structures from the colonial era. If you think that Australia has developed the colonial structures organically, then why, apart from tinkering (absent the inherent problem I don't yet get) change them?

At Monday, July 06, 2009 9:24:00 pm , Anonymous Schütz said...

I hadn't thought of that.. But one reason I can think of right away for not doing this is that it would involve the Chief Justice in a political sphere in which they are not currently involved, and give them a role they do not currently have. Goodness knows what effect this would have on the overall system. My system is, remember, intended to be entirely minimalist, with everyone retaining their current roles.

At Monday, July 06, 2009 9:36:00 pm , Anonymous Schütz said...

1. "What the inherent deficit is in the current situation that a “monarch for life” would address (unless you believe that a monarch’s having several realms is for some reason I haven’t guessed inherently bad)?"

No, I don't think there is any deficit at all in the current system. The system I propose is the system I would favour if it were universally agreed that we need a new system - something which I do not personally believe. The "deficit" usually cited with the current system is that our head of state is not an Australian system. If this IS a deficit - and I do not concede that it is - then the best way of fixing this deficit is to make this single change and no other to a system that is currently working just fine.

As for why I propose election of the head of state (and I prefer to use the term "monarch" and "Crown" for this head of state rather than "President" is simply because that is what we currently have - remember my minimalist intent!) "for life" is that this would avoid the instability and the cost and the politics associated with regular re-elections. Acknowledging that it would probably be impossible to set up a new hereditary monarchy in this day an age, I have accepted that we must have an elected head of state. BUT I see no reason why, if the head of state is simply a figure head, we need to limit the head of state's term of office. All other examples of elected heads of states throughout the world have the disadvantage of expensive, politicised and destablilising elections on a regular basis. I simply ask why we need this, if in fact at the moment we don't have them, and since this is not a part of the criticism of our current political system.

2. "And why your “monarchy” (I still think what you describe is a republic) needs to hang on to so many structures from the colonial era?"

Simply because they are the structures we currently have, they are working admirably and have given us a great deal of political stability for more than one hundred years. If the sole reason for voting for full independance from the British Crown is to have an Australian Head of State, why do we need to change anything else? Any changes we make to the structure beyond the appointment of an Australian head of state in the place of our current absentee monarch might have unforseen consequences. It is largely because of these unforseen consequences that proposals for a system in which we do indeed have an Australian Head of State have failed to win wide acceptance by our citizens as a whole.

At Tuesday, July 07, 2009 4:47:00 pm , Anonymous Ttony said...

Thanks - I'd thought that you were positively in favour, rather than proposing an "if you must" alternative.

Her's a different one: why not ask HM the Queen (and Prince Edward) if the Earl and Countess of Wessex can, on he death, succeed her as (independent) King and Queen of Australia? You keep the British link, but you patriate it; you maintain the herditary monarchy; you keep the Head of State separate from politics. (And you have the 1905 Norwegian precedent.) At the very least, you give the new system the life of Prince Edward (say 40 more years?) to work out whether Oz wants to be a republic or a monarchy.

At Wednesday, July 08, 2009 12:44:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

Oh, and by the way, if we take the case of the Sovereign of the Vatican City State, he may have a lot of power in his spiritual role, but not in his political role. Even when he is resident in the Vatican, he is represented in his political role by the Secratary of State. He has very little role in the day to day "political" running of the Vatican City State, such as it is.

At Wednesday, July 08, 2009 1:56:00 am , Anonymous Joshua said...


Perry is right - your Elected Monarch would be otiose, having nothing to do: a roi fainéant indeed.

My suggestion, of having the relevant Chief Justice appoint the Governor or Governor-General on the advice of the Premier or Prime Minister would do away with this redundancy.

At Wednesday, July 08, 2009 4:06:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

So, what? No head of state at all?

At Wednesday, July 08, 2009 4:12:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

If, on the other hand, retaining the current role of the crown in the Australian constitution is the priority, then I think we have to reconsider how badly we want a local head of state.


... Given a choice between the current monarchy and the Schutz monarchy, I’d vote for the current monarchy.

Me too, ol' boy. Me too.

At Wednesday, July 08, 2009 6:17:00 am , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

In this scenario, how would the Governor-General not be the head of state?

At Wednesday, July 08, 2009 6:25:00 am , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

Well, if not even Schutz favours the Schutz model, I think its future is strictly limited!

I think you put forward the Schutz model as a compromise between those who want a monarch, and those who want an Australian, as head of state. But to make it fly, you need to persuade those who want an Australian as head of state that they should still want a monarch. But apart from a suggestion that a republic is prone to political instability in a way that a monarchy isn't (which you seem to shy away from fleshing out), I don't see much attempt to do that.

At Wednesday, July 08, 2009 7:35:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

In other words, the Chief Justice appoints the Head of State on the say so of the Prime Minister? Youch. And who appoints the Chief Justice? All a bit messy, I reckon. And involves the judiciary in government. Again, youch.

At Wednesday, July 08, 2009 7:39:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

I said that I did not favour Schütz model (or any other model for that matter) compared to the current situation. I offer (and favour) the Schütz as a minimal model of change for those who think that our head of state SHOULD BE a resident Australian Citizen (an idea with which I have no argument, and am prepared to accept if the rest of the Australian nation desires it, but personally do not favour).

At Wednesday, July 08, 2009 8:28:00 pm , Anonymous Schütz said...

Well, of course, this - or something like it - has been proposed by others. And of course, I would favour it way above any proposal for an elected head of state, even my proposal. But first: we would have to find a current royal who would really want this job (mind you, I think it would have its attractions), and secondly (and more importantly) I think you would have a hard time actually convincing the Australian public that our new monarch was an Australian head of state (though in general, we accept all naturalised immigrants as "Australians" pretty easily in this country).

At Wednesday, July 08, 2009 8:30:00 pm , Anonymous Schütz said...

But it's the elephant in the room, isn't it, Ttony?

At Wednesday, July 08, 2009 11:34:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

As I understand Joshua's suggestion, the Chief Justice's role would be purely formal, i.e. he would be bound to appoint the candidate nominated by the Prime Minister. Which is of course exactly the current position; the Queen is bound to accept the advice of the Prime Minister in this matter.

And, as no doubt you are aware, there is a strong view among the "no change" camp that the GG is already the Australian head of state. On this view, Joshua's proposal involved even less change than yours; we have a head of state chosen - or dismissed - at the discretion of the Prime Minister of the day. (I personally don't see this as a terribly good idea, but if you want "no change" then this is what you want.)

At Wednesday, July 08, 2009 11:40:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

It would be foolish to suggest (and nobody here is suggesting it) that what works for Ireland must necessarily work for Australia.

On the other hand, the case of Ireland is a standing refutation of the notion that a Westminster-style republic can’t work, or must be unstable. Or that a directly-elected President is inherently destabilising. And I think it’s also fair to note that the part of Ireland which has had monarchical government has been conspicuously more unstable than the part with republican government.

So, yes, there are lessons to be learned and conclusions rather tentatively to be drawn from the Irish experience that may be of relevance to the Australian debate.

At Friday, July 17, 2009 8:30:00 am , Anonymous Joshua said...

Ireland is not Australia - unlike the Irish, we did not throw off alien occupiers by armed revolt, nor turn on our once-relations in a war of independence as the Americans did; Australia gained her independence soberly, slowly, lawfully, peacefully and constitutionally. While I am a Catholic, I am not Irish (but for a very tiny fraction), and I do resent the attempt often made to equate the two.

One would have thought, given the fact that still today (as in N.Z. and to a lesser extent Canada) a plurality if not a majority Australians are of British descent, it is reasonable to maintain a restrained constitutional link to Home in in the person of the Crown.

I mistrust the push for a Republic, because in its rhetoric of suspicion and hermeneutic of rupture I hear the echoes of so much liberal nonsense that has led faith and morals astray within and without the Church.


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