Thursday, January 13, 2022

History of monarchy in Australia

The Australian Republican Movement, or ARM, has released a policy paper outlining a new proposal for how Australia would choose its heads of state once the monarchy is abolished. 

The ARM proposal, the "Australian Choice Model," proposes that the legislature of each state and territory could nominate a candidate for a five-year term as head of state, and the federal legislature could nominate up to three candidates. These candidates' names, a maximum of eleven (a minimum of one) would then be put on a ballot to be voted on by the Australian electorate. The elected head of state would then serve a five-year term, with powers essentially equivalent to those of a governor general.

There's history to this. In 1999, when Australia held a referendum on the monarchy, polls showed majority support for ending the monarchy. The 1999 ballot question -- supported by the ARM -- proposed replacing the Queen Elizabeth with an Australian head of state who would be chosen by a super-majority of the Australian legislature. But the idea of a head of state who was not directly elected (nor given substantial political powers) enraged some leading republicans. They campaigned against the abolition proposal for that reason, and the No won handily. 

This question -- direct election (possibly code for "powerful president") versus indirect selection (role and powers to remain similar to a governor-general's) remains a live issue in Australia. The current head of ARM admits he long preferred the 1999 proposal, but has come to accept it will not fly. Without direct election, abolition remains controversial in Australia. ARM projects that with the new Australian Choice Model on offer, support for abolition could reach 75 per cent.  

So ARM offers the new "Australian Choice Model" as a hybrid: popular election, but ensuring that a dignified, competent person is selected.  "People don't want a Trump-like figure and they don't want Shane Warne. They want an eminent person," said Peter FitzSimons of ARM. (Warne is a celebrity cricketer known for rule-breaking, infidelities, and evolution-denial -- think Rob Ford and Don Cherry for Canadian equivalents.) 

In Australia, amendments to the constitution cannot be made without a direct public vote. Referendums are not provided for in the Constitution of Canada; constitutionally, a change to the monarchy, including abolition, would be mandated here by the agreement of Parliament and all provincial Legislatures. Of forty-four referendums held in Australia since 1901, thirty-six have been defeated and eight passed.

The thing Canada might learn from Australia's debate is:  no referendums, ever. Australia has consistently been unable to come up with referendum questions that efficiently sort out the variety of views Australians hold on such issues as the monarchy and its replacement.  Moreover, referendums by definition alway pose divisive Yes/No binaries, and where there are diverse views, no becomes the default option whatever the Yes offers. 

Solving this kind of question is what parliaments, representative bodies designed for orderly discussion of public issues are for, surely. Of course, that suggests we would need real working parliaments in order to produce a Canadian head of state -- two wins for the price of one, you might say! 

The other thing about the ARM proposal is its apparent neglect of aboriginal participation. Abolition of the Crown in Canada could be achieved by the legislatures in Canada, but surely it should require guarantee of First Nations participation in all selections of future heads of state. Indeed, empowering elders selected by the Assembly of First Nations (or other representative indigenous body) to choose all our future heads of state sounds like an excellent solution to the head of state challenge. 

Update, January 14:  Helen Webberley, from Australia:

Even for Australians who don’t want to be subject to British royalty, I think most citizens would be very keen to keep the Governor General as a figurehead and ceremonial representative of the entire population.

The idea of the Governor General wanting political power for him or herself, in competition with the elected politicians in Parliament, would be abhorrent. Ditto the Governor General having a party-political identity. 

The U.S has shown over and over again that a politically-identified Head of State would end our Parliamentary democracy.

I hope you are right! Further on this subject, I was a bit shocked to discover that the removal of all royal duties from The Andrew Formerly Known as Prince means that three Canadian Army regiments have lost their honorary colonels. Jeez, does that still go on? These are Canadian troops -- can't they have their own leaders?  No foreign colonels. No rapists either. The military command structure has too many of those already.  

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