Like many Australians, I find little relevance in an absent and foreign
monarch. There should be no place in Australia's democratic and
egalitarian society for the notions of primogeniture, sexual
discrimination and religious discrimination inherent in the succession of
the throne. The mood of the nation is clear. In all of the opinion polls
most Australians would prefer an Australian head of State to the monarchy.
In spite of this mood the November 1999 republican referendum failed,
primarily because the republicans were divided whereas the monarchists
were united in their opposition to change. Tragically, the republicans
were divided over a trifling and inconsequential detail, whether the new
head of State should be appointed or elected. Few seemed to realise,
regardless of how the job is filled the new head of State would be a
puppet of the Prime Minister.
Under the Constitutional doctrine of responsible government, the head
of State can only act with the advice of the Prime Minister and his/her
ministers, all of who are members of and accountable to the parliament.
The parliament is, in turn, representative of and accountable to the
people. Because the head of State only does what she is told, she cannot
be held responsible for her actions. Responsible government was the device
that effectively transferred the royal prerogative powers from the Crown
to the Prime Minister and his/her ministers.
When the role of the head of State is accurately summarised with words
like "puppet", the obvious questions follow. Why do we need a
separate, non-executive head of State? Why not do away with the charade?
Why not make the Prime Minister the head of State, after all this is what
the Constitutional phase "the Governor-General in Council"
I concede there are understandable historical reasons for our existing
Constitutional arrangements. We have a constitutional monarch as the head
of State because of the bloodless revolution that brought about
representative, democratic government in the United Kingdom. Writing in
1867, Bagehot observed that the Westminster system of government was a
disguised form of republican government. While the symbols of monarchy had
been preserved, the substance of executive government had been
republicanised through the practices of responsible cabinet government.
However, nothing suggests there is an ongoing need for a vestigial head
of State in the 21st century. In the Australian Capital
Territory we have already done away with the office of a pretend head of
At this point a reader might object, observing that the head of State
(and her Governor-General) perform at least one vital function: although
the need is rare, they can use their reserve powers to safeguard
constitutional practice. It is a point I will accept. However I contend
there is no need to create a new pretend head of State just to retain this
safeguard mechanism. The safeguard mechanism could be transferred easily
to (for example) the full bench of the High Court of Australia.
This brings us to my proposed model for a minimalist republican form of
government. The model begins with the thesis that the Prime Minister is
all but Australia's head of State in name. It avoids the ancient
constitutional theory of an all powerful monarch; the 19th century charade
of republican government veiled in the forms and symbols of a
constitutional monarchy; and any need for an Australian President who
would be little more than a puppet of the Prime Minister.
The model is based on minimal changes to the text of the Constitution.
It establishes a fully republicanised Federal Westminster parliamentary
system of government. It eliminates the need for a pretend, non-executive
head of State. It retains the safeguard of the reserve powers. It can be
achieved along the following lines:
- The sections creating the Office of Governor-General should be
replaced by a new section that establishes the Prime Minister as the
head of State.
- The executive power of the Commonwealth should be vested in the
Prime Minister and his ministers, who are responsible to the
Parliament for the exercise of that power.
- The reserve powers of the Crown should be largely codified and in
most cases given to the full bench of the High Court to exercise.
- Royal Assent to legislation should be replaced with Prime
- References to the Governor-General in Council and most references to
the Governor-General should be replaced by references to the Prime
- References to State Governors should be replaced with references to
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