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Focus on the consultative process, not particular republican models

By Richard Fidler and Allison Henry - posted Friday, 4 June 2004

Peter Van Onselen and Wayne Errington make several erroneous claims in their article "Popular appointment versus popular election: a solution to the republican impasse?".

They assert that "no-one appears to have taken seriously the challenge of incorporating the public demand for a vote on the president into a workable republic model". They also claim that the Australian Republican Movement (ARM) and the major political parties "believe that a popular vote for the president would alter our system of responsible government", thus implying that the ARM, among others, is hostile to direct-election models.

These statements couldn't be further from the truth. Since the 1999 referendum defeat, the ARM has firmly backed the proposition that the question of what kind of republic Australia should become is a matter for the Australian people to decide.


And, contrary to Van Onselen and Errington's claims, the ARM has put in the grunt work behind a range of republican models. In 2001, we produced Six Models for an Australian Republic, a document that carefully outlines the features of six different republican models and the requisite amendments to the Constitution for each model.

The six models were intended to illustrate the range of conceivable republican options: they ranged from the most minimal change through to a reworked version of the 1999 model, to an electoral-college model, direct election and a US-style system.

Three of the six were direct-election models. Until that point, very few people had actually sought to put flesh on the bones of a direct-election model (Professor George Winterton being a very notable exception). With Six Models we put the detail to the models and asked for feedback.

The models were put forward to initiate public discussion and test support for each approach. 

In preparing the ARM submission to the current Senate Inquiry into an Australian Republic, we revisited our six models and decided to drop the option of a US style system (Model 6), which establishes the Head of State as the Head of Government. Such an executive Presidency would be a major departure from our parliamentary system and traditions. There appears to be very little support among republicans and within the community for a US-style system.

The ARM therefore presented five safe and workable models in its Senate Inquiry submission. Briefly, these five models were:


Model One - Prime Minister Appoints the President:

An "ultra-minimalist" option that is likely to appeal to those who think the change should be as minimal as possible, thereby (it is argued) conserving as much as possible of our current successful system.

Model Two - People Nominate, Parliament Appoints the President:

Similar to the 1999 referendum model, with changes to the nominations and dismissal process. This requires less constitutional change than direct election, and is also more likely to produce a non-party political figure as Head of State. It is also more open to public input than the ultra-minimalist options.

Model Three - Presidential Assembly Elects the President:

This gives the Australian people a say in the appointment of the Head of State, while still avoiding imparting a strong democratic mandate to him or her.

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About the Authors

Richard Fidler is a member of the ARM’s National Committee.

Allison Henry is National Director of the Australian Republican Movement.

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by Richard Fidler
All articles by Allison Henry
Related Links
Australian Republican Movement
Senate Inquiry into a Republic
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