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The Nation is best served when our leader must answer to the people

By Greg Barns - posted Friday, 16 May 2003

When the Treasurer, Peter Costello, told Channel Ten's Meet the Press last week that the appointment of a Governor-General is "a personal appointment … the Prime Minister's appointment … not a Cabinet, … not a parliamentary [appointment]", he succinctly articulated just how broken the system is and why any republican model would deliver a better result for our democracy.

The key question that emerges from the sad Peter Hollingworth affair is how we prevent it from occurring again. There is only one way. The process of appointment of the Queen's representative or a president must be transparent and involve the Australian community.

Under the most practical and popular republican models on offer - a parliamentary appointment or a direct election - the skeletons in the cupboard of any contender would be shaken out before he or she was ensconced at Yarralumla.


We would avoid the agonising and unseemly death of a thousand cuts that the nation has to bear over Hollingworth.

John Howard should follow the lead of the Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie, in this regard. In March, Beattie put the appointment of the new Governor of Queensland, Quentin Bryce, to the Queensland Parliament for debate.

Beattie also announced on March 11 that when the time came to appoint Bryce's replacement, he believed that the general public should be asked to nominate people for the Premier to consider, with the Premier's choice then being put to the Parliament for discussion.

While Beattie is a republican, his reforms are of no consequence to that issue. They are about democratising the appointment process of the Queen's representative - something that even a monarchist Prime Minister or Premier should support.

Of course, for republicans the Hollingworth matter is a gift. An Australian republic will involve either a direct election of a president by the people, a parliamentary appointment process, or perhaps the halfway house of an electoral college of commonwealth and state representatives that elects a president.

All of these alternatives are a vast improvement of the current system: they are utterly transparent and would fully flesh out the background and credentials of candidates for the top job.


More importantly, they would ensure that any person who was fortunate enough to become Australia's president would know that it was the people who made the selection, not simply a Prime Minister and a far away monarch.

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Article edited by Merrindahl Andrew.
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This article was published on the Sydney Morning Herald website on 12 May 2003.

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About the Author

Greg Barns is National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance.

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