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For Queen or country

By Greg Barns - posted Tuesday, 3 October 2006

The survey recently which shows about 80 per cent of Australians have no idea of the name of their Governor-General Michael Jeffery is indicative of the fact most people see the role of the Queen's representative as being irrelevant to their lives.

This survey, published in The Courier-Mail, provides a valuable signpost for the next push towards an Australian republic.

Unless there is substantial and genuine community involvement in the debate about what sort of office should replace the Governor-General in a republic, then it will be viewed as a waste of time and money by many Australians.


The challenge for republicans is to make sure the vast bulk of Australians know and care passionately about the office of head of state.

The traditional processes by which a republican model is likely to be arrived at, be it by parliamentary committee, another constitutional convention or in the confines of the cabinet room, are all flawed.

They are all processes in which, in the words of English writer George Monbiot, "the deliberations are back to front".

In each case, the public is being presented with a process and a model or models by the machinery of representative democracy - machinery that is little trusted by the community it is supposed to serve.

This is the beauty of what is called deliberative democracy; a process where communities come together to inform themselves, debate and vote on an issue.

It ensures that it is not only the representatives of our democracy who decide the process and substantive questions pertaining to an Australian republic. It empowers the essence of the Australian democracy, the people themselves. It is bottom up, not top down: An essential element of the future republican debate.


The rise of deliberative democracy in North America has been phenomenal. According to one analysis, about 50 million Americans and Canadians say they are involved in some form of deliberative democracy project each year.

We should not be surprised, given the level of mistrust and cynicism about the partisanship and dissembling that is a hallmark of modern political practice, that deliberative democracy is proving so successful.

Perhaps the most relevant example for the purposes of a deliberative democracy approach to the Australian republic is that of the Canadian province of British Columbia which, in 2003, used deliberative democracy to devise a new electoral system.

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Article edited by Mark Bahnisch.
If you'd like to be a volunteer editor too, click here.

First published in The Courier-Mail on August 31, 2006. Greg Barns is the author, with Anna Krawec-Wheaton, of An Australian Republic, published recently by Scribe.

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About the Author

Greg Barns is National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance.

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