Reflections on an Australian Republic

Not for reproduction, or adaptation without the express authorization of the copyright owner

Jessie Street Lunchtime Forum

24 July 2003

Jane Innes BEc LLM (Hons)(Syd)*


Over the past 7 years the Millennium Dilemma research project has recorded and archived the viewpoints of authoritative commentators, and thinkers on the topic of the constitutional change in Australia.The expert comment gathered for the project has been widely distributed to universities and schools through books, video and Internet resources:

The creation of learning programs for the Millennium Dilemma project relies on the use of a Delphic oracle method to facilitate informed discussion and promote community dialogue on various aspects of Australia’s constitutional arrangements. Under the ‘cognitive apprenticeship’ of authoritative expert contributors, users of the resource are encouraged to develop their own understanding of the future possibilities for constitutional change. An important feature of this method is its capacity to assist problem solving on the process of constitutional change, and in particular how an Australian head of state might practically be achieved.

 Today’s presentation is designed to stimulate fresh dialogue on the possibilities of an Australian head of state using selected expert viewpoint recorded following the 1999 referendum with Professor Elaine Thompson, Dr Kris Walker, George Polites AC CMG MBE, Professor Leslie Zines AO, and the late Richard McGarvie QC AC. By sharing the views and insights of those knowledgeable and experienced in the field, the aim is to engage your personal understanding and commitment to an Australian head of state through a process of active discussion.

The ‘Dilemma’ Problem Type

Resolving the issue of an Australian republic is a tough exercise in ‘dilemma’ type problem solving. Learning theory characterizes this problem type as one which represents complex social situations, with conflicting perspectives and values, and where no one solution can satisfy all people. It is an ill-structured, unpredictable and dynamic problem type that presents particular issues for problem solving. For citizens the world over a proper appreciation of this problem type is essential to the democratic evolution of domestic and global constitutional arrangements over time.

In relation to the topic of an Australian Head of state here lies the specific dilemma:

What model, and what process is needed to replace the British monarch with an Australian head of state?

An Australian Republic?

Since 1901 Australia’s unique traditions of governance have been imbued with republican values and sentiment. Even prior to the inauguration of Federation the resolution of Edmund Barton’s appointment over Sir William Lyne might itself be seen as a powerful manifestation of Australia’s nascent republicanism. After all, was it not the political determination of the peoples’ representatives that ultimately prevailed over the Queen’s representative in the choice of Australia’s first Prime Minister and Federal Cabinet? Perhaps Lord Hopetoun got it right after all.

In the year 2003 republican values and traditions now form an essential part of Australia’s political life and culture. By most criteria Australia is already a republic: the institutions of government are established under Federal and State Constitutions; we elect our public officials; we have regular elections; we have full adult franchise; we have a system of separation of powers with checks and balances; we have government under law; citizens through their elected representatives have power to control, and change the constitutional system; the people are sovereign.

Yet, as most Australians well know and accept ‘full adult’ republican status eludes us: the British monarch remains Australia’s formal head of state under a system of hereditary entitlement, which is entrenched in our written Constitution.

Our period of extended adolescence has certainly carried us far. The question remains however, how and when will we ever manage to transcend the last fragments of our colonial past?

The November 1999 Referendum: What Happened?

On 6 November 1999 Australians voted to replace the British monarch with an Australian head of state elected by a two-thirds majority of the Australian Parliament. The proposal was rejected by 54.87% of the voting public. It failed to obtain a majority of voters in all States and Territories, excepting the ACT.

The 45.13 % of disappointed Australians did not include those voters who wanted an Australian head of state, but who rejected the model proposed. By all current indicators widespread community support continues to exist for an Australian head of state.

The outcome of 1999 referendum result has meant that problem solving on an Australian head of state is back to an undetermined drawing board, which at this time in our history is as deeply buried in the back shed as it possibly can be.

In the after glow of the Centenary celebrations of Federation we are back to what Mark McKenna has referred to as, ‘the long years of republican silence’ that languished during the period from 1901-1963. As McKenna points out this too was a time of global warfare.

In the long term this will change as surely as the tides of political leadership. In the short term the important process of education, inquiry and debate must continue within the community, through the active civic engagement of us all.

The November 1999 Result: Why did it happen?

Before we can move ahead on the issue of an Australian head of state it is essential to analyse and learn from past experience with reference to the results of the 1999 referendum. On the issue of what went wrong, here are some views to consider:

Professor Elaine Thompson, UNSW

‘At best there has only ever been a fairly weak majority wanting constitutional change. If that majority of people who wanted to change did not themselves agree, you would not get change. That is what happened. There was not enough agreement on the side of those who wanted change for the sort of change that was wanted.

Secondly, the mechanism through which change came about, looking back, was the wrong way around. We should have had some sort of popular plebiscite that asked: ‘do you want to get rid of the Queen as head of state- yes or no?’ If we got a yes to that, then we go to the referendum process.

We could then be asked: ‘here are a couple of options which one do you want?’ This way the people working on options for change would all be pro-change. It is a very mad thing to have change being suggested by people who are opposed to change. It was a wonderful example of what a superb politician John Howard is’.

George Polites AC CMG MBE

‘It demonstrated you will not get up on anything without bi-partisan support. History has demonstrated this clearly and conclusively.’

Richard McGarvie, QC AC

‘First, the majority of Australians were not satisfied that the package proposed was safe for our democracy.

Second, they regard it as a very great omission that no attention was given to the States because they know how much they rely on the States.

Thirdly, they were treated as ignorant couch potatoes, and ordinary Australians are not ignorant couch potatoes.

People might decide at a very shallow level as we all do, as between two soap powders that were probably manufactured in the same factory anyway, but with something like constitutional change they are very conscientious and very careful. They know it will affect their children and grandchildren, and everyone else’schildren for future generations’.

Dr Kris Walker, Melbourne University

‘The mechanism selected for an Australian head of state that was put forward in the referendum proposal was not the mechanism that was most popular. There was a lot of support in the community for a republic, and for an Australian head of state, but I think that support was, by and large, for an elected head, and that wasn’t offered’.

Professor Leslie Zines ANU

‘The main reason I thought was clearly the fact that the Republicans were at loggerheads, and obviously they seemed to hate each other more than they did the Monarchists’.

The above views sit consistently with the findings of Warhurst and Mackerras who identify five lines of argument to help explain the referendum result. These include such explanations as:

  • the people rejected the elitist non-inclusive nature of the republican debate which alienated the people, especially ‘the battlers’
  • the historical difficulties of achieving successful referenda with a non-partisan campaign, and lack of Prime Ministerial support.
  • the flawed nature of the model proposed which not allow for direct election
  • insufficient debate and information on the proposals
  • the poor campaign run by the ‘Yes’ side.’

What did we learn from November 1999?

To close observers and scholars of Australia’s constitutional arrangements the result of the November 1999 referendum was no surprise. So what did we learn this time round?

George Polites AC CMG MBE

‘Only repeat lessons of what we have had for years. It repeated the lesson that you can’t fool the people. The people wont’ be fooled’. In the 1999 referendum you couldn’t get bi-partisan support because you had no participation by the States. The referendum in 1999 didn’t deal with the issues. It didn’t deal with the reserve powers, or the deadlock mechanism.’

Professor Elaine Thomspon, UNSW

‘For those of us interested in constitutional change we learned a lot. We learned that what we need is a big debate first. The big lesson we learned is that you can’t do these things quickly. What we need is to engage in a really major debate and discussion of the issues about head of states, of the nature of the Constitution, and why these things are important, so they are familiar.

One thing I know from being a teacher of public policy is that the way you get big change is that you familiarise people with those ideas first. Then they seem ordinary. We didn’t do that with the move to a republic. We tried to do it the quick and dirty way, and it failed. We learned that you actually have to engage people. So when they say;’ Why does it matter? Tell me why its important?’, we have discussed that , and have answers.

 The outcome has again presented old opportunities to relearn old lessons : constitutional change does not occur unless there is bipartisan political support; to affect constitutional change under Section 128 of the Australian Constitution a majority of people in a majority of States mustsupport the change through informed consent;State Governments must be involved and cannot be ignored in the process of constitutional change.

None of these are new lessons. But these are lessons must collectively be understood if the dilemma of an Australian head of state is ever to be resolved.

As for new lessons it seems that more attention must be given as to how the reserve powers will operate in a republican system. In particular, any model, which empowers a Prime Minister to instantly dismiss a Governor- General, is unlikely to secure the majority of Australians in a majority of States necessary to effect change under Section 128 of the Australian Constitution.’

Models for Constitutional Change

One of the most significant aspects of using authoritative expert comment in the course of civics and legal education is that students must face the realisation that rarely, if ever do the experts agree. Both experts and non-experts alike will have diverse perspectives, background, experience and values from which they draw to reach any particular viewpoint on any particular topic. This is especially so when it comes to determining the best possible model which might enable our constitutional evolution to an Australian republic.

The short sample of viewpoints set out below well illustrates the point. As you will see a broad range of views exists ranging from the ultimate minimalist model to direct election by the people.

Richard McGarvie AC QC

‘We are at a stage where there is a lot of support for separating from the monarchy. If we are all concerned with ensuring that our children and grandchildren live in as good a democracy as we have lived in, rather than getting a warm glow for something new and untried, then we will stick as close as possible to the system. I make no apologies for supporting what has been described as ‘the ultimate minimalist model’.

The only change that needs to be made is a simple change in part of the ancillary mechanism. The only role performed by the Queen at present is to appoint or dismiss the Governor-General or Governors on the advice of the Prime Minister or the State Premier.

This system has given us one of the world’s best democracies. All you need to keep it operating in exactly the same way is to have a Constitutional Council of three Australians automatically chosen by a constitutional formula. So no one selects them. People with knowledge and proven experience in this area would do just what the Queen does.

We could have three people, who by a majority would be bound by a binding constitutional convention to appoint or dismiss within fourteen days of advice from the Prime Minister for the Commonwealth, or the Premier of the States. There would be a Constitutional Council for the Commonwealth, and one for each State.

In relation to the recognition and participation of women my preferred model would provide that for the next fifty years, if the formula does not operate to have a woman in the first two places, then the third place will go to the woman who is highest in the structural line. For the first fifty years that provision will operate.

Another modest improvement of my preferred model would be to make it open to any citizen to nominate to go on a list for the Prime Minister to consider. This could make sure that no one is overlooked. People could nominate someone they think would be a good Governor-General.

Everything else stays the same.

There are four basic strengths in our present system. First, the Governor-General has been selected by one person, the head of the elected government, the Prime Minister. The Governor-General has got no basis for any illusion that he, or she has some mandate or power base by having been selected by the community, or the community’s representatives.

The second strength of our present system is that vital constitutional conventions are binding by the operation of the system. That depends on the Governor-General being liable to prompt dismissal within a fortnight for breach of those conventions.

The third strength that our present system has is that the fail-safe mechanism- the discretionary reserve authority-depends on us having prompt dismissal. Within that we have a built in delay factor that makes sure it cannot be immediate dismissal.

If there were immediate dismissal it would mean that if the Governor-General properly warned a Prime Minister that it might be necessary to exercise the reserve powers if a particular constitutional malfunction were not fixed, it would be open for the Prime Minister to nullify the reserve authority by having the Governor-General immediately dismissed. That was the great flaw that was in the model that was rejected at the referendum in 1999.

The Prime Minister retains the power to dismiss the head of state, but a two-week delay period should be established before this dismissal can come into effect. It replicates the existing built in delay factor that exists under the current system. This operates to preserve the discretionary reserve authority in situations of constitutional crisis.

The McGarvie model retains a fourth of the basic strengths of the present system. Our system needs a head of state who is non political, and the present system provides it.

You have got to have a non-political head of state, because one of their main functions is to produce unity within the community. So they have to be apolitical. The other factor is that you would never really trust them to exercise the discretionary reserve authority if they were aligned with one side or the other.

In summary the four basic strengths that need to be retained are:

First, that the head of state has no mandate.

Second, the head of state will be just as firmly bound by those important constitutional conventions, as now.

Third, there will be a built in delay in the fortnight dismissal ensuring that the safety mechanism to prevent our democratic system being damaged or destroyed remains in tact.

Fourth, the head of state will be non political.

This is a win-win model. It is the only model that gives the republicans most of what they want, and it gives the monarchists most of what they want. Through this model we can come full length in our evolution from 1788 to being an independent nation state. The Australian Republic Movement will get a republic, which is an autonomous Constitution, totally separated from the monarchy. The Conservatives will get a system, which is as safe as the present system.’

Dr Kris Walker

‘All we are trying to do now is get rid of the Queen as the Australian head of state, and bring in some Australian mechanism for selecting an Australian head of state. Within those parameters I would favour a model where the head of state is elected through the Parliament. Not appointed by the Government, not elected by the people, but elected by the Parliament, requiring probably a special majority of each House.

I don’t think direct election is the best model. I’m concerned that a president elected through a direct election may consider that he, or she has a mandate to act in a way that would be quite different to the system we have now. At present the head of state really doesn’t have a mandate to do anything. But if the ‘

Professor Leslie Zines ANU

‘I am concerned that the President should not become a competitor for power with the Prime Minister. This assumes we are going to keep our present system of government, and not have a French style, or American style of President.

At present, there is nobody in Australia who can say they owe their position to the people of Australia as a whole. A directly elected President could say to the Prime Minister: ‘Who do you represent? The electorate of Bendigo? I represent the people of all Australia.’ I do not think it is desirable to provide a moral base for the President to exercise independent power.

The model I prefer is the President being elected by the Parliament. I wouldn’t object to the Parliament itself dismissing the Governor -General. But certainly not the Prime Minister doing whatever he, or she feels like at the time. I wouldn’t mind the Prime Minister having power to suspend the Governor-General, and then having to go to Parliament for approval.

It might mean you might never get rid of a President during the course of his or her term of office. I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. One argument might be that if he, or she did anything outrageous, you would get two-thirds majority. For example, if he or she tried to act like a dictator or something.

There is a problem by just having a majority vote, because it is a political matter. If you require more than a majority vote you at least manage to get the opposition and the Government in agreement. After all, the President, or the Governor-General is supposed to be representative of the country as a whole, rather than as a hack to one political party or the other.

Having said that, it is obviously the case that the people at large want to have a directly elected President. I can well understand that. They are highly suspicious of the notion that Parliament should elect the President. There is a feeling that this is distrustful of the group that is supposed to be the political sovereign, namely the people of Australia. It is natural that you would want to have a direct say in a democracy about your head of state.

While I would prefer another model, I am quite supportive of such a system, provided that the Constitution does all it can to ensure that the President generally ahs to act on the advice of elected Ministers. I would be happiest of all if the problem of reserve powers was cut down very substantially by having rules as what happens if the Senate does not want to pass a budget. There are two things you could do. Either you could take away the power of the Senate in relation to those matters, as recommended by the Constitutional Commission. Alternatively you could require a double dissolution, and an election after so many days of the Senate not passing the budget.’

Professor Elaine Thompson

‘I have changed my own viewpoint absolutely because of the huge support for direct election that is out there. I am not arrogant enough to believe that my particular viewpoint ought to dominate. I hadn’t thought about a directly elected president, and how that would change the shape of things. From where I was coming from with the republic was very simple. I wanted to get rid of the Queen. Having a foreign monarch at the top of our system really gets up my nose. It is as simple and as primitive as that.

I don’t know which way we will go on this. The French have an elected President an there are lots of systems, which have two centers of power competing with one another. Probably that is healthier.

So many Australians want direct elections, and electing people is the Aussie way of doing politics. We were the first country in the world to elect both Houses of parliament. America didn’t set up its Senate until the 1920s. We were born with the idea of elections. We sent our model Constitution in 1900 back to the people. We change our Constitution through referendum. While I know it might have extraordinary flow on consequences, I think it is the Aussie way of doing it. It fits with our feelings about ourselves, and what democracy is all about we like. We like elections, and the people who oppose it give the reasons we have heard for a hundred and fifty years. At essence in their heart they don’t trust the people. If you don’t trust the people you are not a democrat.

If we end up with a further hybrid version of the American system where we have a president with a reasonable degree of power because of the powers the position incorporates, we will be somewhere between the French model, and the German model, and the American model. It will be the Aussie way of doing things. I don’t think we should be frightened of going in a new direction in terms of working the system out. It doesn’t scare me, the way it scares a lot of people because it is so different to what we are familiar with. The politician s will hate it. It will be a direct challenge to the powers of the Prime Minister. As far as I’m concerned it’s about time too.’

George Polites AC CMG MBE

‘There are a number of people who are concerned about an elected head of state who would have the reserve powers that now exist. I would never vote for a change of head of state until there is a limitation to the reserve powers of the Governor-General, or the head of state, particularly if elected. If elected he, or she could then see themselves as superior to the Parliament.

I am prepared to look at a direct elect model if you amend the reserve powers. You could have a head of state with only one power: to order an election if the Government is unworkable. I don’t have a problem with an elected head of state if those amendments to the Constitution are made. If they are not made then I am an opponent of the direct elect model.’

None of the proposed models for constitutional change are immutable. For those interested in viable constitutional change each requires closer consideration and debate. In meeting the challenge of dilemma problem solving on this issue we need to recall that no one solution will ever be capable of satisfying all the people. This should not however, prevent us from working together as a community to resolve the issue.

The Process for Implementing Constitutional Change

Moving beyond the paradigm of a divisive and bi-polar republican debate will require not only the development of an acceptable consensus model for constitutional change. Most significantly it must also involve a process that can effectively deliver constitutional reform through political and legislative change. Further discussion and inquiry on the nature of this process, and the way forward from here must now be undertaken.

Richard McGarvie QC AC

‘It won’t be before a political leader of influence can see political advantage in pushing ahead the resolution of this issue. We learn from history. We would not have had federation had not George Reid realized that by changing sides, and becoming leader of the Federation push, he could supplant Henry Parkes, which he did. We got Federation as a result.’

Dr Kris Walker

‘I think it’s stalled a little bit at the moment. The current government doesn’t seem to have any real commitment to changing our system. I suspect we will probably have to wait for a change in government. Even then it is an expensive process. There will presumably have to be more discussion and debate about the model that might be put up next time around. I’m sure there will be a next time. Maybe it will be in another decade, or so.’

Professor Elaine Thompson

‘We could quite easily say: ‘Right. We get a change in government, or we get a change in leadership. We know who the leaders are who support the shedding of the link with the Queen and the British Monarchy. We therefore get a minimalist model of some sort. This may simply mean leaving everything in place, even the name Governor-General and just breaking the link between the Governor-General and the British monarchy. I would be happy with that as a start. But I don’t know whether the people will vote for it.

We have had so many whispering campaigns against perfectly reasonable referendum. I don’t know whether there would be a whole campaign for the direct electionists who would say: ‘Listen. You are being bought off. If you vote for this you will never get the change you want’. Plus the conservatives who still don’t want to break the link with the Queen, and who would say: ‘this will set the Governor-General up with all his reserve powers without an ultimate check’

I really don’t know, whether, even with bi-partisanship, when it came to the vote, the people would vote for it. I think they would be suspicious even of that minimalist model which I would go for like a shot.

It could happen clearly. A ‘breaking the apron strings campaign’ which says; ‘ This does not mean this is the end of constitutional reform. Along with this we are going to see a commitment to having regular conventions where we talk about the issues of concern which are not just the republican issue but lots of others such as a bill of rights.

If our politicians were clever enough and if the media got behind it, a simple campaign that said: ‘Look. What we are doing is this. We got rid of the Privy Council. We got rid of this we got rid of that. We are breaking the final, silly, antiquated link with Britain. We are untying the apron strings, and standing on our own two feet. If we want to then change our Constitution, we can think about it from that point on. Its us saying we are grown up now.’ That campaign might work.

The other side tells me there are the whisperers, and I worry about the whisperer. All sorts of things have been knocked back because of the whispering campaign. So even with the smartest public relations firms in the world onside and developing the campaign, and bi-partisan support, it might not get up. Then we would look very silly.

The direct elect model I think will fail. That’s where we are in trouble. So I would go for trying to see if we can get the apron strings untied first. Then let’s have Constitutional Conventions where we familiarize ourselves with the debate. Where people become familiar with the ideas about heads of states, and become aware again about reserve powers. Most people don’t know about reserve powers any more. Remember, we are at least a generation and a half along from 1975.

It will happen when we get new leadership. Probably on both sides of politics, and when something happens to remind us that we need to tidy this stuff off. Whether it’s the death of Elizabeth II, although that may be a long time coming. Something will happen to reactivate the interest in fixing up this odd linkage we have got with Britain, and looking at the powers of our head of state and working out what we want to do with them’.

George Polites AC CMG MBE

‘If you believe that everyone should have a chance to say something, I don’t think there would be anything wrong with a plebiscite. If people that want to continue with the current process of nomination by some kind of Committee or whatever, why can’t that name be put to a plebiscite? The community could then approve the appointment of the head of state. If he or she is not approved, it can go back to them, and they can choose somebody else.

It gets down to the system of selection. We don’t have a United States Constitution. I don’t want to see a contest for an election of a head of state. It is contrary to our Westminster system of government. We are mixed up now enough with our model of Westminster where Minister’s offices being the second-class Public Service, or the first class Public Service, as distinct from the professional Public Service. We have enough trouble with that without having a competitor to the Prime-Minister.

We could turn around and say straight out that the head of state has no power, and that

he or she is not a government. But while the powers are there that are there now I am not prepared to accept an elected Governor-General.

I think the people who do not want an elected Governor-General, and don’t want to change the powers, may have more of a chance of getting their view up with the people who believe that there ought be an elected head of state, if they were to turn around and say: ‘ we will let you approve, or not approve him or her.’

There is no contest. Their name goes forward, and you have to vote. You would have to get 51% of the people saying we approve. If they don’t it can go back to the Committee to pick another person, and another nomination.’

It might be possible, if amendments were limited, and related to the desire to achieve a republic. If you put this forward simply, and didn’t doctor it up, change might be possible. That was what was wrong with the 1988 Constitution Commission. It was just too big. You couldn’t deal with all of it.

We should pick about seven or eight points to deal with things like the appointment of a Prime Minister, and reserve powers. We need to identify the changes we need, and replace the Queen with President.

I would run a plebiscite first of all and ask: ‘do we want a republic?’ I think you would get a 90% vote for that. I know the polls already tell us this, but we can’t know with absolute certainty without a vote. People should be asked positively to express a view. It would give legitimacy to the process. If you really want to get this thing up, the way to do it is to conduct a plebiscite on a simple question: ‘should Australia convert from a monarchial system to a republic with a head of state who is an Australian citizen’.

If you asked that you would get an overwhelming ‘yes’. If we are going to change something as dramatically basic to our Constitution, we need to ask the people if they want change or not. They need to be asked first, if they want it. Without that it’s your view against mine. It’s what the polls say. But the polls have told me that there are people who are going to win government who don’t on Election Day. I would like to see a vote by the community as a whole to show what percentage of Australians does want a change.

Once you have that approval, the Commonwealth, acting on that basis, exercises its powers to create a Constitution Committee for the purposes of developing a proposal to put to the people for the attainment of republican status. That Committee should consist of representatives of each of the States and Territories, as well as the Commonwealth. It should not be a monster. It needs to be as small as possible. It may have a couple of advisory committees so as to keep the numbers at the top end down. But it must have continuous participation by the States and Territories throughout its activities.

Part of the Constitution Committee’s brief should be to consider which process for the appointment of head of state would best serve the needs of this community in the light of maintaining the Australian model of the Westminster system of government.

If that were to be done, I think it might take a couple of years, but not a long time in our lifetime. I believe you can get a model up that is acceptable to the community.’

Towards a Major Rewrite?

Over the years many constitutional commentators and scholars have identified the need for thorough and ongoing constitutional reform. As Bede Harris more recently has suggested our Constitution is written in language which is archaic, uninspiring and difficult to understand. As he points out, however we are not captives of our colonial history, and it is well within our capacity to revise our constitutional arrangements to positively reflect the best of contemporary thought at the local and international level. Other agree:

Dr Kris Walker

‘The Constitution was written a long time ago, prior to a lot of current thinking and current practice on democracy. It’s really a document that is out of date for Australia. I do think that we need to go back and start again. That of course is a much bigger task than simply finding a new mechanism to choose a head of state. That task is much further down the track.’

George Polites AC CMG MBE

‘I would like to remove the power of the Governor-General to appoint the Executive Council. I would create the post of Prime Minister as being the principal administrator of this country. I want to promote the idea that the Parliament is totally supreme in the exercise of powers.

This would certainly require a major rewrite. You would have no chance of getting it up unless you had bi-partisan support. But we got the first document up. Why can’t we get the second one?’

Dilemma Problem Solving: A Five Step Program for Viable Constitutional Change

In the spirit of further education, inquiry and debate on the head of state issue a basic Five Step Plan is set out below for comment and discussion. It aims to incorporate the above views and ideas with a view to encouraging a consensus approach to the issue the most Australians would like to resolve: how will we practically achieve an Australian head of state?

Step 1

Conduct a plebiscite on the issue of whether Australia should replace the British Monarch with an Australian head of state. The citizens of Australia must engage, and own this issue to ensure and secure its democratic legitimacy.

Step 2

Develop a consensus model that moves beyond the Republican/ Monarchist divide, and even more significantly, the Republic/Republic divide. An Australian republic will never be delivered off a bi-polar or tri-polar debate. This must take place through the active involvement of citizens in each State and Territory working together to ‘untie the apron strings’. In response to community opinion, it must also include an open and informed debate on the advantages and disadvantages of a directly elected head of state.

Step 3

Call upon Federal and State Parliamentarians to provide leadership, and to implement the parliamentary processes necessary to enable a consensus model for an Australian head of state to be developed over time. With effective political leadership, this will be achieved by the people, and for the people, through their elected representatives in a bi-partisan way.

Step 4

Establish regular Constitutional Conventions to empower and motivate citizens to move beyond the current malaise of political apathy, distrust, and disengagement on the issue of constitutional change. Any such Conventions must accommodate the legitimate views of citizens seeking thorough, and ongoing constitutional reform in relation to such issues as an Australian bill of rights, citizen initiated referendum, and the possibilities of a written Constitution that can be understood by the wider Australian community.

Step 5

Ensure a vigorous culture is embraced and promoted which values and supports ongoing civics education, inquiry, and debate on Australia’s constitutional future. The retention of a strong and viable democracy demands this.


Alan Atkinson, Muddle-Headed Republic, Oxford University Pres, 1993

Janet Baker, For Queen or Country, CIS Publishers 1994

Jane Innes, Millennium Dilemma: Constitutional Change in Australia, University of Wollongong, 2000;

Bede Harris, A New Constitution for Australia, Cavendish Publishing 2002

David Headon. James Warden and Bill Gammage, Crown or Country, The Traditions of Australian Republicanism, Allen and Unwin 1994

Department of the Parlimanetary Library, The Constitution Papers, Parliamentary Research Service Subject Collection No.7, AGPS Canberra, 1996

Helen Irving (Editor), A Woman’s Constitution, Hale and Irenmonger, 2001

JA La Nauze, Alfred Deakin A Biography, Melbourne University Press, 1965

Richard E. McGarvie, Democracy: choosing Australia’s republic? , Melbourne University Press, 1999;;

Parliament of the Commonwealth, Constitutional Change, House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, Canberra 1997

George Polites AC CMG, Interview recorded on 13 November 2002, Melbourne Victoria

Professor Elaine Thompson, Interview recorded on 12 November 2002

Dr Kris Walker, Interview recorded on 12 November 2002, Melbourne Victoria

John Warhurst and Malcolm Mackerras, Constitutional Politics: The Republic Referendum and the Future, University of Queensland Press, 2002

Professor Leslie Zines, Interview recorded on 6 December 2002, Melbourne Victoria