Robert Vose elaborates on his detailed plan for making Australia a republic — without requiring radical changes to our Constitution.
In this article, I will outline a new way to envision an Australian President. In subsequent articles I will elaborate upon the reasoning behind aspects of this new model. With any kind of major change to an existing system, any serious proposals will have to be compared against the existing system and other proposed frameworks, with the differences in design and implementation being identified and discussed.
This new approach will leave the Constitution as it is now, with the exception of an amendment to Section 59 and a new section to define the rules for electing an Australian President. Only one Section of the Constitution needs to be changed for a republic, with a new Section added to define the election of the President. Two sections only! The process for becoming a republic will be discussed in another article on Independent Australia.
The Australian Presidency — replace the Queen and keep the Governor-General
The Australian President replaces the Queen in the Constitution and will have the powers of the Queen as specified in the Constitution and by convention. The Governor-General shall remain as the Federal representative of the Australian President. The State Governors shall remain as their respective State's representative of the Australian President.
The Australian President will represent Australia to Australians and to the rest of the world on the international stage. This will be a full time vocation in public relations: attending events, giving encouraging speeches, presenting awards, and meeting and greeting VIPs and ordinary people alike. The President will be expected to stay out of party political disputes and to serve the whole nation. The Australian President will be present as a guest of honour at formal events on behalf of the Australian people. The Australian Presidency will be a ceremonial role.
The Governor-General, however, is charged with the formal duties of the Executive for the Federal Parliament and Commonwealth such as of providing assent to legislation, swearing in ministers, dissolving Federal Parliament, etc, as the Federal representative of the Australian President. Each of the state Governors will also continue with their formal duties as the State's representative of the Australian President for their respective state. The formal duties of the Governor-General and the state Governors will remain unchanged in a republic. The Governor-General will continue to represent the head of state for the Federal Parliament and the Commonwealth — whether the head of state is the monarch or an elected Australian President.
Term of office — one year as President, one year as Vice-President
An Australian President will serve for one calendar year as Australia's head of state. A term of office for an Australian President will be limited to a single term only and will not be allowed to extend into a second term. The term of office for an Australian President as head of state will start on the 1st of January and end on the 31st of December of the same calendar year.
An Australian President will also serve twice for an extra six months each in a supporting role as Vice-President for both the previous and subsequent Australian Presidents. The support role could be compared to a Vice-Presidency in other republics, but the main purpose of the support role is to provide mentoring for the President-elect. At any one moment of time there will be one active President as head of state and one supporting Vice-President.
The total time of service for a person elected to serve as an Australian President will be two years, starting in June/July of the year previous to their calendar year as head of state, and ending in June/July of the year after their one year term as President. They will start their service as a Vice-President, act as President for one year, and then serve as Vice-President for another 6 months. The day when one Vice-President leaves public office and is replaced by the new Vice-President would be a public holiday like the Queen's Birthday in June/July.
The following diagram should help to demonstrate how this would work:
The gender of the elected President will alternate from year to year. When the acting President is male, the supporting Vice-President is female, and vice versa. Every even calendar year will have a male President acting as head of state. These rules about gender would not apply in the event of a dismissal or resignation of an elected Australian President. The titles of President and Vice-President are only provisional at this stage.
Election of the President — State-based round robin
Each President shall be elected as the representative of one State only. These States are currently: New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia. The territories combined will also elect one President. This makes for a total of seven electorates for the Australian Presidency.
The states and territories combined shall share the Australian Presidency evenly and fairly with an agreed timetable over each period of seven years. The elected representatives from each of the States and the territories combined, will each serve as head of state for one year only in a round-robin over seven years. Each of the States and the territories shall have one elected representative serve as head of state once every seven years. A voter will only need to vote once every seven years for an Australian President, unless that voter moves interstate.
The specific methods for the nomination of candidates will be determined by each particular State and the territories. The Constitution would specify minimal conditions for the election to be deemed a valid election for the Presidency. This will allow for some variation between states on methods of nomination and the style of the election campaigns. The costs for election will be negotiated and shared between the particular State and the Commonwealth. Some of the less populous states may enact more egalitarian methods of nomination and campaigning, while the states with larger populations might be content with standard direct election competitions. The details of nomination and campaigning would not need to be worked out at a federal level. Only the minimal conditions for a fair election need to be specified in the Constitution.
Powers of the President — amended section 59 only
The Australian President will not have the reserve powers. The President will not be able to dissolve Parliament. The President will not swear in Ministers of Government, although we would expect the President to be present during such ceremonies. The President will not provide assent for legislation, unless the Governor-General has specified that a particular piece of legislation be reserved for the assent of the President.
The Governor-General, who is appointed by the President – but only on the advice of the Prime Minister – will continue with the formal duties that are essential for the business of Federal Government as the representative of the Australian President. The state Governors will also continue in their current roles — as the representative of the Australian President for their respective state Government. The Governor-General and State Governors will continue to have the reserve powers in a republic.
Australians will, however, expect an elected Australian President to have some powers similar to the executive presidency of the United States. An executive presidency would be incompatible with Australia's system of government. Yet, Australians would not accept a Presidency with no power whatsoever.
My solution to overcome this problem is to modify Section 59 of the Constitution by adding a "Bee-Sting" clause. Section 59 in its current form could be likened to the sting of a Queen bee. It could be used repeatedly if it were to be left unchanged for a republic.
Section 59 - disallowance by the Queen
The Queen may disallow any law within one year from the Governor-General's assent, and such disallowance on being made known by the Governor-General by speech or message to each of the Houses of the Parliament, or by Proclamation, shall annul the law from the day when the disallowance is so made known.
My proposal is to amend Section 59 with a "Bee-Sting" clause so that the Australian President would have the power to dismiss one piece of legislation passed by the Federal Parliament within a year of it having been passed, but in so doing, the Australian President will be forced to resign from office immediately. The additional "Bee-Sting" clause would ensure that any Australian President who did exercise their only power under the Constitution would be removed from office immediately. It would be metaphorically like a worker bee that had used its sting, is disembowelled in the process and dies immediately. The Federal Parliament should have little problem reinstating legislation that an Australian President had disallowed under an amended Section 59.
With this proposed amendment to Section 59, we could say that the Australian President does have a significant power, but that this power will have a significant consequence for the Australian President him or herself. It would be a symbolic act if the amended Section 59 were to be exercised. The Prime Minister who was the target of an exercise of an amended Section 59 disallowance would certainly feel the sting and it would hurt for a short amount of time — but there is nothing to stop any disallowed legislation from being reinstated by Parliament. There would be a new Australian President in office immediately after any exercise of an amended Section 59. This "Bee-Sting" amendment would automatically remove any potential constitutional deadlock between the President and Prime Minister.
In conclusion, this is a brief outline of an alternative model for an Australian republic that differs quite substantially from existing models and frameworks that have been discussed. This is a model that meets many of the requirements for an Australian republic. In subsequent articles I will elaborate on the reasoning behind aspects of this model and demonstrate how this framework and model is likely to gain the approval of the public so that this model will win in a referendum.
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