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An Independent Australian Constitution

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John Skene has a plan for new Australian Constitution that would deliver both a Republic and more Independent MPs.



After reading Mark M Aldridge and managing editor David Donovan’s articles on the Independent Australia web site about how hard it is to get independents elect into parliament, as well as one of David’s article about Australia becoming a Republic, I suggest that if we are to become a republic, then how about updating the constitution as well.

I am not a politician or a lawyer, just an ordinary bloke that would like to see a fairer Australia for all Australians. These are my own thoughts and what I have been thinking of for a while.

The Constitution

Our constitution is over 100 years old and it has served us well over that time. It would have been a good constitution back in 1901, but today it doesn’t reflect our modern Australia. At present, we have seven different Constitutions in Australia — essentially telling us how our respective parliaments work and what laws they can and cannot bring in.

Here are links to the:

  • Federal Constitution

  • New South Wales Constitution

  • Queensland Constitution

  • Victorian Constitution

  • South Australian constitution

  • Tasmanian Constitution

  • Western Australian Constitution

  • The Northern Territory and The Australia Capital Territory don’t have Constitutions, and fall under the Australian Constitution.

    So, why do we need seven Constitutions when we are all Australians? The A.C.T and the Northern Territory seem to operate adequately under the Australian Constitution, so why not combine them all into one, so all Australians are living under the same constitution? People might say that the states would lose their autonomy under one Constitution — but with what I’ve got in mind, I don’t think they would.

    The President

    We have had a debate about how the President is, or isn’t, appointed — so I won’t go back into that. The President has to be above politics, so how is he or she appointed if he or she is going to be above politics?

    The community could nominate people who have received Australia’s highest medal – with the Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) – for consideration by the Federal or their State government. Then, all the governments – Federal, State and Territories – with the support of all political parties, could nominate three or four people from those to be put forward. This group would then be put to an Australia wide vote of the people to elect six members to form a a team of 5 years called the Presidential Select Committee, which would sit only when required, or if the President or the chairperson of the Presidential Select Committee ask for them to meet. It should be chaired by any one of the justices from the High Court. The committee would nominate three members with the Companion of the Order of Australia to Federal Parliament to become President of Australia.

    The Prime Minister of the day would recommend one of them to parliament to become president, with the approval of the leaders of all political parties sitting in parliament at the time. It would then be put to the vote of both houses of parliament, with a supermajority of 2/3 to approve the candidate as president.

    The President would be eligible for a maximum of two five-year terms, and would have to be nominated again by the Presidential Select Committee for the second term. Thereafter, although the President could not be nominated again after having a second term, he or she would be able to be nominated to sit on the next Presidential Select Committee.

    The President would carry out all the duties that the Governor-General does now, but would seek advice from the Presidential Select Committee on any appointments he or she makes and on any use of the reserve powers.

    The Select Committee could do any background checks necessary for the people they nominated for President. The people sitting on the Select Committee would be denied the ability to stand for president.

    The President could only be dismissed by a vote of the Presidential Select Committee. If the president dies or has to leave office for any reason, there are still two people already nominated to the parliament that are able to fill the rest of the term.

    In the debate we had about the republic, there was nothing said about State Governors. The Presidential Select Committee would nominate 3 people with the Office of the Order of Australia (AO), which is our second highest medal, to each State Government for Vice President of that State and the same sort of appointment process would occur as for the President.

    Politicians, ex-politicians and people who had been a member of any political party for the previous 10 years would be ineligible to stand for either the Presidential Select Committee or for the President or Vice President positions.

    It’s true that the people cannot elect the president outright under this system — but instead involves electing the President in a roundabout way by nominating people with an AC and electing the Presidential Select Committee.

    The Senate

    The Constitution was set up for the senate to be a house of review and to look after the States’ rights and that is why there are 12 senators from each state. It does review all legislation with its committee system — but it does not look after States’ rights, being controlled by political parties.

    I advocate having two more senators from the Northern Territory and the ACT, making 80 senators in total. To overcome the Party domination, I then suggest have 6 senators from each state and 2 Senators from each of the territories be reserved for independents, with the other senators coming from political parties — making 40 independents senators and 40 affiliated with political parties in total. The independent senators would, of course, look after the concerns or States far more than senators aligned with a political party, who always vote along party lines. It would also stop the government of the day having control of both houses of parliament — a reasonably common and most undemocratic possibility under the existing system.

    Of course, the Constitution must ensure that no political party could help in any way any independent senator to be elected and that no senator could be a Minister or shadow minister.

    The State Governments could have a similar arrangement for their upper houses. (Of course, Queensland would be obliged to reinstate their upper house for this to happen.)

    House of Representatives

    All governments – Federal, State and Territory – should have fixed 4 year terms. In addition, if the Federal election is on the first Saturday in March, for instance, all the states would have their elections on the first Saturday in March two years later — in something like the mid-team elections in America. The Senators affiliated with a political party would stand for election when the Federal election is held and the independents senators would stand for election when the state elections are held — which would give all Senators a four year team instead of six years, as it is now.

    If the State Governments have the same set up for their Upper House, the independent members of the States’ Upper Houses would get elected when the federal election is held, and political party members of the States’ upper house would get elected when the state elections are held.



    Elections

    To ensure governments couldn’t change electoral laws to suit themselves, I suggest a committee made up of all political parties from the federal, state and territory governments, along with some community members, to work out a set of electoral laws for all elections so they are the same throughout Australia. These could then be written into the Constitution.

    Disagreement between the Houses

    Rather than a double dissolution, I suggest that if the House of Representatives passes any proposed law, and the Senate rejects or fails to pass it, or passes it with amendments to which the House of Representatives will not agree, and if after an interval of three months and within 6 months the House of Representatives, in the same or the next session, again passes the proposed law with or without any amendments which have been made, suggested, or agreed to by the Senate, and the Senate rejects or fails to pass it, or passes it with amendments to which the House of Representatives will not agree, then I suggest the proposed law be put to the people as a referendum at the next federal or state election. If it is passed by the people at the referendum, it should pass into law at the earliest possible time in the same way it was put to the people at the referendum. If a future government wants to change the legislation in any way, it would have to be put to the people again to change it.

    Speaker, Deputy Speaker and the President, Deputy President of the Senate

    The Speaker, Deputy Speaker and the President, Deputy President of the Senate should be nominated by the President of Australia with the advice of the Presidential Select Committee. They must not be an MP or senator, and of course none of the President Select Committee would be eligible to be nominated.

    With the Presidential Select Committee sitting when required, its role is to ensure the President is performing his or her role properly under the Constitution. The pay of the Select Committee could be half the salary of the President, divided between the 6 members (on today’s figures, just over $32,000 per annum).

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