AUST1st: Australian Unity and Sovereignty First (Part 1)

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Journalist, Peter FitzSimons, new chair, Australian Republican Movement (Image via @RFSCommissioner)

In the first of a four-part series, Ross Garrad lays out a roadmap showing how we can get from our constitutionally dysfunctional present to a safe, unifying, independent and sovereign Australian future.

Part 1  Introducing AUS1st: Australian Unity and Sovereignty First

AUS1st is a proposal, a plan, a roadmap showing how we can get from our constitutionally dysfunctional present to a more unifying, independent and sovereign Australian future. It rejects the emotional and combative approach that often derives inappropriately from electoral politics, in favour of an uncompromisingly rational way of realising our shared aspirations as proud Australians.

It isn’t an organisation you can join; the last thing Australia needs is another republican splinter group. But if, after examining the complete details of this plan, you agree that this is the most realistic and timely way of eliminating the British monarchy from our constitutional architecture, then please feel free to encourage any existing organisations to endorse or adopt this proposal.

The central feature is the decoupling of the two essential reforms required to convert the Governor-General into a true Australian Head of State:

  1. A new, more democratic selection method, replacing the current process of appointment by the Prime Minister.
  2. Removal of the constitutional link of subservience to the British monarchy.

Most of all, AUS1st is a detailed, realistic plan that starts from where we are right now. It isn’t a futile intellectual exercise that pretends we can start with a blank sheet of paper and create The Perfect Republic. We don’t live in that country, on that planet, and we don’t have that much time to waste. The AUS1st plan stands in stark contrast to proposals that threaten to inflict “referendum fatigue” on voters through a series of plebiscites and/or referendums.

Just one referendum

With clearly-understood consequences. No airy-fairy plebiscites lacking tangible consequences. No ambiguity, no fuzzy language, no “blank cheques for politicians”. To be held as soon as possible: not after the Queen dies, not when there are millions of people marching in the streets demanding it, but as soon as the country, and its political leaders, can get their act together…

To make all the right things happen, at the right times

Full constitutional independence, with our fundamental law deriving its authority from the sovereign Australian people, and not from a foreign parliament, will be achieved immediately.

Monarchical succession – the most objectionable aspect of our current constitutional system – will be abolished from all federal law immediately.

The Governor-General will immediately achieve greater status and security of tenure, unable to be dismissed at the whim of the Prime Minister.

The next Governor-General will be chosen by a far more democratic process, and will become an authentic representative of the entire nation, at the end of the current Governor-General’s term of office.

We will separate automatically from the British Monarchy, and the Governor-General will become unquestionably our Australian Head of State, at the end of the Queen’s reign.

A Special Constitutional Convention will decide whether proposals for further constitutional change should be put to the people a few years after this transition.

To maximise our unity and our sovereignty

The relevance of the concepts of national unity and national sovereignty to the monarchy debate should be obvious. However, an appalling level of constitutional ignorance, combined with our familiarity with an irrational system, seem to prevent many Australians from seeing what should be self-evident: our current arrangements diminish the sovereignty and unity of the Australian people.

Yes, we are sovereign to the extent of electing our governments without interference from Britain, but our representatives are then forced to swear allegiance to whoever is currently the monarch of the United Kingdom. This is demeaning for all of us, as individuals and as a nation, but most of us are in denial.

Even worse, it has been many, many years since the monarchy made a net positive contribution to our national unity. The disunity engendered by our continuing attachment to the British monarchy was on full display at the time of the 1999 referendum.

By any rational assessment, this event demonstrated a massive lack of public confidence in the two pillars of our current Head-of-State arrangements: our constitutional subservience to a foreign monarch, and the political appointment of our de facto head of state, the Governor-General. Yet the acrimonious and divisive debate failed to deliver constitutional progress to overcome these serious national deficiencies.

On the monarchist side, the use of divisive tactics was understandable. Lacking arguments that appeal to people’s hopes instead of their fears, their main weapons are fear, uncertainty, doubt and division. But they weren’t the only culprits; many republicans exhibited an overly combative attitude, or one that was unnecessarily politicised or anti-British. The aim of truly patriotic reformers should be to leave none of their fellow Aussies behind — except for the small minority who really, really want to be left behind.

So when should Australia break free from the British monarchy? The obvious answer “as soon as possible” is too divisive and probably unachievable, with the “Elizabethans”, the procrastinators and the political opportunists lining up alongside our country’s small and shrinking minority of genuine monarchists. Giving in to the procrastinators, and aiming for a referendum in the early years of the next monarch’s reign, would also be unnecessarily divisive.

The dumbed-down, self-interested, self-absorbed mainstream media would be trying desperately to make it personal, convincing us that it’s all about him, or her, or them. Not about us, our values, our rights, our self-respect, our country.

Therefore an emphasis on national unity leads convincingly to one simple answer to the “timing question”: a referendum as soon as possible, to put in place a mechanism to automatically break free from the monarchy at the instant the Queen’s reign terminates. Having such a referendum now would keep it as impersonal as we can make it, because we simply can’t be sure who the next monarch would be. It would be easier to convince voters that we’re not anti-Elizabeth or anti-Charles, but anti the nonsense of hereditary monarchical succession.

There has been surprisingly little discussion of constitutional mechanisms that could get us out from under the monarchy automatically, at the end of the Queen’s reign. Part 3 of this series sets out the full details of one possible mechanism; there may be others.

This series of articles will have been successful if it stimulates the emergence of other realistic, fully detailed proposals that are demonstrably better than AUS1st!

Still to come:

Part 2 — Explaining the AUS1st Plan for a better, stronger Australia.

Part 3 — Details of the AUS1st Constitution alteration: Our own Head of State.

Part 4 — Details of the AUS1st Constitution alteration: Democratising our Constitution.

Ross Garrad has a Masters degree in Applied Law and has served as Treasurer and Convenor of the Queensland branch of the Australian Republican Movement. 

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