Real Republic: A model to inspire and capture a nation's imagination

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Clem Jones knew a few things about nation building, having built Brisbane and rebuilding Darwin (Image via

The late Brisbane Mayor Clem Jones left a multimillion dollar bequest to help Australian progress to a "Real Republic". The trustee of this legacy, David Muir, outlines his plans.


Clem Jones' vision

The late Dr Clem Jones AO, long term former Mayor of Brisbane, believed that one must care about a world that one will never see.

He cared so much about Australia that he stuck to his guns with his vision for a directly elected head of state for the Republic at the 1998 Constitutional Convention and in the subsequent 1999 Referendum for a Republic, knowing that he might never see his Republic in his life time, but he believed the issue was too important to compromise.

Clem believed that symbolism in making a move to a Republic was not enough. Australians deserved more.


Real Republic — Real reform

The Real Republic founded by Clem Jones, now that Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has put the Republic back on the political agenda, will take to the people a vision of constitutional reform requiring a directly elected head of state who also serves as head of the fourth arm of government — that is Integrity

Imagine that! Democracy and integrity all in the one package.

Not only does each Australian citizen of voting age get to vote for their Head of State, they will also have a head of state to keep the politicians honest. This head of state would be responsible for a fully independent public service board to appoint bodies such as Anti‑Corruption Commissions, Ombudsman, Auditor general, Integrity Commission, Electoral Commission and Remuneration Tribunal.

At the moment, executives get to appoint anticorruption bodies and all these other linesman of our political system. This is simply Caesar judging Caesar. No wonder we have an integrity problem in our political system in Australia.

As mentioned by the former Clerk of the Senate, Harry Evans, such a system is like having a cricket match where the captain of the batting side is also the umpire.


Other Constitutional reform

Our Australian Constitution plainly needs reform in a number of ways.

Why on earth is it necessary for us to have by-elections in the House of Representatives when we could simply replace politicians by the use of a casual vacancy as happens in the Senate.

This mean that all Commonwealth politicians be replaced by a casual vacancy, as now happens in the Senate.

This would also mean that any politician found ineligible under section 44 of the Constitution would simply be replaced by the same mechanism used in the Senate rather than the cost, time and energy involved in holding a by-election. Often the focus of such by-elections is to merely protest against incumbent Government and have no intrinsic value.

Another reform could be to reduce the number of senators for each state from 12 to, say, four. In the United States of America, each State is only entitled to two senators. Why do we need 12 Senators for each state in Australia? Aren't we over governed with too many politicians?

We could also consider reducing the terms of Senators from 6 to 4 years and have fixed terms for the House of Representatives. Why not also have elections for all levels of Government on same day?


Direct election is the keystone for the Republic

Direct election of an Australian Head of State is the keystone for constitutional reform bringing about the modernisation of the Australian Constitution. This is because constitutional reform is difficult and can only be made by the voters in a referendum under section 128 of the Australian Constitution.

Section 128 requires that not only a majority of Australians need to vote yes, but also a majority of the states must be in favour. This is known as a double majority.

In fact, of the 44 proposals to amend the Australian Constitution, only eight have been approved.

Former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, in correspondence dated 17 January 2006 to former Premier Peter Beattie, acknowledged the pragmatic reality that the only way that we will ever get a Republic in Australia is if the referendum question allows for a directly elected head of state. He said that Australians will only vote for a Republic if they can elect the president.

Imagine going to the Australian people at a referendum on the Republic question with the notion that the Australian voters could not be trusted to elect their own Head of State.

No wonder the Republic question failed at referendum in 1999 when the Australian people were confronted with a model which denied them the chance to elect their President, providing, instead, for the appointment of the Head of State by the politicians constituted by joint sittings of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Lecturer in law John Pyke, in his analysis of the Australian Constitutional Referendum Study by David Gow of the University of Queensland and others, is that a Direct Election Republic would be supported by 65-75 per cent of the people of Australia. This is consistent with media polling in 1998 and 1999 and may now be even higher due to the growing level of distrust of politicians.

As long as the powers of the Head State are codified, a directly elected head of state will work in conformity with the Westminster system of government with the executive headed up by Prime Minister and Cabinet. So a direct election model works and works well as is demonstrated by it's operation in the Republic of Ireland.


Living Example

On 7 November 1990 the people of the Republic of Ireland elected Mary Robinson as President.  After serving a seven year term, there was an outpouring of warmth for her from the people of the Republic of Ireland and from around the world.  Her "woman of the people" approach won her a staggering 93% approval rating with the Irish electorate. 

She said that her election was a victory for the women of Ireland who

"... instead of rocking the cradle, had rocked the system."

Mary Robinson has been accredited with forging a new identity for the Republic of Ireland in Europe and for helping to consolidate the peace process in Northern Ireland. She, as a directly elected head of state contributed to the transformation of the international image of Ireland.

The Republic of Ireland is one of a number of European nations where directly elected presidents serve alongside prime ministers. (Other examples include the Republic of Iceland, the Republic of Finland and the Republic of Austria.)

It is time that Australia took its place on the world stage with a directly elected Head of State who can excite and unify the nation.

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