Constitutional change is possible and a proposal should be given to the Albanese Government on how our democracy can progress, writes Dr Klaas Woldring.
RESPONSES TO MY recommendation to promote a new constitution for Australia as an essential part of the republic include those who ask: “But it is already so difficult to get a minimalist republic up. How could you even think of broadening this to include a new constitution?”
On the face of it, this seems a reasonable objection. But it is not. It is important to understand this because otherwise, Australia cannot move forward to improve its democracy. In a short article, this could not be explained fully. Let me make some additional points.
Before addressing this more fully let me also explain that the two-party system, a consequence of the single-member electoral district system, is a major cause of the failures of constitutional referendums in Australia. This does not happen in the UK because the UK has no constitution. It has a series of historic key laws that function somewhat as such but there is no difficult constitutional amendment procedure.
Those who say that a new constitution is just not possible start from the wrong basic position, which is “we cannot change the existing constitutional framework”. Why not? I would ask upfront. This a democratic right and that has to be demonstrated now.
Therefore, that is why we need a body that says, “the current colonial Constitution is holding this society back and we cannot continue to think that piecemeal tinkering will get us there”. That is why we need to proceed from the basic principle that the existing Constitution needs to be voted out for that reason.
Barry Jones's proposal described in a recent Saturday Paper issue provides a sensible answer. Jones is a former senior ALP Minister. His party should listen to him, especially Prime Minister Albanese. Get a non-party committee together that proposes a major step in the form of a new draft constitution explaining first of all why this is necessary. This could be an expanded Australian Republic Movement group.
Jones argues that such a new constitution proposal, when approved in a plebiscite by a majority, can then be presented to the people in a Section 128 referendum. Yes, it could theoretically still be knocked back. No doubt there are reactionary segments of the electorate who will block a new constitution no matter how sensible. But that possibility would be greatly minimised by this strategy.
I would think that an expanded A.R.M., with progressive members under the new management of Craig Foster, could be the body to successfully adopt this strategy. For such a proposal to come from a major party, it will have the immediate problem that it is up against the current adversarial political culture. This needs to be avoided to begin with.
Dr Klaas Woldring is a former associate professor at Southern Cross University and former convenor of ABC Friends (Central Coast).
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