Cowen Wrong Over Republic

By Stuart Rintoul, 9-6-2006

FORMER governor-general Zelman Cowen was "just plain wrong" to suggest it was better to have an Australian republic with a directly elected president than no republic at all, academic Greg Craven said yesterday.

Professor Craven, an outspoken advocate of a minimal-change republic, said he believed opposition to a directly elected president among conservatives had, if anything, hardened in recent years. This was his strong sense of the views held by leading conservative republicans in parliament who would have to champion a new republic campaign: Treasurer Peter Costello, former Australian Republican Movement chairman Malcolm Turnbull and former Liberal Party federal director Andrew Robb.

"I don't think Zelman Cowen represents conservative republican opinion, which has not moved on the issue of direct election," Professor Craven said. "If anything it has hardened.

"I think the direct-election model would be the death of the constitution in its present form and for that reason it would be the death of any republican push. And nothing Zelman Cowen says is going to change that fact."

On Sir Zelman's suggestion that a directly elected president was better than no republic, Professor Craven said: "I think, with the greatest respect, that is just plain wrong.

"The starting point, at the end of the day, is about the preservation of the constitution and you can't adopt a form of republic which endangers the constitution."

In his just-published autobiography, The Memoirs of Zelman Cowen, the former governor-general and eminent constitutional lawyer reverses his long-held opposition to the direct election of an Australian president, saying he would reluctantly support the model if it meant breaking free of the British monarchy.

Republicans Take Their case Right to the Heart

By Kerry-Anne Walsh, Political Correspondent 4-6-2006

THE Australian Republican Movement is shifting headquarters from Sydney to Canberra and shaking up its structure to revitalise its push for a split from the British monarchy.

National chairman Ted O'Brien told The Sun-Herald the only way to force politicians to give Australians a second chance to vote on a republic was to join influential lobby groups in the nation's capital.

The shift out of Sydney started on Thursday, with the new headquarters in suburban Braddon - a stone's throw from Parliament - due to open on June 12.

Mr O'Brien and members of the executive will concentrate their Canberra lobbying on Coalition MPs, who are essential to any political move to revisit the question of a republic.

The shift would have enormous potential if monarchist Prime Minister John Howard handed the reins of government this year to republican Treasurer Peter Costello, who has kept his sympathies to himself since he supported the unsuccessful republic referendum in 1999.

Other high-profile republicans in the ministry include Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone, Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile, Defence Minister Brendan Nelson and a rising star, Education and Science Minister Julie Bishop.

Mr O'Brien said the Australian Republican Movement faced two strategic challenges: to engage everyday Australians in the need for a republic, and to lobby members of Parliament.

"We've got to get the Australian community to demand the opportunity for another vote on a republic and we've got to get the Parliament to make that happen," he said.

"We need to finetune our focus on politicians, and to do that we have to be based in Canberra and be closer to the action."

The ARM's structure is also being revamped, with new positions being created and structured portfolios - such as directing fund-raising and lobbying efforts, and engaging with media - becoming the responsibility of eight elected board members.

National director Alison Henry will not be renewing her contract when it expires in August. The role will be retitled "executive officer", with more emphasis on administrative functions.

The Prime Minister gave republicans at home heart when, on his recent trip to Ireland, he refused to say if support for the monarchy in Australia would last after the Queen's death.

He said there was no prospect Australia would become a republic while the Queen was alive.

"Obviously when she goes the dynamic will begin to change, but that doesn't necessarily mean the institution will automatically go," he said.

Talk of Republic Still Stirs Passion

More than four years after Australia knocked back the chance to become a republic, Federal Parliament has put the issue back on the cards.

Maria Moscaritole, 20-4-2004

HANDS up who cares whether we ever become a republic? Most people would raise their arm in affirmation, so the polls say. But not necessarily with much enthusiasm.

This could all turn around by the end of the year. Republicans are looking to the next federal election for their chance to stir renewed interest in an Australian president.

Meanwhile, a team of senators, inquiring into an Australian republic, is now travelling the country taking the public's pulse on the dormant issue. It is holding hearings in each state capital, including Adelaide next month, on options for a native head of state.

Far from an echoing 'Who cares any more' attitude, the committee has received 717 public submissions, many from members of the public keen to vent their opinion for and against a republic, and the inquiry. A cursory perusal of the submissions shows the debate still stirs passion, even if some only want it to go away. Others have used the inquiry to venture their preferred model.

Egyptian-born Victorian resident George Said, 71, writes a republic is about 'us growing up. It is about accepting us all as full citizens in an independent nation and not migrants to the remnant of a defunct British Empire,' he writes.

David Shannon, of Queensland, argues a ceremonial head of state is not necessary-'The PM could cover the GG's duties without breaking a sweat. Ask him'- but poses options for an 'umpire' similar to the governor-general, and more.

Inquiry committee member and South Australian Labor Senator, Linda Kirk, notes monarchists are annoyed by the inquiry but points to the larger-than-normal audience of some 50 people to hearings in Sydney and Melbourne last week as an indication of the interest.

To anyone asking what will be different this time around, the Australian Republican Movement says it has learned from its mistakes in 1999 and will next time back what voters want, rather than push what it sees as best. To this end, it is agitating for plebiscites to gauge whether Australians want to dump the British monarch as constitutional head of state and what type of republic would be most popular.

ARM chairman Professor John Warhurst says the public is not yet apathetic about making the change but it could stand to show more enthusiasm. 'We are a bit stymied at the moment because we need political support ... we're looking forward to a time when both the prime minister and the leader of the Opposition are republican and willing to do something about it' he says. The republic will remain a dead issue as long as Prime Minister John Howard - a staunch monarchist - remains. However, his 'heir apparent,' Treasurer Peter Costello, supports a republic, as does Labor leader Mark Latham.

Mr Latham has pledged a plebiscite on the issue if he wins government, another plebiscite on the type of president people want and then a referendum to seal the deal.

Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy convenor, Professor David Flint, maintains the republic issue is dead. He argues the Senate committee should ask what is wrong with our existing 'enviable' system rather than seeking a way forward on a republic.

'This whole argument is based on the premise that we need an Australian head of state (but) why should we change a system that works so well?' he contends.

The office of the governor-general is above politics and tampering might make the governor-general-turned-president a political player or reduce his status, Professor Flint argues.

The ARM acknowledges it is still too soon to agitate for the end of our constitutional ties with Britain, with not enough distance yet from the failed 1999 referendum.

But the process should start in the next few years, with a referendum by 2009, Professor Warhurst says. By proceeding with a step-by-step, constant pulse-taking path, republicans want to ensure there is no repeat of 1999's result.

Then, far from harnessing national support for an Australian republic, its backers squandered a strong head start through bickering and confusion over the best model.

The fall out was over how the president was appointed - by the people or by the Parliament. The model which tried to steer a middle ground - the prime minister choosing the president from public nominations and backed by both Houses - flopped when those looking for a directly elected president joined the 'no' camp.

This side had a catchy campaign, urging those who didn't know to vote no and leaving minimalists with a 45 per cent vote. Republicans as a whole were left with another bitter pill to swallow - the world's perception that Australia had actually voted to keep the Queen.

'The big lesson we've learned from 1999 is to work in the community ... and to back that community model - the model that wins, basically,' Professor Warhurst says.

Between the option of a political appointment or one directly elected by the people, Senator Kirk says there has been substantial support for an elected president with a mostly ceremonial function, similar to Ireland's president.

Take the submission from Cedric Gray, of Victoria, for instance, who wants a popularly elected president whose role is limited 'to welcome foreign visiting dignitaries, open new roads, bridges etc' but who retains power to call an election if Parliament becomes deadlocked. Not too far removed from the governor-general we have now.

A more controversial option would be to depart completely from our Westminster inheritance and combine the head of state with the head of government - like the US presidency. The ARM has only grudgingly raised this model for debate.

It prefers a president with similar powers to the governor-general and has five other proposals, ranging from one appointed and removed by the prime minister to one chosen by a 'presidential assembly', to one elected by the people and removeable only through the vote of both Houses of Parliament. Professor Flint points to voters' historic reluctance to tamper with the Constitution through referendums to argue a republic is not inevitable.

Senator Kirk believes if it is knocked down a second time, the issue will simply live to be fought another day.

'I don't think it's one of those issues that will naturally die and you never hear of it again. There's enough people out there who do want to see a change,' she says, arguing it would resurface at the very least when the Queen becomes too old to reign and a new monarch takes the throne.

If it is a fait accompli, it then leaves that other related can of worms - the Union Jack on the Australian flag.

The Inquiry into an Australian Republic will hold a public hearing in Adelaide on May 19, venue to be advised.

Republic Off the Agenda: PM


THE issue of a republic will not be on the agenda for the Liberal Party at the next federal election, Prime Minister John Howard said today.

Mr Howard said he did not believe the Australian people wanted the issue back on the table following a referendum four years ago.

'We had a referendum on this four years ago and I don't think the Australian people want to aggressively revisit it,' he told reporters in the Victorian regional town of Colac today.

'I think it's a waste of focus.

'There are a lot of issues that are more important ... we won't be revisiting it in this coming election.'

The move comes as Labor leader Mark Latham yesterday said that Australians would vote on a republic by 2007 if he became prime minister.

He said that if Labor won the federal election due later this year, that within the first 12 months he would hold a plebiscite asking people if they wanted a republic.

He said he believed the push for a republic failed in 1999 because people felt excluded from the process.