I am a republican at heart, and desperately hope to see an Australian republic in my lifetime, but I would be inclined to campaign against the Australian Choice model announced last week by the Australian Republic Movement, as would many republican-minded conservatives.
According to the ARM, the Australian Choice model would allow every state and territory parliament to nominate one candidate for election to be our head of state. The federal parliament would be able to nominate up to three. Australians would then be given the chance to decide which candidate should be head of state in a national election.
This model is completely unworkable for many reasons. A candidate for head of state could be elected with just 9 per cent of the national vote, where a preference whisperer could game the preferences between candidates to deny a leading candidate the role.
According to ARM policy, the head of state should have no role in setting or rejecting policy. But an 11- candidate run-off, chosen by party leaders around the country, is almost certain to be politically charged and fought with the support of political parties and activist groups, potentially leading to a constitutional crisis of dual mandates.
The most problematic aspect of this model is that it limits universal participation in Australian democracy. The policy document explaining this model seems to use coded language to suggest this is the preferred model to avoid ending up with “unsuitable candidates”.
ARM chair Peter FitzSimons claimed “People don’t want a Trump-like figure and they don’t want Shane Warne – they want an eminent person.”
When FitzSimons and the academics who drafted this model refer to an “eminent” person, I suspect they are referring to one of their own. Under this proposal you could never have a train driver, like a Ben Chifley, as Australian head of state. It would have to be someone with a doctorate, two masters, or a former ABC host. Someone acceptable to the cocktail parties on the north shore of Sydney.
If FitzSimons’ theory is correct, that Australians want eminently qualified, suitable candidates to represent them, then why deny Australians the opportunity to make that judgment? It reeks of a sneering mistrust of the people.
This is a model for an establishment republic, where you’re only allowed to run if you’re a chosen favourite of existing politicians. The ARM needs to go back to the drawing board.