I would vote for the new republican model

At the heart of the republic debate lies a paradox. An Australian president, almost everyone agrees, should be a largely ceremonial figure, such as the Queen or the Governor General. Such limited constitutional powers of the president would be exercised in a scrupulously fair and apolitical manner.

And yet many Australians, perhaps most, would at the same time prefer the new Australian head of state to be elected directly by the people. Such an election would be a competitive and political contest. As Neville Wran wisely noted years ago, “If a person running for president wasn’t a politician when he was nominated, he would be by the time he won.”

Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by Prince Philip and two ladies-in-waiting, opens parliament in London

Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by Prince Philip and two ladies-in-waiting, opens parliament in LondonCredit:Getty Images

That is why, more than 20 years ago, the Australian Republic Movement supported the nomination of the new president with a two-thirds majority of a joint session of Parliament, guaranteeing bipartisan support for the new head of state.

This model was narrowly rejected in the 1999 referendum, largely because of a campaign by Republicans to directly elect the president and join the monarchists in saying no to what they described as “the politicians’ republic”.

This week, the ARM produced a new model where the president would be directly elected from a field of up to 11 nominees; one presented by each legislature of each state and territory and three presented by the federal parliament. This curated direct-election approach is designed, Peter FitzSimons has said, to ensure that only the right kind of person can be nominated.

If this perfectly workable model were presented in a referendum, I would certainly vote for it. But I don’t think it will ever be presented to the people, let alone bear the day, if it were, because it will be seen by many as the epitome of the weaknesses of direct election and parliamentary nomination models, but the strengths of neither.

The Australian Republican Movement will launch its new model for a new generation at Centennial Park on Wednesday.

The Australian Republican Movement will launch its new model for a new generation at Centennial Park on Wednesday.Credit:Kate Geraghty

If we want to have a directly elected president, every Australian citizen must be able to nominate. They shouldn’t need the permission of a bunch of politicians to run. To ensure that the ballot is not unworkably large, a minimum number of nominators could be required – 5,000 or 10,000 perhaps – but otherwise it must be open. And if people want to choose Shane Warne or Clive Palmer, Paul Keating or John Howard, then so be it. The reality is that politicians shall run and a politician shall win, and one of them could run on a platform to “keep those bastards in Parliament honest”.

In short, anything less than a presidential election open to all will be accused of “another republic of politicians”.

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