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Another Reason Why Australia Needs to be a Republic

There are those who like to think that the republican debate is dead, but right now I'm more determined than ever to make sure that, in due course, the republican movement is revived. In these troubled times, the thought probably hasn't crossed many minds, but in my view, there could hardly be a more appropriate moment for such a debate, a time when Australia's Federal Government is acting contrary to the opinion of the majority of Australians. And this time it's a matter of life and death!

I'm talking about the Government's decision to defy international law and send Australian troops to the Persian Gulf, alongside troops from the United States and a handful of other countries. There's little doubt that the war will become even more unpopular when Australians start coming back in body bags, or when the first retaliatory terrorist action takes place within our own shores. But even then Australians will be powerless to do anything about it. They have to wait until the next election, by which time many people will already have died.

I used to think that the republican debate was just a symbolic one. I used to think that it was all about Australians believing in the maturity of their nation, and taking full control of their government, no longer allowing some woman on the other side of the world be the official head of state, appointing somebody they haven't even heard of to do everything for her. After all, the role of Governor General is just a figurehead position. The GG doesn't have any real power...

But wait—yes, he has! He has the power to dissolve Parliament, thereby forcing a general election! This has only happened once before in history, and this is an obvious time for it to happen again. Lives are at stake, and so is the luxury of living in a society with minimal threat from terrorism. Since according to the polls, the Opposition has the same point of view as the majority of voters, they'd surely win an election and reel our troops back in before too much harm is done. But no, our current Governor General is just going to sit around and be a useless git, letting people die at the hands of bad government.

I can't help thinking that if somebody elected by the people were in his place, that person would be paying closer attention to the people's wishes. That's exactly what an Australian President should be: somebody with the same minimal powers as the Governor General, but one of us. Obviously, we can't have somebody who will dissolve Parliament willy-nilly; governments always have and always will make unpopular decisions, and sometimes it turns out to be the right thing to do. But the Constitution can include checks and balances to stop that from becoming a problem, just in case we do end up voting for somebody that irresponsible. For example, the act of dissolving Parliament could automatically terminate the Presidential term as well, or the President could be impeachable by a two-thirds majority of both houses of Parliament. Sure, an elected President could also end up being a lame duck, but I think that's far less likely.

No system is flawless, and I still believe that Australia has one of the best political systems in the world. But when a government is so terribly wrong and the people know it, the people deserve to have somebody who can give them control back. That's what democracy is supposed to be about.


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Mik Scheper, 18 March 2003
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