On Hanson

John Richardson writes: Re. “The 2016 Crikeys: best and worst of politics” (yesterday). In nominating Pauline Hanson as “Politician of the Year”, Crikey claims that, for better or worse, she is “a malignant influence in Australia, a suppurating tumour on our polity who offers nothing but hate and bigotry”. Surely the time has come for plain speaking Crikey, so why beat around the bush?

Writing about the prospect of an Australian republic, Andrew Leigh asked,

“Can one really imagine George Washington failing to fight for American independence while King George II was on the throne? Or Mahatma Gandhi saying that it wasn’t time for Indian independence while King George IV reigned?”
Actually, I can imagine Washington doing that, because he did. George II was five years in his grave before the American War of Independence. And while George IV reigned nobody can reasonably imagine Gandhi saying anything at all, because he was not even born then.

The big problem with removing the British monarch as Australia’s head of state is that monarchical powers are entrenched in the Westminster system of government, although they are mostly exercised by the Prime Minister rather than the monarch. Republicans, including Leigh in his piece, often criticise the irrelevance and lack of legitimacy of the head of state under the current arrangement, but that is actually a fundamental strength, not a weakness. If the head of state could claim real legitimacy, particularly through direct popular election, then the head of state could easily claim superior authority over the Prime Minister, who is only appointed by the head of state and never elected. The current Westminster system appears untenable in such circumstances. The logical outcome is a fully presidential system, where the head of state exercises great executive power, making the Prime Minister obsolete. If that is what Australia wants, good, but let’s be honest and debate becoming a presidential republic instead of just talking about the monarchy. If however we want to be rid of the monarchy but still keep a recognisable Westminster system, our new head of state should be no more than a cuddly locally-sourced national mascot with no legitimate claim to any real authority over ministers – a kangaroo, koala or kookaburra would be an excellent choice. I don’t see how it’s worth the bother.

On the monarchy

Joe Boswell writes: Re. “Off with her head (on our coins)! The case for an Aussie republic in 2017” (yesterday).

Writing about the prospect of an Australian republic, Andrew Leigh asked:

“Can one really imagine George Washington failing to fight for American independence while King George II was on the throne? Or Mahatma Gandhi saying that it wasn’t time for Indian independence while King George IV reigned?”

Actually, I can imagine Washington doing that, because he did. George II was five years in his grave before the American War of Independence. And while George IV reigned nobody can reasonably imagine Gandhi saying anything at all, because he was not even born then.

The big problem with removing the British monarch as Australia’s head of state is that monarchical powers are entrenched in the Westminster system of government, although they are mostly exercised by the Prime Minister rather than the monarch. Republicans, including Leigh in his piece, often criticise the irrelevance and lack of legitimacy of the head of state under the current arrangement, but that is actually a fundamental strength, not a weakness. If the head of state could claim real legitimacy, particularly through direct popular election, then the head of state could easily claim superior authority over the Prime Minister, who is only appointed by the head of state and never elected. The current Westminster system appears untenable in such circumstances. The logical outcome is a fully presidential system, where the head of state exercises great executive power, making the Prime Minister obsolete. If that is what Australia wants, good, but let’s be honest and debate becoming a presidential republic instead of just talking about the monarchy. If however we want to be rid of the monarchy but still keep a recognisable Westminster system, our new head of state should be no more than a cuddly locally-sourced national mascot with no legitimate claim to any real authority over ministers – a kangaroo, koala or kookaburra would be an excellent choice. I don’t see how it’s worth the bother.

Crikey replies: We’ve since corrected the piece online to the correct King George. Apologies for the Roman numeral mix-up.

Peter Fray

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