Corowa Shire Council has convened a Constitutional People’s
Conference to be held at Corowa on 1 and 2 December 2001 in liaison with
Sir Zelman Cowen PC AK, Richard McGarvie AC and Jack Hammond QC. It is
to be held on an inclusive basis and loosely patterned on the Corowa
Conference of 1893, which re-railed the Federation process at that time.
This is a summary discussion paper to help open up some lateral thinking and debate on the best way forward and follows some consultation and research on the issues. The Parliamentary Library has also efficiently assisted my research and I thank them and others who have been involved.
In preparing for Corowa I have proceeded along a pathway excluding
plebiscites for the time being, the reason is that whilst they can give
a good indication of what people want, plebiscites formally have no
powers to change anything. They are absolutely no guarantee of a
successful referendum end process.
I recognise some others prefer a plebiscite process but it could lead to immense frustration. It is far better that a specific and legally tight referendum process be employed in my opinion, and one within the Westminster system throughout.
To this end many widely diverse options have been considered including the Green option as one way forward. It asks the people if they want another referendum on the republic with a one off multiple choice for selecting a President.
In the event of no one model emerging to contest the status quo: to find a fair, legally secure and concise way forward for the people to consider constitutional change relating to a republic, should this be their wish.
It is not necessary to hold referendums separate from general election polling days and precedent exists to put forward more than one referendum question on a Federal polling day. This greatly reduces the cost of holding a referendum.
The Australian people have over decades demonstrated their aversion
to strongly disputed change and are always suspicious of elite driven
change, this tends to rule out several options where there is a leap of
On balance I favour two options depicted as green and gold for detailed consideration, taking into account the following:
Therefore a broadly neutral approach, which is clear-cut, should be utilised.
At the last Constitutional Convention in early 1998 I agreed with Prime Minister John Howard and others that if we became a republic the term President should apply, preferably from day one, but it does not have to be from day one.
This is a new approach which involves a procedural referendum
followed by a multiple choice referendum.
It is tempting, as the people decide if they want the basic question of a republic brought forward and with a one-off multiple choice as mentioned before.
The first referendum question under the Green Option could read as follows:
It is perhaps a novel approach but sustainable, given recent High Court rulings. It is suggested the proposed law simply state that section 128 of the Constitution be amended for purposes of this one referendum, to offer a multiple choice on the matter of the method of selection of the President. If carried under existing majority requirements this would lead to a subsequent referendum question and multiple choice along the following lines, to be submitted on the same ballot paper on a day to be nominated:
In the event of the first question being carried, to provide an additional alteration to the Constitution to detail the method of selection of the President from one of the options below, which obtains preferred nationwide majority support:
Explanatory Note: It is one way of providing a degree of multiple
choice by amending section 128 of the Constitution. The first question
of course would require an overall majority and a majority in a majority
of States, under the previous procedural referendum amending section 128
et al only a preferred simple majority nationwide would be required for
the winning option which would then be directly inserted in the
Constitution in accordance with the people’s decision from the previous
*Electoral College – Federal 224, + States/Territories 598, + Local 700, Total = 1522.
This is straight up and down, it would involve three bills and three
questions being put on the same day to the people, namely the republic
and the election of the Governor-General, and change of name of Office
It is best explained by providing a preliminary draft of the questions involved with the first question being minimalist pure McGarvie.
There are three questions involved and it should be remembered more than this number of questions have been previously submitted on the one day.
Explanatory Note: Please note the Gold option could also include a fourth question on codification of powers of the Governor-General or President. All in all the Gold option separates out the various questions but in a set of referendums to be conducted on one day. By careful drafting each proposal is free-standing as required by the High Court of Australia under previous rulings. It should also be observed the original constitutional framers did not rule out a form of multiple choice prolonged over a number of years. This Gold option merely expedites such a process to a set of referendums on one day.
It is over to you the people for discussion and debate. At this time
on the occasion of the Oddfellows reconstructed Hall reopening at
Corowa, I lean toward the Green option subject to further refining and
legal advice, however I present both the Green and Gold options.
I should explain the Corowa Oddfellows Hall in Sanger Street Corowa has been magnificently restored thanks to a Federation grant of $750,000 from the Federal Government and it is where the public meeting took place as part of the proceedings in 1893.
In relation to the constitutional situation of each State this is a matter for each State to determine in accordance with their provisions however, clearly, the decisions by the people of Australia at the Federal level will have some influence and point the way.
I respectfully present this paper as a citizen living nearby Corowa, I know it will draw ire and maybe some support. As the Corowa Conference is going to happen surely it is best to explore as many lateral thinking options as possible. To those who argue that Corowa 2001 and any option should not be given any time of day, I can only say it reflects an under confidence in maintaining the 1999 referendum result.
Finally can there be anything wrong in modernising the process of constitutional change in a cautious way, with the Westminster system still very much in place but the people have extra empowerment and choice. Asking the people if they want another referendum on the republic in the first place and if that want a choice between Prime Minister selecting the President or an Electoral College, or the people direct, is a fair, reasonable and realistic approach.