When the churches were described as the first of two classes of self-interested culprits, together with the wealthy and politically correct, in a discussion past policies and the emotive use of the term "stolen children", I thought I should say something about my experience of the motivation of missionaries who I had known who worked with Aborigines in the Northern Territory in the 1930s and later. A letter entitled Carers acted in good faith was published in The Australian 5 March 2001.
In 1999 the Australian people voting at referendum rejected a proposal to change to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia to remove the Queen as head of state and make Australia a republic. As a result of the Constitutional Convention and the promises made by the Prime Minister at the last election the form of amendment offered was the one favoured by the Australian Republican Movement (ARM) led by Malcolm Turnbull. It was what they call the minimalist option, essentially replacing the Governor General with a President appointed by Parliament, and make as few other changes as possible. It turned out that people who wanted a greater change combined with monarchists to defeat that proposal. The result was misleading in so far as it created the impression abroad the people were reaffirming their allegiance to the crown.
The real debate about the kind of republican constitution we prefer is yet to mature. I will be posting some thoughts in this, essentially favouring a President with sufficient real power to provide a counter weight to executive government headed by the Prime Minister, not in tasks of executive government but in regard to the framework within which government operates under the Constitution. I oppose the argument that the President should not be directly elected because that would create a second centre of democratic authority, but would see the President having important but strictly limited powers as an agent of the people, especially in the appointment as the Prime Minister a leader who has the confidence of Parliament, and not having the power to dismiss the Prime Minister who still has the support of Parliament, and having power to call an election without the Prime Minister's recommendation. The President might possibly also have powers in regard to the appointment of judges of the High Court and in other functions of government which affect the operation of the Constitution. I think too that a President should be able to exercise in some effective way the ancient royal prerogative of mercy, and have the traditional rights of the sovereign to be informed, to advise and to caution executive government without fear or favour.
My inclination at the referendum was to vote No, not because I preferred the Monarchy, but because I think the ARM model was fatally flawed. The main point of concern was that it did not come to grips with the constitutional issues which arose at the time of the dismissal of the Whitlam government in 1975. Although I preferred a republican constitution previously I could see some merit in a monarchy which was detached from the day to day political struggle, and I might have been persuaded to retain the present system, but I became a committed republican on 11 November 1975 because the present Constitution and the Monarchy failed to serve democracy in Australia when it was seriously tested. We could easily have had blood in the streets if a few wise heads on the Labor side had not counselled restraint. I was an active member of the ALP and living in Canberra at that time, so I saw some of the crisis at close range. A change which failed to deal with that kind of future threat would not be worth making and could well be for the worse. Some of my reasons are set out in a letter I wrote to the The Australian newspaper in support of an article by Bob Ellicott, the former Attorney General.
The bias of the Melbourne newspaper The Age in recent years has been a cause of concern to me, because it used to be relied upon for its open minded fairness and clear distinction between reporting of fact and opinion. It says something of our commercial and post-modern society that no one is greatly surprised at lack of objectivity, and there could even be some puzzlement at the naivety of one who might question it, but I believe that society is better served by the liberal values which once characterised this newspaper than by the more ideologically focussed and decadent form of liberalism it now promotes. Some of my concerns are illustrated in the linked documents.
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