Honorary President

Senate Submission


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© 2004 David Latimer

Questions and Answers

It is hoped the following series of questions and answers will assist readers better comprehend the Honorary President Republican Model and highlight, sometimes develop points buried in the other sections.

Under the Honorary President Republican Model who will be Australia’s Head of State?

The Head of State will be the new position Honorary President. This is due to the principle that through election, the Honorary President represents all the people of Australia. It is also due to his/her constitutional position appointing the Governor General and state governors and the transitional arrangement that the Honorary President succeeds the Queen of Australia.

What is Honorary about the Honorary President?

It is a convention that persons in Honorary positions have no executive power, yet are regarded as having equivalent status. It is conferred to recognise the contribution of the person to an organisation or to society in general. The concept of an Honorary position communicates the essential elements of the proposed Australian Head of State – no executive power yet a great honour conferred by the Australian people upon an esteemed citizen.

What is the term of the Honorary President?

The term is five years, extendable by law in lots of six months up to eight years. In practice the term will be approximately the same as two terms of Federal Parliament. If the life of the two Parliaments were less than five years, the Honorary President would remain for the third term.

What are the discretionary powers of the Honorary President?

The Honorary President has the power to appointment the Governor General, the State Governors and Lieutenant Governors. This power is very limited, as the Prime Minister must first nominate the Governor General beforehand. Similarly, a State Premier must first nominate a State Governor or Lieutenant Governor. The sole discretionary element is the Honorary Presidents right to delaying making the appointment.

What prevents the Honorary President from taking more power?

The main barrier to the Honorary President taking more power would be the constitution. It absolutely forbids Honorary President from exercising power and gives Parliament the power to remove the Honorary President if he or she attempts to do so.

Who would be the commander-in-chief of the military?

The Governor General would continue to hold this position.

Why have the Honorary President at all?

The Australian people continue to support the concept of a directly-elected Head of State, who is above politics and has no political or executive power. The Honorary President would fulfil this desire. Other republican models attempt to do this through the Governor General, however this can only be done satisfactorily if the powers of the Governor General are codified.
More importantly, the Honorary President fulfils the intent and spirit of this desire. Rather than merely being a republican mechanism, the Honorary President would be an apolitical social leader, patron and role model. The office would be independent from the government. It would be unfettered in promoting common values – tolerance, honesty, generosity and community. Unlike the Governor General, the Honorary President would have more scope to promote charities and worthwhile organisations and to promote Australian business, science and tourism, especially overseas.

What would change for the new Governor General?

Very little. The constitutional provisions, the Westminster conventions and the other laws and regulations relating to the Governor General would continue without interruption.

Is it not too complicated having both an Honorary President and Governor General?

The model is no more complicated than having a Queen of Australia and Governor General. The model provides a distinct role for the Honorary President and resolves a number of theoretical questions of our federation and constitution.

Isn’t this a radical change from our existing constitution?

On the contrary, the change is minimal. All the important offices under the constitution continue with no significant alteration and the operation of Parliament and the courts is not affected. The model simply allows an elected Australian citizen to succeed the Queen of Australia and provides mechanism for safely distributing the Queen’s powers.

Where would the Honorary President live?

The Honorary President would continue to live in their own home or be free to rent a property anywhere in Australia, just like any other citizen. The government would not pay for their home nor would they need to live in Canberra. They would only be offered accommodation at Government House or Admiralty House as a visitor.

To whom would ambassadors offer their credentials?

The Governor General would continue to receive ambassadors at Government House. This is consistent with the Vienna Convention and current practice. The Honorary President would be free to meet with ambassadors at any time during their tenure.

What would be the cost?

The greatest expense would be holding a national election approximately every six years. This is unavoidable for all direct-election models, but some effort has been made to minimise the cost through synchronisation with general elections and by using postal voting.
The ongoing cost would be the salary of the Honorary President, his/her staff and some transportation and administrative costs. His or her salary would be the same as the Prime Minister (about $175,000 before tax) with total costs of approximately two million dollars annually. The amount would be set in the federal budget and paid out of consolidated revenue. (Note: This paragraph updated in Februrary 2005)

Would it not be better to spend this money on hospitals or schools?

Probably yes, however these costs are a miniscule compared to the Federal Health and Education Budgets. In contrast, the social leadership of the Honorary President should bring intangible non-financial benefits for the community, where hospitals and schools play an important role. This could be in promoting research, encouraging volunteerism, honouring achievers or simply visiting a community in need.
Many critics of the republican debate ask, "What difference would it make to replace the monarchy?" The Honorary President model is the only republican proposal able to reply to this question positively. In effect, there will be an additional high-profile person able to add to the excellent community work of Australia’s six governors and Governor General.

Is the model consistent with federalism?

The model creates a unified federal system, with the state and national governments on equal footing with respect to the Presidency. Smaller state parliaments have equal right to nominate former governors in the election of the Honorary President, giving them a fair chance of influencing the outcome. Consequently there is a better chance of a Tasmanian, West Australian or South Australian becoming the Honorary President than becoming the Prime Minister or Chief Justice.

How likely would it be for a women or an indigenous person to become Head of State?

The likelihood would depend on the State Premiers and Prime Minister choosing women and indigenous persons to the office of Governor and Governor General. In recent years, Premiers have shown greater interest in nominating diversely and there is no reason why this trend would reverse under the model. Up to six candidates for Honorary President would be taken from this pool of former governors. Each would be able demonstrate the qualities wanted and experience required to be a successful Honorary President.

The Honorary President is elected, so wouldn’t that make him/her a politician?

No. Elections are used throughout the community at all level to choose officeholders few of whom are politicians. The model is constructed so the Honorary President is also not a politician and the law would demand they resign from all political association.

Wouldn’t the election be a contest between the Liberals and Labor?

Parliaments dominated by the major parties are restricted to appointing former governors and governors-general for election. Prime Ministers and Premiers would be loath to appoint a governor or Governor General who stood little chance of being nominated by the same Parliament in six or more years hence. At election time, rivalry between state parliaments would ensure that a major political party could not unite behind one candidate. The more successful candidate would be the impartial former governor or Governor General with bi-partisan support. Finally, the office offers a major party little political advantage in pursuit of its agenda or policies.

Perhaps the election would advantage the minor parties?

Minor parties would be stretched trying to use their limited resources for Presidential election, when an upper house seat offers greater opportunities for legislative influence. It is possible that a minor party could successfully nominate a candidate by public-petition, however the candidate would be unlikely to do well in the election unless they were popular in their own right.

Wouldn’t a former governor reject the idea of contesting an election?

Australians in high-office are typically capable and experienced individuals with excellent people skills and a belief in democratic processes. Provided the former governor was not contesting in association with a political party and the election was fairly contested there would be no reason of principle why a nomination by Parliament would be turned down.

I have more questions. How do I have them answered?

The author would be very pleased to receive your questions and will try to answer them promptly. The author especially welcomes challenging questions, although if you are asking a hypothetical question, try to provide as much contextual detail as possible. For a fast response try to use electronic mail. Contact details are:
Address Unit 29, 2 Sugar House Road
Canterbury NSW 2193

I am against the republic. How do I show my concerns?

The author is equally pleased to accept correspondence from all sides of the republican debate. He believes that the republicans should show understanding of the merits of our present system of government, be more realistic about the transitional costs and be more understanding of those citizens who feel loyalty for the Queen.

Next: More Questions – Response to the Senate Discussion Paper