Honorary President

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© 2004 David Latimer

The Amendments

Section 60

Election and Term of the Honorary President

"The way Australians choose and change our President will be more democratic and open than the way the Governor General is appointed"
The case for voting YES, 1999 Referendum

In Chapter I – the Parliament, the constitution provides an outline for the election of Senators and members of the House of Representatives. It is surprisingly concise, especially as the drafters of the constitution needed to rely on state law to elect the first parliamentarians.

Drafting section 60, which provides for the election of the Honorary President, is a far easier task. As Parliament already exists, we can rely upon it to pass laws in advance of the first election, and this is exactly what the section asks. Indeed, it would be probably sufficient to leave it to that and provide no outline whatsoever. The political reality is however that without some outline, there would be a perceived weakness in the independence of the office.

A balance needs then to be achieved. The outline should be flexible to allow the electoral process to remain efficient and practical in the long term. It should also present some definitive principles, so the opportunity to undermine the office does not exist.

So what are the principles contained within section 60?

  • That the election should be genuine and free. Any responsible adult citizen can be elected to the office of the Honorary President.
  • That former Governors (including former Governors-General) by virtue of their service, would make excellent Honorary Presidents. To facilitate this, the section allows the federal and the state parliaments to nominate a former Governor as a candidate. This would be the constitutional equivalent of promoting in-house. Such a provision is also an eloquent expression of the principles of federation.
  • That the number of candidates in the election should reasonably small, although the Parliament should not simply shortlist the candidates. As drafted section 60, provides for seven former Governors and three candidates by public petition. Assuming more than three petitions would be presented, the law could ask the Electoral Commission to select three petitions with the most signatures. This ensures that citizens who have not the experience of presiding over an Executive Council meeting can be elected, which is only right and fair.
  • That the law should allow for the disqualification based of candidates upon association with a political party. To have such a rule in the constitution is a public expectation although the precise restriction should be based on parliamentary law.
  • That renomination in successive elections should not be permitted. The rare honour of being the Honorary President should be shared fairly across the generations.

A draft of the Section 60, in its entirety, follows:

60 Election and Term of the Honorary President

The Parliament shall make laws for the conduct of the election and term of the Honorary President providing, but not limited to providing, for:

  1. the qualification of candidates
  2. the nomination of candidates by
    1. any state parliament, where one former Governor or one former Lieutenant Governor of that state is nominated; and
    2. the Federal Parliament, where one former Governor General is nominated
    3. public petition, up to three showing the greatest support;
  3. the disqualification of candidates who have or in recent years have had an association or membership of a political party;
  4. limitations on re-nomination;
  5. the appointment of one or more Honorary Vice Presidents from the group of candidates;
  6. annual salary and expenses;
  7. a term of five years, extensible in lots of six months to a maximum of eight years for the purpose of co-ordination with other elections;
  8. restrictions on holding other offices under this constitution;
  9. resignation of the Honorary President or Honorary Vice President; and
  10. the assumption of office by an Honorary Vice President.

The previous principles discussed are covered in the first five sub-sections, which are specifically concerned with candidates and their qualifications. As promised the section leaves the Parliament free to introduce additional qualifications. There are a further five subsections dealing with the Honorary President after the election.

Sub-section 5 provides for Honorary Vice Presidents. To maintain the independence of office, these could only be appointed from other candidates of the most recent election.

Sub-section 10 allows the Honorary Vice President to assume office and parliamentary law would specify the circumstances, mechanism and whether this would result is a shortening of the term of office. Ideally, the term would continue, avoiding the necessity for a mid-term election.

It would not be practical to appoint the Governor General as Honorary Vice President. This would violate the independence of the office and subject it to interference from the government in a certain, albeit extremely unlikely, set of circumstances. The better alternative is to appoint the second-place and third-placed candidates, both of whom would be regarded an eminent people in the eyes of the public.

Sub-section 6 provides for an annual salary and budget. There is no reason to include a provision like existing section 3 or 72(iii) preventing the diminution of salary. Fixing the amount to an annual salary offers sufficient protection and is commensurate with community standards. More practically, it is in keeping with the normal budget cycle.

Sub-section 7 provides a flexible term of office of between five and eight years, extensible as provided by the laws in lots of six months. This allows for elections to be synchronised, but does not end the term immediately when the new Parliament begins. The Honorary President would remain in office until the six month long extension was concluded. (see Timing of the Election)

Sub-section 8 prevents the Honorary Presidents from accepting a seat in Parliament, becoming the Governor General, accepting a judicial appointment or being employed in the public service.

Sub-section 9 provides for an Honorary President or Honorary Vice President to resign their position. The law would specify an appropriate mechanism – presumably, that the notice would be given to the Governor General.

The new section 60 replaces an existing section allowing the Queen to reserve a law for no more than two years. The section has never been used and the opportunity to reserve a law would be removed from the end of the existing section 58.

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