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Republic Advisory Committee

The Republic Advisory Committee was a committee established by the then Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating in May 1993 to examine the constitutional and legal issues that would arise were Australia to become a republic. It was asked to consider issues such as

  • a name for a new elected head of state;
  • the method of selection for the head of state;
  • what powers he or she should possess;
  • the constitutional amendments and legal changes required to replace the 'Queen of Australia[?]' and Her Representative, the Governor-General of Australia by an elected native head of state.


One of the two reports
of the Republic Advisory Committee
Monarchists state that it is a matter of public record that when non-republicans requested to participate this was refused. The reason given out for this was that the purpose of the committee was only to explore republican options. Consequently critics alleged that both the Committee and its remit were observably framed to exclude non-republican input from preparing matters to go before the wider public, in effect if not in intent. (This effect cannot now be examined, and questions of intent are too subjective to go into.) It is certainly notable that many of the members of the Republic Advisory Committee (listed below) were people who had campaigned for, or expressed a clear opinion in favour of, an Australian Republic, and that none had opposed one. Given that the remit of the Committee was to answer the basic question 'If (not 'should') Australia opts for a republic, what minimal changes are needed to achieve it?' it is hard to see how that could have been otherwise; but critics of the republican move (not all of whom were monarchists) assert that this illustrates their point. Whatever may have been the agendas of those preparing the nature of the question posed and the membership chosen, a report was duly submitted as requested.

Table of contents
1 External link

Republic Advisory Committee Membership

Malcolm Turnbull[?] chairman (and leading Australian republican campaigner)
Nick Greiner[?] Former New South Wales Premier
Dr. John Hurst La Trobe University, Convenor of Australian Republican Movement
Mary Kostakidis media presenter, SBS TV; member, Constitutional Centenary Foundation
Lois O'Donoghue CBE, AM Chair, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Commission
Susan Ryan[?] Former Labor Party senator & Education Minister
Professor George Winterton Professor of Law, University of New South Wales
Dr. Glyn Davis School of Politics and Public Policy, Griffith University
Naomi Dougall solicitor

The Republic Advisory Committee submitted two Volumes (Volume I - The Options and Volume II - the Appendices) to the Australian Prime Minister in late 1993. Part of Volume II was concerned with the international experience in moving from monarchical to republican headships of state. Six international reports were commissioned from local experts; four of the countries were former monarchies within the Commonwealth of Nations, while two had experienced their own regime change when their own monarchies (the Hohenzollerns in Germany, the Habsburgs in Austria) were replaced by republics.

Reports Commissioned by the Republic Advisory Committee

Country Report by Qualifications
Austria Professor Bernhard Raschauer[?] Professor, Institute for Public and Administrative Law, University of Vienna
Germany Professor Klaus Von Beyme[?] Professor of Political Science, University of Heidelberg
India A.G. Noorani Formerly at Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, now working as a freelance journalist
Ireland Jim Duffy Author of major study on the Presidency of Ireland and political commentator/analyst
Mauritius Madun Gujadhur barrister at the English, Indian & Mauritian bars and Chairman of the Mauritian Law Reform Commission
Trinidad and Tobago Sir Ellis Clarke[?] former Governor-General of Trinidad and Tobago, who went on to serve as its first president

In 1999, in a referendum carried out throughout the territories and all six states of the Commonwealth of Australia, voters decided against changing the Australian constitution to create an office of federal president to replace the Queen of Australia and the Governor-General. The nature of the proposals as prepared and put forward by a Constitutional Convention differed in a number of respects from the recommendations made by the Committee, most notably in the method of selection and apparent ease with which a president could be removed from office. Critics of the proposal included former governor-general Bill Hayden[?] (a previous critic of the existing constitutional arrangements on other grounds, who nevertheless argued that the new proposals were seriously flawed), those who had urged the direct election of a federal president and who opposed the decision not to go down that road, the then Australian prime minister John Howard, and some of those who made the reports published in Volume II and who suggested that the proposed republican structures, as finally put to a vote, might prove potentially unworkable.

It seems likely that at some stage that Australia will again vote on the issue of creating a republic. Nothing prevents the same question being put indefinitely, as has been proposed by some and warned against by others. While expressed public sentiment seems to have moved in the direction of a republic, no agreement has been reached on the form that a republic could take, nor indeed on whether a viable model is known; in particular, should the head of state be directly or indirectly elected (or, as some have advocated, appointed) and how easily or otherwise should he or she be removed from office. There may well be other ramifications, but these are not so immediately apparent. Even if Australia does not deal with the issue itself, the issue will no doubt arise when the current Australian Queen, Elizabeth II dies and issue of whether to accept the accession of her heir, Charles, Prince of Wales becomes an issue. (Though his accession to the Australian throne would be legally automatic, nevertheless, issues to do with his proclamation and title, a coronation tour and other matters would all have to be faced, possibly becoming a focus for a renewed debate on whether Australia should keep or ditch the monarchy. However, the state of the Queen's health, and given the longevity of her late mother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother - who lived to be 101 - suggests that that issue might not have to be faced in that form for some decades yet.)

In the absence of a consensus on such matters, the Commonwealth of Australia may choose to leave in place a system that has worked, with the occasional disturbance, for over a century. Some current concerns however suggest otherwise: major demographic and ethnic changes may encourage change of some sort in Australia, which has seen a decrease in historical identification with Great Britain and a proportionately greater connection to other societies and cultures due in part to immigration from other areas. But even if, emotionally, a multi-cultural Australia that no longer is as anglo-centric as before feels the need to change, it may have considerable difficulty in agreeing the nature and method of that change. There are other complex and related issues: the powers, perhaps even the effective existence of the states; the requirement that a referendum gain not just a majority of votes but a majority in a majority of the states; the issues of prerogative powers and residual powers; the relationship between both houses in parliament; whether Australia should stick with a parliamentary system of government or opt for an American-style chief executive presidency; whether the states should retain their governors; and even the questions of whether and in what form individual states with monarchist majorities could or should retain their monarchical identity in the event of an overall vote in favour of a republic; etc.

In the absence of such agreement, Australia has a system of government that functions effectively, with an Australian constitutional monarchy (albeit currently with a popular and respected non-Australian monarch on the throne) with the monarch represented by an Australian Governor-General appointed by the Queen of Australia on the advice of Her Australian Executive Council. It is worth noting, this is effectively something that connects to the Prime Minister, only in a way that also places constraints on the Prime Minister.

The method by which the Governor-General enters and may leave office does however contain one dramatic flaw, which was highlighted in the controversy over the dismissal by Governor-General Sir John Kerr of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in the 1970s. One fundamental requirement of a head of state (or in the case of governors-general, 'resident heads of state' - a term being used here simply to describe someone who is not the legal head of state but who fulfills their functions in their absence or non residence - ), is security of tenure. In other words, a guaranteed term of office that can only be terminated by the extreme act of impeachment, enables a head of state to exercise the three rights Walter Bagehot said belonged to a head of state in a parliamentary democracy, 'the right to be consulted, the right to advise and the right to warn'. In most other democracies, faced with a prime minister who was breaching the fundamental principle that in the event of losing 'supply' (ie, having its wish to spend exchequer funds blocked by whichever House or Houses of Parliament is constitutionally enabled block supply: under the Australian constitution, both houses may block supply, though unwritten and unenforceable convention indicated that the upper house would not actually do so) he should either (a) resign, or (b) seek a parliamentary dissolution, a head of state or resident head of state could use their influence to 'warn' the prime minister of the unconstitutionality of their actions, and that unless they obeyed the constitutional principles, the head of state would be forced to act.

However the Governor-General of Australia, like other governors-general elsewhere, has no security of tenure, as all a prime minister has to do is instruct the Queen of Australia to dismiss Her Representative and it would happen automatically. While many debate whether Kerr was right to dismiss Whitlam out of the blue, the option existing elsewhere, of showing the 'yellow card' before the 'red one', and of telling a constitutionally neglegent prime minister 'you are constitutionally bound to do . . . [whatever was required]. . . . I am giving you forty-eight hours to fulfil that obligation. Otherwise I will be forced to act . If you do not act, there will be consequences' was not open to Kerr, as any threat could well be met with his dismissal before he could act. This constitutional flaw played a significant part in the events surrounding the Whitlam dismissal, and remains a flaw to this day. Indeed if not corrected before a republic was created, it could potentially fatally damage an Australian presidency, making it in the event of a crisis worthless. Yet, bizarrrely, instead of correcting this flaw (which was explicitly warned about in the international reports submitted to the Republic Advisory Committee), it was proposed to create a presidency which equally lacked that fundamental requirement of security of tenure. Irrespective of whether Australia becomes a republic or remains a constitutional monarchy, the head of state or resident head of state must know in their use of their powers that they have security of tenure and cannot be dismissed by a prime minister who fears that the exercise of those constitutionally and legally granted powers if used by a governor-general or president might hinder him. (If that head of state or resident head of state abuses those powers, he or she can be dismissed through impeachment and trial, a method that exists in democracies all around the world, from the United States of America to the Republic of Ireland, and other states.)

Additional Information

Copies of the Reports were published under the following ISBNs

External linkhttp://www.republic.org.au/ARM-2001/ history/history_rac.htm website of the Republic Advisory Committee
Volume One - The Options ISBN 0-644-325909
Volume Two - The Appendices ISBN 0-644-325895



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