Tim Fischer for Elected Constitutional Monarch!

Well, you can hardly expect a monarchist like me to say “Tim Fischer for President“, can you?

By now, all regular guests at this table will be familiar with “The Schütz Model for a Elective Australian Constitutional Monarchy” (if not, take a moment to look at the side bar on the right towards the bottom of the page). I know that most people have taken my suggestion as a kind of amateurish joke, but seriously the more I think about it, the more I think it could work – especially because it would ensure a truly worthy candidate for the position.

There have, over the years, been some silly suggestions for the “First Australian President” (eg. Dick Smith!). But Tim Fischer has been in town just recently, and having the opportunity to catch up with him once again has reminded me what a really great Australian statesman he is.

It was good to hear from Tim what’s been going on in Rome and the rest of the world. I have the impression that to appoint someone as Ambassador to the Holy See is, in effect, to appoint them as Ambassador to the rest of the World. Tim certainly has a lot of interests in a lot of areas, from his well known love of trains, to his great interest in the little kingdom of Bhutan, to his very very serious dedication to the preservation and protection of the world’s food resources.

For a bloke who came up through the Australian political ranks, the most wonderful thing about Tim is that he is a really genuine decent and friendly fellow. It is obvious that he went into politics for the sole reason that he likes people, and wants to make a positive impact on the world.

Recently I heard someone say that “You can change the world”, and I thought to myself, rather cynically, “Yeah, just not very much”, but I reckon Tim has done his fair share to make a difference.

If we ever found ourselves in a world where – contrary to Monty Python and in line with my constitutional model – you got to “vote for kings”, I would vote for Tim. In the mean time, maybe he could be considered for our next GG.

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15 Comments

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15 responses to “Tim Fischer for Elected Constitutional Monarch!

  1. I think I understand Aussie (and Canadian) republicanism – why not keep the British parliamentary system but rename the governor-general, who’s now a local anyway, the president and stop pretending to be under the Queen? Like India and some other countries did. But the conservative in me doesn’t like it. If it ain’t broke, and an anti-PC streak (don’t rewrite history: Oz, NZ and Canada are mostly British; stand proud). And without the Queen, Canadians would be Americans really.

    • YF, I’ve explained this before on the blog, but long before you joined us at the table, so here is my thinking behind my suggestion for an elective constitutional monarchy.

      1) I agree, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Our system ain’t broke, it works perfectly well. I think there are real benefits in our current “absentee monarchy”: it costs us nothing and it fills that vacuum at the top that is required in any system of government.

      2) But there are some who specifically want an AUSTRALIAN head of state. Without going into all the arguments about what this means or doesn’t mean, IF this is really what Australians want, then my model is a suggestion for simply replacing our absent monarch with a resident monarch.

      3) This cannot be achieved by simply making our Governor General the Head of State. In Australia, we have not only a Federal Governor General, but Governors of each of our states as well. Each State Governor is directly appointed by our current absent monach – they are not in any way related to or subordinate to or appointed by our Governor General. The Governor General therefore is NOT therefore at the “top” of our parliamentary system, and replacing our absentee monarch AND our GG with a president/resident monarch would require a fundamental to the system which we have at the moment. WHICH, as you point out, isn’t broken.

      4) So my model keeps everything exactly as it currently is, and simply gives a new role to the current Governors, both Federal and State, viz. the election of a resident Head of State as our resident monarch.

      It is, in fact, an extremely conservative suggestion that achieves the only goal that Australians really desire, ie. a resident Head of State. It avoids any political process for the appointment of the Head of State, it is a stable system (which is why we should elect the monarch for life), it doesn’t give resident monarch any powers or duties that the current absent monarch doesn’t currently have, and it preserves the independance of the States.

      • Thanks. I knew that Australians don’t want to overhaul their system to have a strong American-style president and want to keep the British system of a strong head of government (the prime minister, the head of the winning party, not somebody directly elected to office) and weak head of state (like the Queen now) but didn’t know until you told me that Australia seems to have strong states’ rights. The states sound almost like separate countries/dominions in theory, answering directly to the Queen not the governor-general.

        Still, to give the republicans their due, it seem to me other countries formerly British-ruled that kept the parliamentary system but went republican – India, Ireland, Israel – have managed. (Same idea: the presidency is largely honorary; Israel offered theirs to Einstein.) So an Australian president would fit the bill… but the states of course don’t want to give up their clout and are probably right.

        • P.S. Correction: Still, to give the republicans their due, it seems to me…

        • The continent of Australia was settled by British colonialists and established a number of quite independant “colonies”. Thus when Australia became a federated commonwealth, the the states maintained this independance from the national system. In fact our Federal Senate was supposed to be “the State’s voice” in the national assembly, and, as the upper house, give the endorsement of the States for anything that happened nationally. It doesn’t actually function like that any more, but the idea is still there. I don’t know if India, Ireland and Israel are comparable in this sense.

  2. ‘It ain’t broke …’ can also be a recipe for not trying to improve anything, YF. If we sat around waiting for things and systems to break, we’d soon stagnate.

    ‘Elected Monarchy’ is an oxymoron if ever there was one. Once a head of state earns their place by popular election, everything changes. Their role will, over time, assume more and more power (formal or informal) and we’ll be the USofA by a different name.

    I think the head of state needs to be appointed either by parliament or some process designed to seek out a worthy contender who is capable of being seen as non-partisan.

    Tim may be the man. As a politician he was no worse or no better than any other — a pretty low benchmark — but I do get the impression that he is respected and liked by wide cross section of people on the political and social spectrum.

    He certainly wears his ‘Australianess’ on his sleeve to the extent that he may not have the ‘gravitas’ to do such a job. If he got the gong though, I could think of many who’d be much worse than that old train-spotter.

    In terms of the constitution, the ‘it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality is strong enough to resist doing anything for the time being, especially while Abbott is around (even if he stays as Opposition Leader after next week). Marshalling the forces that resist change is much easier than building the kind of referendum-busting consensus for change.

    • Amen to all you say about Tim, Tony. But you miss my point about the “Elected Monarch”. The idea was actually suggested to my mind by the system in the old “Holy Roman Empire” where a number of princes in the Empire were deemed “Electors” and had the power of conferring the role of emperor on a new candidate when the old one passed on (although in the historical case of the HRE, it did end up fundamentally hereditary).

      I detest the notion of popular election for precisely the reasons you point out (“Once a head of state earns their place by popular election, everything changes”). By making the Council of Governors the “electors” for the resident monarch (keeping in mind that the system we currently have for appointing Governors also keeps them at relative arms length from popular politics) we keep the system for choosing our resident monarch at even one more remove from popular politics.

      Elective Monarchy isn’t an oxymoron. A monarch is a head of state. Nothing in the rule books says that monarchy should be hereditary. Nor anything in the rule books that say that in “elections” every citizen has to be involved. I prefer “monarch” as a title rather than “president” because it makes the point that the Head of State is NOT a political choice. Life tenure is another plank in this plan.

  3. Pax

    He has my vote!

  4. Peregrinus

    You certainly can have an elected monarch; look at the pope. Or, as David has pointed out, the Emperor. Or the kings of Poland, who were elected by the nobles.

    The thing is, though, that if we have an Australian monarch, I struggle to see any role for the Governor-General and the Governors. Their raison d’être nowadays is to ensure that the prerogative powers of the Queen are exercised on her behalf by an Australian, chosen by Australian politicians. If there is an Australian monarch, the rationale for having governors disappears.

    David, I think you delude yourself if you think that by naming the head of state “king” rather than “president”, you “make the point that the Head of State is not a political choice”. Elections are inherently political, especially elections to political office. And, let’s face it, all the other elections of monarchs that we know of have been highly political, haven’t they?

    The current Australian monarch serves some purpose; it embodies a historical and cultural source in the UK which is very much part of the Australian story. That’s it’s one redeeming feature to set against the enormous silliness involved. The elective monarchy that you suggest is ingenious, but completely pointless, and I think objectionable. “Presidents-for-life” are a really, really bad idea, and I don’t think we change very much if we label the president “king”. The French, remember, have done this a couple of times, and it has always ended in tears.

    • David, I think you delude yourself if you think that by naming the head of state “king” rather than “president

      Please note that I don’t use the term “king” (or “queen”) in my model, but “Monarch”.

      Elections are inherently political

      But some are more “politicised” than others. The Council of Governors acting as Electors means that this is far removed from popular democracy, just as the appointment of the Governors is removed from popular democracy.

      “Presidents-for-life” are a really, really bad idea

      Well, no, I disagree. Once again, look at the Pope! The difference between my suggestion for an Australian Elected Constitutional Monarch and the Papacy of course is that the Papacy (like the President of the United States) has a very direct role in the running of the institution over which he is head. My suggested Australian Elected Constitutional Monarch would have no such role or powers. Therefore there would be no danger in having a Head of State who has this role for life. On the contrary, it would add a stability to our political system that is another of the great benefits of our current policy of using the British Head of State as our own also.

      Perhaps you could tell me why you think that a “Monarch for Life” would be such a bad idea – especially as we already have such a Monarch, and the system works perfectly well!

      • Peregrinus

        P: David, I think you delude yourself if you think that by naming the head of state “king” rather than “president

        D: Please note that I don’t use the term “king” (or “queen”) in my model, but “Monarch”.

        I don’t see how that helps, frankly. Call the Head of State what you will; she’s still the head of state. And that’s an inherently political office. Elections to that office will always be political. I think it’s notable that your suggested nominee for the post comes to our attention because he is a politician. Why do you think that political skills and experience will stand to him in the post? Because it’s a political office, that’s why.

        P: Elections are inherently political

        D: But some are more “politicised” than others. The Council of Governors acting as Electors means that this is far removed from popular democracy, just as the appointment of the Governors is removed from popular democracy.

        You’re shifting your ground. Your objective is not to have an undemocratic process for choosing the head of state, but an unpolitical process. I don’t see any reason why labelling the office “monarch” is supposed to achieve this astonishing result, and I don’t even see you trying to explain how it will have this outcome.

        P: “Presidents-for-life” are a really, really bad idea

        D: Well, no, I disagree. Once again, look at the Pope! The difference between my suggestion for an Australian Elected Constitutional Monarch and the Papacy of course is that the Papacy (like the President of the United States) has a very direct role in the running of the institution over which he is head. My suggested Australian Elected Constitutional Monarch would have no such role or powers. Therefore there would be no danger in having a Head of State who has this role for life. On the contrary, it would add a stability to our political system that is another of the great benefits of our current policy of using the British Head of State as our own also.

        Perhaps you could tell me why you think that a “Monarch for Life” would be such a bad idea – especially as we already have such a Monarch, and the system works perfectly well!

        My problem, I think, is related to my previous question that you – I notice – don’t address. If we have an Australian monarch in Australia, why do we need a fleet of governors to represent the monarch?

        The question comes down to this; terminology aside, does the head of state, in any circumstances, have anything of significance to do? If the answer is “yes” then the problem with a head-of-state-for-life is that, if they don’t to whatever it is well, there is no way of getting rid of them short of assassination, coup or revolution – problems to which, as history shows all too vividly, monarchy has been prone. If, on the other hand, the HoS has nothing to do, why have a HoS?

        In Australian, virtually all of the powers of the crown are exercisable by the governors, mostly on ministerial advice but very occasionally on the governor’s own initiative (as Gough Whitlam discovered). The one crown power which is still exercised by the Queen is the power to appoint a governor, and this of course is done on ministerial advice.

        Under your proposal, the one thing the monarch would have to do would be to appoint the governors. But the need for this arises only because of your decision to separate the monarchical and gubernatorial positions, when there is no obvious need to do this. Under your system, all the powers and functions of the head of state are exercised by the governors – the governors are, in substance and reality, the head of state (as at present, in fact). The main duty of your proposed head of state is a negative one; it is not to exercise the powers of the head of state, so that the governors can exercise them instead. The only comparable constitutional arrangement that springs to mind is in North Korea, where President Kim Jong Il exercise the powers of “Eternal President” Kim Il Sung, on account of the latter being a bit too dead to exercise them himself.

        The proposed monarchy is pointless, and needlessly expensive. Perhaps more to the point, no person with any self-respect would take the gig. The only reason for appointing a public figure to this office would be to prevent him from doing anything.

        There is also the risk that anyone of any competence, ability and principle – anyone with a pulse, in fact – who did take the office would be tempted, if only by boredom, or a sense of public duty – to do something. It’s constitutional convention which prevents the Queen from exercising her prerogative powers in Australia. But this convention is underpinned by the reality that she is not Australian and has little involvement in Australian affairs, and also by her desire to preserve the monarchical institution for the benefit of her family and the wider Commonwealth. None of these considerations would operate to prevent, say, Tim Fischer from exercising crown prerogative if he thought the public interest required it. Plus, he would have a (marginally) stronger mandate than the governors, having been chosen by a college rather than by just one person, and having a life tenure in post rather than being fireable at whim. Unsatsifactory as the Whitlam affair may have been, do you really think it would have been more satisfactory if Whitlam had been able to appeal to an Australian Monarch-for-life to override Kerr? And, regardless of the decision of the monarch-for-life in that situation, don’t you think that Australian politics would have been poised for much, much longer if the monarch had not conveniently died relatively shortly afterwards?

        The current arrangement has two big things going for it. One is the breadth and depth of experience of the present Queen, and her personal qualities of duty and judgment. There can be no guarantee, of course, that all her successors will have similar qualities, but for the time being we can benefit from them. It’s very unlikely that the Monarch post you suggest will attract somebody similarly-qualified. There are very few such people around and, for the reason already pointed out, no such person is likely to find the post remotely attractive; they will prefer a post in which they can employ their talents and experience for public benefit and personal satisfaction. The second is the British monarchy’s historic and cultural significance in the Australian story. These are advantages which make the British monarchy attractive to Australia, despite its undemocratic and un-Australian nature. The proposed elective Australian monarchy offers no advantages at all.

        I know that you prefer the British monarchy to the Australian monarchy. So do I. But if there are reasons for abandoning the British monarchy, those reasons will not be answered by the Australian monarchy. At best, you would be moving from a slightly silly system to a very silly one. At worst, the undemocratic nature of the Australian monarchy would be much more troubling, and potentially much more threatening, when unconstrained by the factors which limit the British monarchy.

  5. Peter

    “‘It ain’t broke …’ can also be a recipe for not trying to improve anything, YF. If we sat around waiting for things and systems to break, we’d soon stagnate.”

    Oh I don’t know. I’d say the more accurate phrase would be “Its broke, but don’t fix it, it could get worse!” Aussies have been pretty good at watching state governments progressively break everything and *still* voting them back in. Presumably because the opposition failed to present a credible alternative, but still…

  6. An Liaig

    One point that I would make is that our current system IS broken. Consider our head of state, the queen of England, going on a trade mission to Japan. Does she promote Australian trade or does she promote the trade of a competing nation state?
    Of course, she promotes the trade interests of England. So we have a head of state who actively works against our national interests. Can we send the queen on a trade mission for us – no, the English wouldn’t allow it. Can we send the GG? Yes, but once she leaves Australia she has no offical status at all. She is the queen’s retesentative in Australia only. Any respect shown to her outside Australia is purely out of courtesy.

    • Yes, this is true, and perhaps the one REAL problem with the current situation. Governors (General or State) cannot really represent us overseas, as their duty is to represent the Monarch here in our country. So often it falls to our prime minister (and naturally to our ambassadors) to represent us overseas.

      Here is where I think my suggestion for a Elected Constitutional Monarch would really serve a practical purpose. The Elected Monarch would be our Head of State and would be able to represent us as such on overseas missions and official state visits.

    • Can we send the queen on a trade mission for us – no, the English wouldn’t allow it.

      Why not?