How to establish the Australian Republic

Interview with Robert Dawson, author of A Democratic Way to Australia’s Republic
The republic issue is one that every Australian should consider, whether you are in principle a supporter of an Australian republic, a Monarchist or have some other views.
Robert Dawson would like to have a President sworn to be politically neutral and responsible for non-political matters in the administration of the country.
Such a head of state, he says, could be made responsible for all independent statutory and chartered federal bodies They could include the Electoral Commission, the Ombudsman, the Human Rights and the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Australia Council, the Censorship Board and even the ABC.
But do you agree? Here, he answers a series of questions about the contents of the book, what motivated him to write it and what politicians might take out of it.
Q: What first prompted your interest in whether Australia should become a republic or not?
A: It is apparent that Australia appears to be a British colony in the eyes of many important foreigners. Whether we are truly independent as claimed by many monarchists is questionable but what is most important is that we should be seen to be independent.
Q: Why should Australia become a Republic…polls show a very high percentage of people are comfortable with the Monarchy and don’t see any need for change?
A: Many people are comfortable because the only Republic options seriously debated so far are the Minimalist Model and what I call the “Near Minimalist Model” (that is, incorporating an elected Head of State). Obviously minimalist models don’t offer any improvements. My proposals incorporate many improvements that have not been debated publicly.
Q: Do you think Australians generally care about all the political effort and cost it would take to change to a Republic?
A: I believe they would object if there were no benefits derived from the change. However, if people had the opportunity to consider proposals beyond the minimalist model, I am sure they would agree that the benefits derived from adopting good proposals would far outweigh the costs.
Q: You’re obviously critical of previous attempts to move towards a republic…what was your main concern?
A: So much has been said in the past about the Minimalist Model and the Near Minimalist Model, many people seemed to think there are no other possible models. I am critical because it seems that nobody came up with anything new and innovative and, as for the procedures for the changeover to the Republic there has been negligible public discussion. I have reviewed these changeover procedures and show that they involve a whole range of considerations extra to decisions about the Republic itself.
Q: Have attitudes changed towards the potential of a Republic of Australia in recent years. If so, in which ways?
A: Enthusiasm died after the republic referendum held in November 1999 as people began to believe that the only outcome would have to be the minimalist model with only one change – the method of selection of the President. My proposals provide for numerous alternative outcomes.
Q: Why do you believe your ideas are of value and should be listened to?
A: My proposals include provisions for our President to improve the wellbeing of all Australians and protect our hard won freedoms.
Q: What prompted the idea of the book?
A: I was dissatisfied with the two minimalist models being considered and their lack of innovation to correct the problems existing in the present system. In my book, I refer to the writings of many expert commentators who outline the problems and I concentrated on the problem solving. Furthermore, the changeover proposed would be pre-planned, gradual, controlled and, if anything goes wrong, reversible.
Q: What is the single most important point that you make in your book that you believe should persuade Australians to follow your ideas?
A: I don’t advocate offering a model for acceptance nor offering a choice of models for selection, I advocate having a series of referendums with separate questions about all of the important issues, the results of which will collectively be the preferred model. We can hope to achieve an Australian Republic in a form that gives the maximum satisfaction to the maximum number of Australians. That’s what deciding all major issues by referendums should achieve.
Q: What do you want readers to take away from the book after reading it?
A: That we could vote to have a President sworn to be politically neutral and responsible for non-political matters in the administration of the country. That is, responsible for all independent statutory and chartered federal bodies so they can fulfil their obligations to function ethically. These bodies might include the Electoral Commission, the ABC, the Ombudsman, the Human Rights and the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Australia Council, the Censorship Board.
Q: Why should the general public read the book?
A: Feedback from readers tells me that people are most confused about what might be the powers and duties of the Presidents of our future Republic. I have provided more than six pages of possible powers and duties for consideration and people find it very reassuring that I propose having referendums for voters to decide which ones we should adopt.
Q: What about politicians, what reasons would you give to convince them that it is worth reading?
A: Many politicians are committed republicans but the electorate is suspicious of their motives and is determined not to have a republic devised by them. Politicians should now know that if people generally prefer something different from what they offer, people would reject the change to a republic as they did in the first republic referendum. My book gives a way around the problem. With a method of having single-issue referendum questions, the possibility of political interference will be avoided.
Q: What do you hope to achieve, assuming that enough people read the book, in the context of the Republic debate and actual steps towards change?
A: I hope that all individual issues will be decided separately so that we would devise a collective model consisting of selections that might otherwise never be combined as a model for selection. Throughout my book I have tried to maximise democracy in all procedures and this is just one such case.
Q: How can people get a copy of your book?
A: The most recent update can be found on this web site's download page.
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The full text of his book is available for free. To download the PDF version, click here.