People like me should never, ever be told about parliamentary RSS feeds. Unfortunately, I found out anyway, and soon after discovered a report from last week entitled Plebiscite for an Australian Republic Bill 2008 (tabled by the enchantingly-named Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee).
Briefly, the proposal is to hold a plebiscite on whether Australia should become a republic – a simple yes/no question not connected with any specific republic model. Should the response be affirmative, a second plebiscite would then determine a particular model, and a subsequent referendum would finalise the deal.
4.9 Professor David Flint, National Convenor of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, held the view that a plebiscite would create ‘constitutional instability’:
Not only unwise; it is irresponsible, because it invites a vote of no confidence in the existing system. It creates periods of constitutional instability where we do not know where we are and then leads to nothing.
I quote Flint (or at least the committee’s interpretation of Flint’s comments) only for my own amusement, because his arguments are so comically and transparently vacuous. My real purpose here is to look at the committee’s recommendations. Most of the report deals with the arguments for and against holding a plebiscite on whether Australia should become a republic. So what did they conclude?
6.5 The committee recommends the establishment of an ongoing public awareness campaign on Australia’s constitutional system which engages as wide a range of the public as possible.
6.7 The committee recommends that if any further process advocating constitutional change is undertaken, including that of a republic, it seek to encourage Australians to engage meaningfully in the debate.
Observe the most skillfully-crafted of non-answers – a compromise position that involves no actual compromise. An information campaign and public debate is something we can all agree on, right? Well yes, but if that’s all we can agree on then we’re not making an awful lot of progress.
Senator Bob Brown goes on the offensive in the Additional Comments section of the report:
The Labor government supports an Australian republic, but not yet.
So, to avoid embarrassment, the committee has declined to make any recommendations and declined to acknowledge that I was the senator who introduced the Bill.
And that’s how the sausage is made.