Grattan on Friday: When it comes to Indigenous recognition, Ken Wyatt will have to close multiple gaps


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

If the Morrison government manages to get a referendum passed to give Australia’s Indigenous people constitutional recognition, it will be truly remarkable.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has previously taken little interest in this area, at least publicly. And he would have done something that proved beyond Tony Abbott, for whom it was a cause.

Morrison and his minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, would have stared down conservative colleagues, cut a deal with Labor, and persuaded enough Indigenous leaders to get on board.

Finally, the government would have overcome the public’s inherent negativity towards referendums.

It would, one might say, be another miracle.

But miracles are rare and on present indications this one will be extraordinarily hard to land.

We are yet to see how seriously committed Morrison will be to the recognition push. For a chance of success, he’ll need to put his back into it.




Read more:
The Morrison government proposes an Indigenous recognition referendum this term


His appointment of Wyatt, a man of Noongar, Wongi, and Yamatji heritage, was a statement in itself. The nomination of recognition for early attention was a surprise – and another indication that we have yet to get a grasp on Morrison as prime minister (as distinct from campaigner).

There has been much talk about his lack of an agenda, but the unveiling of a couple of significant priorities – industrial relations and now Indigenous recognition – suggests there might be more there than we suspected.

It’s important to be clear about what Wyatt – who outlined his proposals in a speech on Wednesday – is saying.

The government’s ambit hope is to put a referendum for recognition during this parliamentary term. But this will only happen if two conditions are met: it can get consensus on the content of what would go into the constitution, and there’s a high probability of a favourable outcome. The latter means winning not just the overall vote but the vote in four of the six states. Both content and potential support will present major problems.

What of the timetable? If the government really wants to give constitutional change a red hot go, there is a case for pushing it hard and quickly. Support doesn’t necessary build as time passes; beyond a certain point, it can erode.

But judging whether and when there would be sufficient likely public backing for a Yes vote would be tricky. Post May 18, everyone has become rather chary of polls. And things could quickly change in the final countdown.

History shows the voters’ penchant to say No. Despite the triumph of the 1967 referendum to give the federal government power to make laws for Aboriginal people and count them in the census (carried overwhelmingly in every state), referendums generally fail. Only eight have been passed – the last in 1977.




Read more:
Listening with ‘our ears and our eyes’: Ken Wyatt’s big promises on Indigenous affairs


Formulating the question will be an extremely challenging hurdle to climb over.

A constitutional change that acknowledged Australia’s First Peoples but didn’t go much beyond that would be easiest to get through government ranks and the popular vote.

It is hard to see either Indigenous leaders or Labor accepting just that.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders in their 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart called for “the establishment of a First Nations voice enshrined in the constitution”.

But the indications are a voice would not be part of the government’s constitutional model. Wyatt does want a voice at the national level, but he is vague about its form, and the official line is that Morrison has “no plans” for the voice.

Labor was committed at the election to putting into the constitution a voice – which would be an input to the political process, not any sort of third chamber of Parliament – and the ALP would come under attack from Indigenous leaders if it walked away from this.

Writing for the Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday, Labor’s Pat Dodson, shadow assistant minister for reconciliation and constitutional recognition (and an Indigenous man dubbed “the father of reconciliation”) declared:

We either deliver the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full or continue down the failed path of soft reconciliation measures.

The shadow minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney (also Indigenous), who is working closely with Wyatt and will do some travelling with him, may be more flexible than Dodson. Nevertheless she said after Wyatt’s speech:

We are at a point in our development, in our history where a voice to the parliament absolutely has to be entrenched in the Australian Constitution.

Morrison has had talks with Anthony Albanese to pursue bipartisanship on Indigenous issues and the Labor leader was optimistic on Thursday that a successful recognition referendum in the next three years was “absolutely realistic and doable”.




Read more:
Constitutional reform made easy: how to achieve the Uluru statement and a First Nations voice


But former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, a member of the review panel Abbott set up to examine possible pathways to constitutional recognition, says that while he’s sympathetic to what Wyatt is undertaking,

finding the necessary national unity to avoid hurt and disappointment will be far from easy.

One huge problem, Anderson believes, will be getting Aboriginal people to come together on an agreed model.

Those in the Coalition party room and in the right wing commentariat who are critical of the move for recognition will use the spectre of the voice as a scare tactic.

The recognition issue will be one test of whether the right, though tamed since Malcolm Turnbull’s overthrow, will seriously arc up within the Liberal party in this term.

But Wyatt has attracted enthusiasm from some colleagues. NSW Liberal John Alexander was quick to declare

I’m with Ken on this, he has my full support for the process he has initiated and I hope it can conclude with a successful referendum vote and form of voice we can all be proud of.

Of particular importance, many big corporations, including mining companies, now have progressive positions on Indigenous affairs and will swing in behind the move. Wyatt has indicated he would be looking to them to help carry the debate, particularly in his home state of Western Australia, where a referendum would potentially be a hard sell.

He’d be encouraged by sentiments such as from Woodside, which said the company was

proud to give our support to this process as we continue to walk together with courage towards a reconciled Australia.




Read more:
Politics with Michelle Grattan: Ken Wyatt on constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians


As with same-sex marriage, indeed probably more so, the corporate world is talking up an important social issue and prodding the politicians to act.

If Morrison has to retreat on Indigenous recognition, it is unlikely to make a great amount of difference to him. It won’t affect the outcome of the next election.

For Wyatt the issue has quite another dimension. This is a fight for his people. The stakes are personal, and must feel frightening high.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Listening with ‘our ears and our eyes’: Ken Wyatt’s big promises on Indigenous affairs



In his first major policy address, Ken Wyatt noted how previous governments have failed Indigenous Australians with a ‘top-down, command and control approach.’
Rohan Thomson/AAP

Eddie Synot, Griffith University

Recently, I wrote that Ken Wyatt’s appointment as the minister for Indigenous Australians was a momentous occasion in Australian history. The appointment showed the government is committed to doing things differently when it comes to its responsibilities and obligations to Indigenous Australians.

It is still incredibly early days, but Wyatt has delivered his first major speech at a significant time – in the middle of National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) week.

For Indigenous communities, the speech held much promise and provided key details on what the Morrison government’s approach to Indigenous affairs will look like over the next three years. This is major turning point that could result in real change after years of little progress.

New language on Indigenous affairs

Perhaps most significant was the rhetoric Wyatt used – it mirrored the language long used by many Indigenous Australians, but notably lacking in previous government addresses on these issues. Wyatt noted how previous governments have failed Indigenous Australians, acknowledging how even the

most well-intentioned modern policies and programs have still tended to take a top-down, command and control approach.

Wyatt echoed legitimate concerns with the way the government approached its Indigenous policies in the past, noting that it had been as

if Aboriginal people didn’t know what they needed or wanted.

He further noted that dominant attitudes toward Indigenous affairs had ignored “proud members of one of the world’s longest-lived civilisations,” pretending as if they

had nothing to say, no wisdom to offer, about what would help their families thrive and their communities flourish.

The significance of a cabinet minister, especially one responsible for Indigenous affairs, highlighting these aspects of Australian history and society is massive. The change in comparison to earlier ministers who ignored or dismissed these truths is remarkable.

The Constitution remains key

Another major shift for the Coalition government: there is no longer a disregard for the Uluru Statement from the Heart and a First Nations voice being entrenched in the Constitution.

While Wyatt demurred on specific details, emphasising a “consensus option,” he did otherwise commit to a referendum within three years. This is another significant step toward implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

It is important to note that the final report of the Referendum Council, as well as the bi-partisan, parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition, both affirmed that a First Nations voice as called for by the Uluru Statement was the most sensible and widely supported option for reform.

Also supporting the conclusions of the Referendum Council and the Joint Select Committee, Wyatt emphasised that “the constitution remains key.” Both found that current representative mechanisms for Indigenous peoples were not working. And both agreed that only a First Nations voice would provide the type of representation required to empower Indigenous peoples and communities.

The Referendum Council advised Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to hold a referendum on establishing a voice to parliament in 2017, but Turnbull rejected the recommendation.
Paul Miller/AAP

A move away from top-down policy

Wyatt touched on many other issues that are important to Indigenous communities and are aimed at bringing more local input to policy-making.

On the issue of truth telling, he poignantly recognised that without truth

there can be no agreement on where and who we are in the present, how we arrived here and where we want to go in the future.

More details were also provided on the role of the new coordinating agency called the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA). The NIAA aims to coordinate efforts across all levels of government and Indigenous communities to allow Indigenous peoples to empower themselves.

Wyatt specifically indicated that he doesn’t intend policy to come from the NIAA or his office. Rather, policy actions are to be supported by all levels of community and the state and territory governments to enable communities to own their own policy actions.

This is continued movement away from what Wyatt described as the history of
“a top-down, command and control approach” that has failed Indigenous Australians.

Wyatt emphasised this by saying that his intention is “to have genuine conversations, not only with Indigenous leaders and peak bodies, but with families, individuals and community organisations so that I can hear their voices.”

This addresses the long history of Indigenous peoples not being listened to and rather being told what will happen. Wyatt noted again that

the most important thing that I and the agency will do is to listen – with our ears and with our eyes.

One area of concern

The speech also raised the priority issues of youth suicide, the revival and maintenance of Indigenous languages (with a pledged A$10 million), and the expansion of programs aimed at supporting Indigenous businesses, such as the Indigenous Procurement Policy, which provides incentives for Indigenous businesses to grow.

Wyatt also reemphasised the creation of the new position of a national suicide prevention adviser to coordinate and advise on already announced funding and increased support service delivery.

It is still early and only time will tell whether these actions will help, but at least one area of the speech raises concern: Wyatt’s commitment to revamp the the Community Development Program aimed at employment, training and development for Indigenous communities. By creating community advisory boards, Wyatt claimed that the

CDP has been reformed to ensure communities have a say in the way the programme is run.

The problem, however, hasn’t just been how the program is run. Many have been advocating for the abolishment of the CDP, rather than its reform.

Too many Indigenous people in the program work significant hours for less than minimum wage and face punitive punishments for non-compliance with regulatory requirements. This includes being fined for failing to show for work, which impacts the participants’ ability to purchase life necessities.

In attempting to force participants into work, the CDP fails to understand the challenges of remote communities and, as such, unfairly discriminates against Indigenous people. The CDP is effectively a “work-for-the-dole” program that punishes poverty rather than empowering communities.

Overall, Wyatt’s speech continued to build on the early optimism surrounding his appointment. His notable change in rhetoric from previous governments and his commitment for early action to build on reforms, such as the Council of Australian Governments’ partnership agreement with peak Indigenous organisations to close the gap in health, education and employment opportunities and the Indigenous Advancement Strategy Evaluation Framework, are welcome.

Most importantly, Wyatt’s recommitment to constitutional reform moves the nation one step closer to achieving those important reforms of voice, treaty and truth from the Uluru Statement from the Heart. As Wyatt noted, this is

too important to get wrong, and too important to rush.

But the crucial thing to remember is how far we have come since the Turnbull government’s response to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, just two short years ago.The Conversation

Eddie Synot, Senior Research Assistant, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Morrison government proposes an Indigenous recognition referendum this term


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Morrison government plans to hold a referendum in the next three years on whether to enshrine constitutional recognition of Australia’s Indigenous people.

Announcing the proposal on Wednesday, the minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, said he would:

develop and bring forward a consensus option for constitutional recognition to be put to a referendum during the current parliamentary term.

He said he had begun seeking the counsel of Indigenous leaders on the best way forward. But Wyatt made it clear that the final decision on whether the referendum goes ahead this term will depend on achieving a high degree of consensus and the prospect of it having a very strong chance of success.

Constitutional recognition is too important to get wrong, and too important to rush.

Wyatt stressed the importance of bipartisanship, and will establish a cross-party parliamentary working group to assist with engagement to develop a “community model” for the referendum.

Labor’s shadow minister for Indigenous affairs, Linda Burney “will be integral to this process”, Wyatt told the National Press Club in a major speech outlining the Morrison government’s approach to Indigenous affairs. Both Wyatt and Burney are Indigenous.




Read more:
Ken Wyatt faces challenges – and opportunities – as minister for Indigenous Australians


Wyatt did not indicate how he envisioned changing the constitution, which has been highly controversial in the last few years.

The May 2017 “Uluru Statement from the Heart” called for “the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the constitution”.

The Referendum Council proposed a national Indigenous representative assembly be added to the constitution, but this was rejected by the Turnbull government.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has recently shifted course and begun speaking with Labor leader Anthony Albanese about a bipartisan approach to constitutional recognition. Without bipartisanship, any referendum is doomed to failure; passage is difficult enough even with agreement of the major parties. The last successful referendum of any sort was in 1977.

Changing the constitution through a referendum requires an overall majority of votes and a majority in a majority of states. When Prime Minister Tony Abbott wanted to hold a referendum on Indigenous recognition, the plan slipped away amid arguments over its content and doubts about getting the necessary support.




Read more:
Listening but not hearing: process has trumped substance in Indigenous affairs


Wyatt also promised the development of “a local, regional and national voice”. He did not spell out the detail of a national “voice”.

He said the concept of the “voice” in the Uluru Statement from the Heart “is not a singular voice”.

It is a cry to all tiers of government to stop and listen to the voices of Indigenous Australians at all levels.

All they want is for governments to hear their issues, stories of their land and their local history.

He said Indigenous communities are asking the three tiers of government to stop and take the time to listen to their voices.

The national interest requires a new relationship with Indigenous Australians based on their participation and establishing entrenched partnerships at the community and regional levels.

Wyatt also said he would work on “progressing how we address truth telling.

Without the truth of the past, there can be no agreement on where and who we are in the present, how we arrived here and where we want to go in the future.




Read more:
Treaty talk is only one problem for Indigenous recognition referendum


On the treaty issue, he said it was important for states and territories to take the lead.

Wyatt said the significance of symbolism must never be forgotten but “it must be balanced with pragmatism that results in change for Indigenous Australians”. He highlighted the new National Indigenous Australians Agency, which was set up by Morrison to oversee Indigenous affairs policy.

With the establishment of the agency on 1 July, we began a new era for the government to work in partnership with Indigenous Australians. It will provide opportunities for growth and advancement in education, employment, suicide prevention, community safety, health and constitutional recognition.

The most important thing that I and the agency will do is to listen – with our ears and with our eyes.

I intend to have genuine conversations, not only with Indigenous leaders and peak bodies, but with families, individuals and community organisations so that I can hear their voices and work together to agree to a way forward for a better future for our children.

He also wanted businesses “to sit with me around boardroom tables – and around campfires – and discuss how they can contribute”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Referendum redux: Labor’s two-step plan for a vote on becoming a republic has some precedents



File 20181112 194506 oytr3w.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Australia’s head of state Queen Elizabeth is aged 92. Source: Treasury.

Ron Levy, Australian National University

A recent report suggested Australia’s head of state, Queen Elizabeth, wants Australia to “get on with” moving towards becoming a republic rather than holding a morbid “death watch”. The queen is a sprightly 92 years of age, while her husband Prince Philip, 97, is in somewhat poorer health.

Federal Labor has announced its preference for not one, but two, new public votes on Australia becoming a republic, should the party win the next election. It would act in its first term in office. A republic is a system of government where the people, through their elected representatives, hold ultimate power.




Read more:
Shorten pledges republic vote in first term


The idea is to have an initial plebiscite to gauge Australians’ preferences – that is generally whether they are for or against dropping the British monarchy from our constitutional system. Then, if the answer to the first question is “yes”, a Labor government would hold another public vote, this time a binding constitutional referendum. If the answer were “no”, then no second vote would be necessary. Labor has not indicated specifics, such as how long after the first vote a second vote would be held.

The queen is generally regarded as Australia’s head of state, although some scholars suggest the governor-general, as the queen’s representative in Australia, is technically head of state.

Is Labor crazy to propose not one but two national votes? What about the cost – in both money and time? What could be the rationale? And is there another option?




Read more:
Nine things you should know about a potential Australian republic


The main problem Labor’s two-vote solution aims to solve is that even supporters of a republic might not agree on what kind of republic it should be. That helped scuttle the republic the last time around in 1999.

Polling data on the subject ebb and flow. For instance, an Essential poll from May indicated support of 48%, up from 44% in January. A recent Newspoll showed backing for a republic had fallen to 40%. In 1999 support stood at about three-quarters of the population.

But monarchists argued in 1999 that the precise model put to the people – appointment of an Australian president by two-thirds of parliament – wasn’t the right one. Their posters warned: “This Republic: don’t risk it” and “If you want to vote for the President … Vote No to the Politicians’ Republic”.

These arguments played on Australians’ doubts about the value of replacing the monarchy with just another elitist institution. Many republicans voted to reject the republic. With the vote split on the republican side, Australia remained a monarchy, essentially by default.

The queen attended the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day on November 11 at Westminster Abbey in London without her husband Prince Philip.
EPA

Labor’s two-vote approach avoids this trap through what some call a “mandate referendum” (or “mandate plebiscite” if it’s not binding). The initial vote shows whether there is popular support for a reform. Once that’s decided in the affirmative, all that is left is to choose the most popular specific option for reform.

Mandate referendums have worked. For instance, in South Africa, to push through reforms ending apartheid, President F.W. de Klerk first held a referendum. Defying the pundits’ cynical expectations, 68.7% of white South Africans voted for reform. Then the hard work of dismantling the old system could begin. The popular vote put wind in the sails of reform, and within a few years legal apartheid was gone.

Labor’s plan is somewhat different in that if the first vote is “yes”, then the next step is a binding referendum – not simply negotiations as occurred in South Africa. The reason is Australia’s constitution can be changed only if a referendum is carried, which requires a double majority – a majority of voters overall, and a majority of the states.

South Africa’s system of apartheid – separating the white and black populations – was ended by first securing public in-principle approval through a referendum.

So the idea of a mandate vote has some historical backing. (French President Charles de Gaulle’s 1961 referendum on Algerian independence from France is another example.)

However, there are two caveats. First, the cost of not one but two public votes is bound to be an issue. Yet, in my view, we should not begrudge the costs of democracy. For instance, though elections to parliament cost hundreds of millions, that is no reason to cut back on elections. Democracy is worth the cost.

That said, there may be cheaper alternatives. For example, the vote can be run as a “preferendum” – a referendum in which the voters rank a number of choices, much as we do in parliamentary elections. So, instead of two referendums, we could have just one in which every option – from the status quo to several republican models – is included. During vote counting, the least popular option would be eliminated, and preferences distributed, until a majority favoured just one. (Granted, this approach would take some amendments to the law of referendums in Australia.)

The second caveat is that there is an obvious problem with deliberation amid referendums. When we give consent – whether to a medical procedure or a constitutional reform – that consent has to be informed. Another prominent slogan of the 1999 referendum was “Don’t know – vote no”. This resonated with some voters who couldn’t tell whether a two-thirds-appointed or a directly elected president would be best. Many had little knowledge of constitutional pros and cons. And we saw, famously, something worse in the Brexit vote, which was marred by disinformation campaigns.




Read more:
A model for an Australian republic that can unite republicans and win a referendum


Fortunately, it isn’t too hard to regulate to avoid disinformation, and to teach the public more about constitutional issues. We just need to be creative. Beyond the traditional information booklet sent to voters, we can also employ interactive online tutorials, Q&A-style television specials to debate the models, and local town hall-style meetings. All these should run before each public vote.

And note how Labor’s proposed two-vote model might actually have some benefits for deliberation. Brexit, which after all was a mandate referendum, is telling. Once a first vote endorses reform, this can clarify the mind. Suddenly reform is no abstract matter. Now there is a movement for a second Brexit vote on the specifics of exiting the European Union.

Similarly, Labor’s two-vote model may seem cumbersome, but running two votes, separated by several months or even a year or two, might have benefits. It could allow voters to think hard and learn about constitutional details in the intervening time.The Conversation

Ron Levy, Associate professor, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

New Caledonia votes to stay with France this time, but independence supporters take heart



File 20181105 83629 14vrjt8.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Voting is not compulsory in New Caledonia, but nonetheless 80.63% turned out to vote in the independence referendum.
Shutterstock

Denise Fisher, Australian National University

The November 4 referendum in New Caledonia was a breathtaking example of democracy in action, with new consequences for the French territory, France and our region.

The vote had been long-deferred, long-awaited and for some, long-feared. It took place peacefully, a major and poignant achievement that was unimaginable 30 years ago, before the Matignon/Noumea Accords were signed. They were designed to end civil war, promising the hand-over of a number of autonomies, to be followed by this referendum.

The result favoured staying with France by 56.4% to 43.6%. Key characteristics were the strong turnout, especially by young Kanaks, the relatively strong vote for independence, and bitter division between the two sides.




Read more:
Explainer: New Caledonia’s independence referendum, and how it could impact the region


Voting queues were long, with many waiting two hours to vote. Voting is not compulsory in New Caledonia, and the turnout was an extraordinary 80.63% of those eligible to vote (all Indigenous Kanaks, and a large proportion of those from other communities with longstanding residence in New Caledonia). This is the highest in recent history, with levels at the last French national elections 37% (2017) and provincial elections 67% (2014).

As French President Emmanuel Macron noted hours after the polls closed, France has fulfilled its promise and delivered a transparent process, legitimised by the unprecedented high turnout, the attendance of 13 UN observers and a Pacific Islands Forum observer team.

What does it mean for New Caledonia?

This relatively close result is probably the best all round for stability. The campaign has been bitter, and even commentary between leaders in television coverage of the results saw strong denunciation, particularly by loyalists.

While potentially stoking fear among loyalists for the future, the sizeable independence vote nonetheless may give pause to their tendency to triumphalism, challenging opinion polls and their own belief that they would win at least 60% and possibly 70% of the vote.

In their confidence, just days before the vote, the loyalists declared that with a massive win, they would seek to reverse the Noumea Accord guarantee of a second and potentially third referendum, an inflammatory step for independence supporters.

For independence leaders, the result vindicates their careful strategy of negotiating under the Noumea Accord for potentially two more votes in 2020 and 2022 in the event of a “no” vote, automatic participation for all Indigenous Kanaks, and mobilising the young.

Young Kanaks voted in large numbers, peacefully, and apparently for independence. This was so even in mainly European Noumea, which returned a surprising 26.29% “yes” vote.

With natural population growth, their numbers will increase as 18-year-olds become eligible to vote in 2020 and 2022. In contrast, the number of voters from other long-standing communities will vary little during this time-frame.

Independence leaders can also work to improve the vote from Kanak island communities, whose turnout remained at traditional lower levels, and those who may have responded this time to one independence party’s call for a boycott.

What does it mean for France?

The relatively close result means both sides may be more likely to participate constructively in the ongoing dialogue process set up by France.

Macron has urged New Caledonians to overcome division and continue the 30-year process “in favour of peace”, emphasising dialogue. He referred to a future within France and the Indo-Pacific. Prime Minister Édouard Philippe visited the territory on November 5 to continue dialogue and urge calm.

The task of France remains delicate: to manage, impartially, a process respecting the positions of both sides. It’s complicated by the fact the 43.6% favouring independence are largely Indigenous Kanaks. They are not leaving, they have regional support, and their interests must be considered in any long-term future.




Read more:
Rebel music: the protest songs of New Caledonia’s independence referendum


On the positive side, positions canvassed by independence and loyalist parties alike threw up areas of shared interest that can form the basis of future cooperation. Provincial elections in May 2019 will clarify their support, but risk being undermined by extremist parties on both sides.

What are the implications for the region?

The result guarantees continued regional and international interest in the next steps. Reports of the Pacific Islands Forum and UN observer teams will be considered by their organisations. New Caledonia continues to be represented by the pro-independence Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) at the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG).

Separatists in Bougainville (Papua New Guinea), set for their own independence referendum next year, and West Papua, both the subject of MSG attention, will take heart.

Macron’s invocation of his Indo-Pacific vision engaging New Caledonia specifically to counter China gives a new edge to the interest in the referendum process by regional countries and partners.

Australia, meanwhile, will continue to retain a close interest in stability in our near neighbour, respecting the process while continuing cooperation with France.The Conversation

Denise Fisher, Visiting Fellow, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Parliamentary report recommends referendum to solve the dual citizenship saga: Here’s why it won’t happen


File 20180517 155623 1n8q8hg.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The dual citizenship saga that has rocked the parliament in recent months is unlikely to end any time soon.
Shutterstock

Lorraine Finlay, Murdoch University

The release of the report by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) into section 44 of the Australian Constitution is the latest chapter in the long-running dual citizenship saga. The committee was asked to consider the impact of section 44 and options for reform.

While the report emphasises it is for the Australian people to decide on the appropriate qualifications of their elected representatives, its very title – Excluded: The impact of section 44 on Australian democracy – is a clue to the final view adopted by the majority of JSCEM.

Is a referendum the answer?

The key recommendation of JSCEM is that there should be a referendum proposing either that sections 44 and 45 of the Constitution are repealed, or that the words “until the Parliament otherwise provides” be inserted into those sections.




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Explainer: what the High Court decision on Katy Gallagher is about and why it matters


The majority report states that the problems caused by section 44 are “wide-ranging” and “have significant and detrimental implications” for Australia’s democracy.

If either of the recommended referendum questions were passed, the effect would be to remove the disqualification criteria from the Constitution and instead leave it to the parliament to enact laws governing this area. This would supposedly allow for disqualification laws that better reflect modern community standards.

There are several practical problems with this, and that is without considering the underlying substantive question of whether section 44 should actually be changed.

The first problem is that it is highly unlikely a referendum would succeed, a point acknowledged by JSCEM. To succeed, a referendum question must be approved by not only a majority of voters across the country, but also a majority of voters in a majority of states. That means a referendum can be defeated with only 19.8% of Australians (being a majority of voters in each of the four smallest states) voting no.

It is highly unlikely that the Australian people would vote “yes” in a referendum that simply asks them to repeal section 44 – which is precisely what JSCEM has recommended. That would not only mean voting “yes” to allowing dual citizens to be elected (itself a controversial proposition), but would also allow individuals to be elected where they have been convicted of treason, are under sentence for a serious crime, or have a financial conflict of interest.

To be fair, JSCEM goes on to recommend that if the referendum passes, the parliament should enact laws to address matters of qualification and disqualification. Any such laws would most likely ensure that many of the circumstances described above would still result in disqualification.

But the difficulty with this is two-fold. The first is that – rightly or wrongly – many Australians blame our politicians for the problems with section 44. The idea they should put those same politicians in charge of deciding what disqualifications should apply to politicians in the future is unlikely to be met with great enthusiasm.

The second difficulty is that JSCEM is asking us to consider constitutional change in a vacuum. How can the Australian people judge whether or not to vote for repealing section 44 without knowing what, if anything, will replace it?

The committee suggests the removal or amendment of section 44 is a “necessary prerequisite” to a public debate on what constitutes appropriate parliamentary disqualifications.

I would suggest the opposite is true. A public debate on what constitutes appropriate parliamentary disqualifications is a necessary prerequisite to any referendum suggesting the removal or amendment of section 44.

In any event, the question of a referendum appears to be academic, with the government ruling out this option almost as soon as the JSCEM report was released.

The minority report

It is somewhat surprising that with recent polls suggesting a majority of Australians support the dual citizenship disqualification, only one committee member reflected this view and concluded constitutional change was not required.




Read more:
Dual citizenship debacle claims five more MPs – and sounds a stern warning for future parliamentarians


In his minority report, Liberal Ben Morton stated “there has been no compelling argument” to remove the dual citizenship disqualification. He also confirmed he would campaign against any constitutional change attempting to remove this requirement.

This provides further insight into why a referendum will not occur. A government holding a one-seat majority simply cannot risk the distraction and destabilisation of a constitutional referendum that would divide its own members.

Other reform options?

Despite this, majority report did go on to recommend a number of practical strategies to “mitigate the impact of section 44” if constitutional change is not pursued.

These include the development of online self-assessment tools, additional education and support for candidates, formalising the parliamentary referral process, and working with foreign governments to streamline citizenship renunciations.

These are mostly sensible recommendations that will encourage greater compliance with the existing constitutional provisions. Given it is highly unlikely a referendum will happen, they are also the most important in practical terms.

The JSCEM report provides a number of practical recommendations to improve compliance with section 44. But it also confirms there is no easy fix.

The ConversationInstead, it looks as though the dual citizenship saga still has a long way to go.

Lorraine Finlay, Lecturer in Law, Murdoch University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

A model for an Australian republic that can unite republicans and win a referendum



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A proposed model for an Australian republic encourages active citizenship while preserving the non-partisan, ceremonial role of the head of state.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Benjamin T. Jones, Australian National University

As the debate continues over whether Australia Day should be celebrated on January 26, this series looks at the politics of some unresolved issues swirling around Australia Day – namely, the republic and reconciliation. And just for good measure, we’ll check the health of Australian slang along the way.


The lesson of 1999 is that an Australian republic can only come about if republicans unite. Minimalists want a small-change republic, in which parliament appoints the head of state. This, they argue, will ensure the head of state does not have a popular mandate and will not interfere in day-to-day politics.

It will also preserve the character of the role. Like the current governor-general, minimalists want the role to be an honour bestowed on a worthy servant, not a prize sought through ambitious campaigning.

Direct electionists believe the spirit of republicanism is active participation. They do not want politicians to simply choose a head of state; instead, they desire a system in which the people are involved.

The hybrid model below, designed by Paul Pickering and I, aims to ensure the process is democratic but also that the dignity of the office of head of state is maintained. It harnesses the best features of minimalism and direct election.

A hybrid solution

Under our model, each state and territory parliament nominates an Australian citizen to be head of state. There is no obligation to nominate someone who was born in or who resides in that particular state.

In the opinion of at least two-thirds of sitting MPs, the nominee must:

  • be an Australian citizen over 18;

  • have served the nation with distinction in their chosen field or fields;

  • be of exemplary personal character and integrity; and

  • be willing to serve as head of state for a term of five years.

Each parliament must nominate a different person. The eight nominees are then put to a non-compulsory, first-past-the-post, national vote.

The vote is non-compulsory to emphasise this is a titular and ceremonial role. Australians do not currently vote for the governor-general or the Queen, and should not have to vote for the head of state in a republic, either.

This model deliberately casts a wide net but is protected by two hurdles. A nominee must be endorsed first by a parliamentary majority and second by a public vote.

Some minimalists argue that, under a direct-election model, an exploitative populist or crass former sports star might become head of state. The twin hurdles of our hybrid model serve as a bulwark against unbridled populism, but ultimately defer to democracy. If a nominee has the confidence of both an elected parliament and the people, they deserve to be the head of state, regardless of their critics.

The nominee with the most votes becomes the Australian head of state and serves a five-year term.


The Conversation, CC BY-ND

To campaign or not?

In the lead-up to the vote, the merits of each nominee are explained on the Australian Electoral Commission website. A small education budget is allocated to introduce the nominees to the public without any preference shown.

There is no need for nominees to campaign, but no penalty if they do. If supporters of a particular nominee want to conduct a traditional campaign with slogans, posters, advertisements and the like, that is their prerogative.

Many Australians would consider electioneering to be beneath the dignity of the office of head of state. Ultimately, our model puts its faith in the Australian people. They will dictate what kind of behaviour is appropriate on election day.

Casting a wide net

One possible criticism of our model is that the people can choose from just eight nominees. Opening it up to all casts a wider net in theory, but in reality it excludes many worthy candidates.

A simple direct-election model would likely result in only the wealthy, former politicians, or those with support from powerful lobby groups being nominated. In many cases, the kind of person we want as head of state is not the kind of person who would seek out such an honour.

Needing a two-thirds majority, state and territory parliaments will look for worthy individuals in a bipartisan manner. It is then over to the people to choose.

It should also be remembered that citizens are free to petition their government to endorse any particular individual.

The best of both worlds

One of our model’s strengths is that it encourages active citizenship while preserving the non-partisan, ceremonial role of the head of state.

With nominations from across the states and territories, Australians will be presented with a diverse choice of distinguished individuals.

Like the nominations for Australian of the Year, it will be an opportunity to recognise and honour Australians from different walks of life. Citizens are encouraged but not coerced into deciding who they want as their representative on the international stage.

The most important feature of our model is that it preserves the current power relation between the head of state and parliament.

Like the present governor-general, the head of state under our model will be a guardian of the Constitution. They will hold important reserve powers but will be bound by convention and protocol to use them only in the event of a constitutional crisis. They should carry themselves in a manner that brings honour to the country and should tirelessly promote Australia at home and abroad.

Let democracy rule

It’s worth reiterating that republicans must unite and be committed, above all, to democracy. Only with this attitude can the lazy impulse to revert to the status quo be overcome.

An Australian should be the Australian head of state. Our Constitution should be thoroughly democratic and independent. We should be able to tell our kids that they can grow up to be anything, even the head of state.


Benjamin T. Jones’ new book This Time: Australia’s Republican Past and Future is published by Black Inc.


The ConversationCatch up on others in the series here.

Benjamin T. Jones, Australian Research Council Fellow, School of History, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Shorten pledges republic vote in first term



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Bill Shorten will seek to elevate the issue of a republic by pledging.
a policy for quick action.
Julian Smith/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

A Shorten government would ask voters in its first term whether they supported Australia becoming a republic.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, addressing the Australian Republic Movement’s dinner on Saturday, will seek to elevate the issue by pledging
that “by the end of our first term, we will put a simple, straightforward question to the people of Australia: Do you support an Australian republic with an Australian head of state?

“If the yes vote prevails – and I’m optimistic it will – then we can consider how that head of state is chosen.”

He will say that in a Labor government a minister would be given direct responsibility for advancing the debate.

The Shorten policy for quick action on a republic contrasts with Malcolm Turnbull’s position, which is that the public will not want the issue back on the agenda until after the Queen’s reign ends.

Labor’s two-stage process – with the first stage a general plebiscite question about wanting a republic, followed by a referendum which would incorporate a model – is designed to maximise the chances of support.

But the issue of the model and the requirements of a referendum – which needs an overall majority and a majority of states to pass – would still remain the difficult hurdle.

The 1999 unsuccessful referendum proposed the president of the republic be chosen by parliament, but it is likely that these days people would want a directly elected president – a model that raises more issues.

Shorten will say in his speech: “We cannot risk being caught in a referendum like the last one, where Australians were given one vote to settle two questions. When a lot of people voted ‘no’ because of the model, not because of the republic.

“The first, clear question we ask the people should be whether we want an Australian head of state. And the debate should be about why. About our sense of Australia, our history and above all, our future.”

In London recently Malcolm Turnbull declared himself an “Elizabethan”. In contrast, Shorten will say: “I have tremendous regard for the Queen and her service. But I am not an Elizabethan. I’m a Victorian. I’m an Australian.”

He will say he is confident that if Australia became a republic, “Queen Elizabeth would farewell us with the same affection and good grace she has shown every time a Commonwealth nation has made the decision to cut its ties with the monarchy.

“We can vote for a republic and still respect Queen Elizabeth.”

Shorten will acknowledge that the republic issue “isn’t front of mind of everyone, but I don’t buy the argument that we can’t have this debate until every other problem in the nation has been solved.

“In these fractious times, governments age quickly and lead short lives.

The Conversation“It’s no good hoping for a popular groundswell – we must set a direction and bring people with us, and we have to do it early.”

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/axx2w-6d8662?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.