Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Australian Constitution 2.0

Posted: August 30, 2011 in Australia, politics

Australia is a lucky country. Blessed with an abundance of natural resources and a beautiful environment, and despite a checkered history, it has grown to become a wealthy, freedom loving and respected middle power, with an enviable parliamentary democracy that serves it purpose. Militarily, it can proudly boast to have played a major role in the defeat of tyrannies and to have supported the spread of democracy. As a nation, Australia has grown out of it Anglo-Celtic birth shroud – born of a British invasion and years of the ‘White Australia’ policy, and now welcomes new arrivals from all corners of the globe. Mediterranean, East European and Asian Australians now form fully integrated major parts of the Australian community. For the most part, the nation is reconciling with its birth through invasion and its poor treatment of the indigenous population in the past, even having grow mature enough to have said “sorry” for their past mistreatment.

The Australian system of government is confusing to many from outside the system. Australia’s origin as six separate British colonies that joined together to become a federal Commonwealth of Australia, placed it amongst those nations that were part of the core of the 20th century British Empire as semi-independent dominions. Unified and loyal, but unsure of how to proceed without losing the locally ‘British’ identities that they had forged, the colonies became states in a three-tiered system of government – Federal, State, and local – and much confused division of powers between the tiers followed. The States and the Federal Government have even sometimes clashed and worked at cross purposes.

It also confuses outsiders that the Australian head of state – the Queen of Australia, is not an Australian at all. With its own parliament of locally elected officials, and with a system of constitutional monarchy, it was independent in every way, except that the newly created Australian monarchy was, and still is, held by the current British head of state.

Whilst there is no need to turn our backs upon the role Britain has played in the formation of Australia, nor indeed, to shy from it, the current system does not best serve Australia any longer. It is time to move onto a new system – better representative of modern Australia, its values and community. The British monarchy and the Union Flag in the upper staff quarter of the Australian defaced blue and red ensigns, proclaim to the world a sense of subjugation to Britain, whether Australians feel it or not, and have no personal meaning to the hundreds of thousands of Australian migrant-citizens whose ancestry is not British. There is no need to stop celebrating Australia’s British origins, systems, influences and cultural infusions but we no longer have to hold onto them so jealously as well. We can look back fondly on the British foundation whilst still growing away from it into our newer role as a multicultural Asian middle power.

I think there are a number of things Australia could improve upon by creating a new world-leading model of republicanism – less corporate influence and interference in government, better political representation and accountability, reduction of party politics and political scheming , less branch stacking and gerrymandering, recognition of traditional indigenous ownership and proper reflection of this in their ceremonial and constitutional role in parliament, and less bureaucracy and corruption…

Much of the constitution can be retained, or re-written as is but to better reflect modern Australia. Changes should include:

CONSTITUTION:
1. Official recognition of the Indigenous Australians as the traditional owners, and that Britain invaded illegally, but that by historical precedence, Australia is now home to both indigenous Australians and all subsequent migrants. It should seek a consensual treaty agreement whereby the Commonwealth of Australia and representatives of all indigenous groups agree to the formation of an inclusive Republic of Australia. This clause should also make a final resolution on the guardianship of sites of sacred significance. This may also incorporate a guaranteed seat in the Senate for indigenous people, if they wish it. Or the formation of a Council of Elders, that must be consulted on all matters related to indigenous affairs, and the sale or usage of any Federal land with traditional significance. The Council of Elders should also be responsible for holding traditional Welcome to Country ceremonies for visiting dignitaries, and ceremonial openings of parliament and regional government assemblies.
2. An Australian Head of State elected by the people, but WITH constitutional powers to form government, dismiss prime ministers. I would even investigate giving the Prime Minister’s role to the new president or whatever they are to be called. I am opposed to purely ceremonial posts as it is a waste of money. I would also require this person to be non-party political.
3. Weakening of party politics through constitutional limitations, at least in the upper house (Senate). We need to get back to politicians representing their local communities, not focusing on the interests of corporate businesses that sponsor their party, or propping up party interests in other regions.

SYSTEM OF GOVERNANCE:

Remain a federation, but three-tier system (Federal, State, Local) replaced by two-tier system – (Federal and Regional) with states abolished and municipal councils merged into regional bodies of approximately equal population distribution – this should see New South Wales sub-divided into 14 regions, Victoria divided into 13, Queensland divided into 11, Western Australia divided into nine, South Australia divided into five, Tasmania divided into three, Northern Territory into two and the ACT remaining one. Cities over 1 million in population (Currently Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide) should have their own regional government, separate from the surrounding regions.

http://epress.anu.edu.au/anzsog/fra/mobile_devices/ch02s02.html

SEPARATION OF POWERS:

The Separation of Powers should be clearly defined and entrenched in the constitution. That being the Legislature, comprising the Federal and Regional bodies, the Executive, being the President, and Regional Premiers, and the Judiciary, being the High Court of Australia and the Federal Court of Australia, and the Regional Supreme Courts. Each Region would also operate local magistrates and coroner’s courts. Family law disputes should pass to the responsibility of regional judiciaries.

LEGISLATION AND POLICING:

All law-making powers should pass to the Federal government to standardise legal systems throughout the regions. The current system where certain laws apply on one side of state borders and not on the other is ludicrous and confusing for border communities. Policing should be the inherited responsibility of the regional bodies though, although funded through Federal funding. Agricultural quarantine zones should remain in place though, but administered by the Federal authorities.

FEDERAL GOVERNMENT:

The House of Representatives to remain largely unchanged – with a continuation of 150 members, however all electorates should be reorganised to ensure as exact as possible equal population distribution – at the moment the variation is as great as some with 60,000 members, and others with 120,000. The leader of the lower house to remain Prime Minister, as per new constitutional powers outlined above. A Speaker, appointed by the incumbent president will chair proceedings of the House of Representatives.

The current Senate should be replaced by a new variation, in which the new regions are represented by two senators each, totaling approximately 60 members. The Senate should be directly chaired by the President of the Senate, possibly with a new title to avoid confusion with the head of state. The indigenous community o be consulted over whether they would like a guaranteed seat on the Senate, or the establishment of a 12 member council of elders who are to be always consulted on matters of indigenous affairs and federal land sales.

Federal Government will therefore be responsible for the provision of defence, quarantine and immigration, international relations, trade and commerce, taxation and currency, the environment, resolving regional disputes and challenges to the rulings of regional courts, and any other specific issues as already carried out by the Federal Government.

REGIONAL GOVERNMENTS:

The regional bodies should not have responsibility for policy making except at a local level, leaving the regional bodies to focus more directly on the needs of their community. All funding rests with the federal government, who allocate it proportionally, and it is the responsibility for the regional body to provide services based on local needs, federal policy and funding. They are also responsible for hearing local concerns and raising them with their appropriate Senators, who will be charged with ensuring local concerns get fair hearing in the Federal Parliament.

Regional bodies will therefore essentially be responsible for local law-enforcement (policing) and justice (Supreme, Magistrate’s, Coroner’s and Family Courts); the provision of healthcare – at least one regional hospital and three super clinics; provision of education; provision of water supply, and road, rail and infrastructure maintenance. Regional bodies are also responsible for dealing with all localised issues as they may arise.

This should reduce duplication and wastage, state/federal bickering and politicking, and create better regional representation in proportion to capital cities.

http://www.alga.asn.au/newsroom/speeches/2006/20060508.php

PRESIDENT:

Directly elected by popular vote – first past the post in overall total votes (no electorates or electoral college style systems). Must not be a member of political parties, and should be a prominent Australian with a record of long standing service to Australia. Any member of either house of parliament can make nominations, and the public must be able to make suggestions to their MP or Senator.

Constitutional and Ceremonial powers to include: responsibility for calling elections, calling government and opening parliament, dismissing under-performing or negligent governments, meeting foreign dignitaries and heads of state, presenting awards and honours.

FLAG & ANTHEM:

OK, I know this is massively contentious – not all republicans want to change the flag, and not all monarchists want to keep it (although I think most of the latter probably do!). But I do think it is symbolic of our past as British colonies, our time as a Commonwealth Realm, and no longer fully representative of modern Australia. It has certainly never been representative of indigenous Australia. I am not calling on the flag to be changed for changes sake, nor for us to shun it as an embarrassment, but to be grateful for its service, remember it fondly, and move on to a new flag, that represents the first Australians and all subsequent Australians as well.

I know thousands of soldiers fought and died for God, King, Country and the Flag, and that will never be forgotten, regardless of the replacement. But that is not a reasonable argument to refuse to progress towards a better, more inclusive future.

The new flag should be chosen through a public submission competition, with a shortlist complied by a panel of say 12 prominent Australians drawn from a wide variety of ethnicity, professions and persuasions and then the final choice made by full public referendum.

I think the same should apply for the choice of a new anthem. I would not be opposed to including Advance, Australia Fair for reconsideration, but I think it is probably ready for public review.

I envisage a new world leading parliamentary republic, fully representative, acknowledging and embracing all Australians from the original inhabitants to the most recent migrants and celebrating the way all of us contribute to Australia being one of the best, progressive thinking, peace and freedom loving nations in the world.

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