Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Thank you, Mr Chairman, for giving me the opportunity for me to speak against the proposal currently before the Conference.
This proposal, like all the other proposals before us today, rests, in the first instance, on the holding of a plebiscite to indicate whether or not Australia should become a republic.
The concept of holding a non-binding plebiscite to decide such an important matter for our country is, at best, foolhardy and, at worst, undemocratic. It doesn't even match the full democratic referendum processes that our Founders so carefully instilled into us from those auspicious beginnings in this town over 100 years ago.
Regardless of whether a plebiscite is held under the guidelines of s128 of The Constitution or just as a straight forward vote poses some potential problems for its proponents.
Firstly, if support for a republic were gained by the smallest of margins using the plebiscite method as suggested in the proposal, then there is no automatic guarantee that the required final referendum process will meet with the approval of the people in accordance with s128 of The Constitution.
It would seem to me that those seeking such unpredictable processes could end up being seen as the leads in some latter day Gilbert and Sullivan escapade resulting in total embarrassment, not only for themselves, but also for the nation at large should it all fall apart in the final hour.
This concept takes no cognisance of Australia's referendum history to date; change should never be automatically assumed.
Secondly, there are more serious matters that I need to bring to your attention should a plebiscite be successful.
The first of these deals with the Australia Acts.
It is quite clear that, legally and constitutionally, a successful plebiscite may well encourage the combined Commonwealth and State legislatures to amend s7 of the Australia Acts to delete references to "Her Majesty".
This amendment would allow for the States to become republics ahead of the Commonwealth itself. Indeed, this action would fit in comfortably with Premier Peter Beattie's suggestion of last year that the States revive the republic debate and experiment with popular election and other methods of choosing their governors.
While this concept may give heart to those who want change, it would leave the people of Victoria stripped of their democracy. In a State where constitutional change is not subject to referendum, that process would mean that Victorians could wake up one morning and find themselves with a republican constitution. While Victorians may not wish to acquiesce to such process they would, none-the-less, have been blindly forced to accept such change without ever having given unequivocal opinion.
No one - republican or constitutional monarchist - could support such an undemocratic process.
The other and more important aspect of this problem is that the same legislative combination described beforehand could also change the Constitution itself by amendment to the Statute of Westminster.
In his book "Democracy - choosing Australia's Republic", Richard McGarvie has stated that:
"With the power from the Australia Acts, the Commonwealth Parliament, by Acts supported by the State Parliaments, can amend the provision in the Statute of Westminster that precludes it from amending the Commonwealth Constitution, the covering clauses or the preamble."
This should send alarm bells ringing in all directions.
Regardless of whether the Commonwealth and the States would take such action might well depend on how frustrated are those who seek change to a republic or to undertake other wide-ranging constitutional reform without continued and depressing defeats at successive referenda.
We now know that the High Court has found that the Australia Act 1986 (Cth) is valid albeit it on another matter.
Indeed, the Court has found that "the Australia Act represents an actual enhancement of the State legislative powers" and that "Any room for inhibition against giving its full scope and effect no longer applies."
It is my strong belief that the High Court should never be put in a position to have to decide on such matters as I have raised and that any remote possibility of circumventing s128 of The Constitution should be closed off!
I also believe that s1 of The Australia Acts still remains a blight on Australia's constitutionality and because of that, and because of possible change of The Constitution outside of s128 of The Constitution itself, s15(1) of the Australia Acts should be amended to include a referendum process for change.
Accordingly, the use of plebiscites to seek some shaky and shady authority to proceed to a republic should be cast to the wind forever.
Therefore, I strongly recommend that this proposal, and any other proposal that requires the use of a plebiscite of any type or form, should not be supported at all at this Conference.