May 10, 2016

Horse 2110 - Reinvent The President

With all but one of the candidates pulling out of the race on one side and the path to victory on the other increasingly looking closed, the nominations for both the Republican and Democrat parties of the United States are pretty much decided. Donald Trump who has never held public office has swept aside all contenders in the Republican Party and they now have the problem of staying unified. Hillary Clinton on the other side is so much an establishment candidate that it's probable that both she and her husband are superdelegates.

This presidential cycle has shown major deficiencies in the political machines in the United States. When both parties, in the form Trump and Sanders, have candidates who aren't really party members that have come in and trampled who the parties would usually put up for election, this should send a message to the parties that the general public just doesn't engage with them anymore.

Partly this is due to the fact that the last three Congresses have been even less productive than the 80th Congress under Truman, which even won the moniker of the "Do Nothing Congress"; partly because the parties are now both seen to be beholden and enmeshed with business, and partly because the upstarts have thrown out different ideas to what the parties have lately been trading on.
I think that all of this should serve as a warning to a future Australian public, when we choose to become a republic (which I think has a likelihood of 100%).

The Constitutional Convention of 1999 which gave us the referendum, offered a model which the Australian public rejected. I don't think that Australians rejected the idea of the nation becoming a republic,  rather they rejected the idea that parliament and politicians should choose the head of state for them. Had the model proposed been an exact copy of what already exists but with the Governor-General being chosen directly by the people, then I think that the model would have been overwhelmingly voted in favor for. Had the referendum in 1999 given the Australian people the right to choose their own head of state, then I think that we'd currently be in the sixteenth year of the Commonwealth of Australia as a republic.

The warning that the current presidential cycle is giving us, either because of a direct rejection of existing party candidates on the Republican side, or the rise of former independent Bernie Sanders of the Democrat side, is that people don't like politicians. Admittedly this sounds absolutely obvious but the point still needs to be made. In one of those rare moments where I find myself agreeing with Sarah Palin, in her rambling endorsement of Donald Trump last week after he won the Indiana primary, she said that "people don't trust career politicians".
Now if I was Grand Poobah and Lord High Everything Else, then I'd propose the following conditions for people to run for the future President of Australia:

1. That candidates are not members of a political party, except those created for the sole purpose of electing the candidate to office.
2. That candidates must never have been a member of either federal or state parliaments; in either lower or upper houses. 
3. That the term of office be fixed for four years; with the election to be held on the first Saturday in August. That nobody should be allowed to hold the office of President for more than two terms. That the term of governance run from September 1 to August 31; that these terms run from years being divisible by four; plus one (2017, 2021, 2025 etc.)
4. That no election be held for any other level of government, six weeks before a Presidential Election. 
5. That the President be selected by Instant Runoff Voting, like we do for the House of Representatives; except that the electorate be nationwide. 
6. That the powers of the President be kept as vague, nebulous and undefined as the current powers of the Governor-General.

What I'd like to see in the future President of Australia, is what I suspect would be the typical hope of most people. The 1999 referendum was a rejection that parliament should choose who the president is, the people want that choice. What the current US Presidential race is telling us is that people don't want that position to be held by a politician.

The people who usually end up becoming the Governor-General at the moment, tend to be ex lawyers, judges and military personnel; sometimes failed politicians. Now I think that the election of the President both politicises the position and endows it with a sense of mandate but the executive of the nation of Australia, lives inside the parliament so I don't see the role as needing to be much more than a figurehead except under strange and exceptional circumstances. What I suspect would happen if we elected the President is that we'd end up with business people, sports people and other prominent figures all throwing their hat into the ring; that the sort of people would be vastly different to who we currently see in the role. Sure, we might end up with President Waleed Aly, Cathy Freeman, Gail Kelly, Frank Lowy, Gillian Triggs or even Andrew Bolt but we wouldn't and couldn't get Kristina Kennealy or Tony Abbott.

I personally think that the better alternative is what we currently have, where nobody really knows who the Governor-General is, nor what powers they have because electing a President leads to months of nonsense, irrespective of who they are.

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