A direct election for the head of state is a rusted on opinion. It is not going to be changed, so people wanting a republic may as well start drafting their new models from that base position.
The rusted-on nature of the direct election is evident from research to be published next week in the Australian Social Monitor by Professor Jonathan Kelley of the ANU, Bruce Headley and M. D. R. Evans of Melbourne University and Malcolm Mearns, principal of the Canberra research firm Datacol.
The reserachers have cruched a lot of numbers and have come up with some surprising and significant results about Australains’ opinion on the monarchy and republic. Giventhe Opposition Leader Kim Beazley says the republic will beackon the agenda if Labor wins the election, Professor Kelley’s results are well worth looking at.
Their research (which can be viewed from mid-week at www.social-monitor.com) starts with some historic crunch poitns in the debate. The first was in 1980 when the number of people who thought the Queen and the Royal Family were fairly or very important to Australia fell below 50 per cent. That fell below a third in 1994 and has remain below a third ever since.
The second crunch point came between 1990 and 1994 when a majority thought Australia should be a republic with its own head of state rather than having the Queen. It has remained over 60 per cent ever since. The last crunch point is the subject of the most recent detailed research. That reveals the rusted-on nature of support for a direct election, most critically that support comes from across age and sociao-economic groups.
The researchers posed the question: “”Who is it that favours a directly elected head of state?”
They conclude, “”There are few differences among social or economic groupings.” Younger people are more in favour of direct election as are the less educated, but it is not a “”yawning gulf”.
“”Importantly, city folk and country folk are euqually supportive of a direct election, as are rish and poor and those at the top of the occupational ladder and those at the bottom.”
People who distrusted politicians, valued citizen participation and like the US system were more in favour of direct election, but these people were spread among the socio economic groups. Also, feelings about Britain or about Australia played no part in people’s view.
The researchers did not do an analysis around chardonnay drinking, but the conclusion is fairly clear. There is no chardonnay set of city dwellers set upon an elistist selection of the president by elite politicians. Nor is there a group of rural dinky-di Aussies in madly in favour of direct election.
The conclusion is that opinion in favour of a directly elected president is strong and crosses the whole of Australian society. It is rusted on. “”If there is a republic in Australia’s future,” the researchers (all well-educated city-dwellers) conclude, ” it will beone with a directly elected president.”
The lesson for the Australian republican Movement and other republicans is clear. Get used to the idea of a directly elected president and build any future model around it. Or get used to the idea of King Charles III, Queen Camilla, and, indeed, King William V.
The rusted-on nature of support can be deduced from the tracking of opinion over the referendum campaign. People against a republic did not change their view, nor did people in favour of an indirect election. Undecideds moved generally against the republic model as the campaign wore on. But the biggest collapse of support for a republic came from people who supproted a direct election. At the benginning of the campaign it was 89 per cent among this group. At the end it was 57 per cent.
In other words, having listened to all the arguments, the direct electionists were prepared to forgo the republic unless they got the sort of republic they wanted.
The reserachers modelled what might have happened if a direct election was on offer. The republic would have won 55-45.
So the ARM should start work now on a direct election model, and preferably one that does not scare the horses.
It will mean either listing the head of state’s power so our system of government remains intact, or perhaps changing the system of government lightly so the head of state does not get the chance to exercise that power. It might also think about not calling the head of state “”president” because president means American-type president to a huge number of voters and no “”education” campaign or weeks of debate will make them think anything else. The power of decades of American television will never be undone by a civic debate or education campaign.
It is no good swimming against the current. An indirectly elected president may be better for the country and political stability, but, like abolishing the states, it will never happen. And given the homogeneous nature of the support for direct election, voluntary voting or other wish lists willnot make the slightest difference.
Republicans have only two options: an unelected monarch or an elected Australian head of state. The trick is to get a system like the Irish or Austrian one where the election is not a crass money-laden political one. And if the powers of the presidnet are sufficiently reduced that can be achieved. Money, exaggeration, lies and promises go with power.