Mayor Jenny Dowell presents Dr Edward McWhinney with a gift at the Richmond River Historical Society’s museum last week.
Mayor Jenny Dowell presents Dr Edward McWhinney with a gift at the Richmond River Historical Society’s museum last week.

Queen's demise may lead to republic

According to lawyer and academic Dr Edward McWhinney, the death of Queen Elizabeth II could be the change mechanism that will cause Australia to once again consider becoming a republic.

Dr McWhinney, who has strong ties to Lismore, visited the Richmond River Historical Society (RRHS) last week to impart his extensive knowledge of international law and discuss the future of the Australian government system.

Dr McWhinney said that getting the republic debate back on the political agenda would depend on relative stability within the Australian financial and political systems and that the government of the day would play an important role.

“If the housing market and jobs are slow, people will focus on economic issues,” Dr McWhinney said. “If other issues don’t predominate, then the government of the day could focus on the issue of becoming a republic.”

Dr McWhinney, who now lives in Canada, was in Australia to receive an honorary award for his services to international and constitutional law. He has made a career of advising international heads of state in legal and constitutional matters and has written 30 books – two of them in French and one in German. In his book The Governor General and the Prime Minister, he explores ways of moving Canada from a monarchy after the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

Dr McWhinney said that while the British monarch existed mainly as an academic symbol, with little power being given to her Australian or Canadian representatives, the Governors General, future generations of Australian citizens would demand that our institutions become modernised.

“We need a new approach for the 21st century,” Dr McWhinney said. “This is a matter for the next generation – some would want to take a presidential route.”

Dr McWhinney said, as the Australian population ages, older Australians with strong emotional ties to the British monarchy will die out and be replaced by an increasing multicultural society.

“With the present flood of immigrants from non-western and European countries, multicultural Australia is very evident,” Dr McWhinney said. “When these people come of age, we will see more demand for a more rational system.”

Dr McWhinney said that he believed Australians would not choose the same path as the USA where the executive power is in the presidential office.

“Australians will look for different constitutional checks and balances… In France, the power is not in the president but in the constitutional committee,” he said. “Real power is not in title, power comes from participating in the decision making. You should recognise the power you have as a citizen if you study the issues.”

Dr McWhinney said he had strong reservations about the Canadian system of proportional representation, but also believed that there was room for a change of focus within the Australian system of majority-elected government. He said there was a trend in Australia toward a ‘presidentiation’, with more power given to the office of the prime minister.

“I think that dealing with classical Westminster system is no longer a reality in a period of majority government,” he said.

Geoff Foley from the RRHS said that Dr McWhinney was a generous benefactor to the society. Dr McWhinney’s father taught history at Lismore High School and instigated a perpetual prize, to be awarded every year to a Lismore High School based on academic work and contributions to public policy. Lismore Mayor Jenny Dowell presented Dr McWhinney with gifts of historical books in recognition of his achievements.

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