Wednesday, February 05, 2003


As a naive democrat, I believe there is more at stake here than building bipartisan or broad public support for government-determined military action. The fundamental question is that of the relationship between the citizen and government. When Parliament is divided on an issue as important as the use of military force and when public opinion is reluctant to see it used it is crucial that every effort be made to arrive at a decision which will be accepted as a legitimate exercise of government authority. This is not achieved by a back-door pre-deployment followed by a round of the spin-doctors: it is achieved by a resolution of Parliament.

If the 1999 Republic referendum had not left us as a "constitutional monarchy" this situation would be bizarre. Howard's way of taking us towards a possible war relies either on the arbitrary exercise of the royal prerogative transferred to the Executive under Section 61 of the Constitution or the command in chief of the armed forces under Section 68. It may be an impeccably conservative approach but it is not a democratic one - and no amount of pulling us along after the event will make up for that. We have been presented with the paradox of a democratically elected government acting in the manner of an absolute monarch, in a country where the role of the monarch is generally considered symbolic and ceremonial. L'Etat c'est le Premier Ministre.
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