About 2MEC
2-Member Electoral College

2MEC is a model for an Australian republic, in which a President is selected by a two-member college and the college is elected by proportional representation.

Introduction by David Catchpole [ ] 24 October 2001
Australia is not going to share Britain's head of state forever. Since the last decades of the 20th century an Australian republic has become an important issue in Australian politics - and it is likely to continue to be one until Australia has its own head of state. Australians deserve to have a head of state who reflects their own values and aspirations, and not to have to rely on communication with another country across the globe to keep Australia's political system working!

After a process of several years, a referendum was held in November 1999 to amend the Australian Constitution to replace the British monarch and the Governor-General with a President chosen by two-thirds of the members of Australia's houses of parliament. It was unsuccessful. While still pressing for a new republic referendum, most republicans have come to favour a new approach to developing a proposal for such a referendum. That new approach would involve a plebiscite to choose between proposals before a referendum was held on one of them.

The new approach would engage Australians in a wider debate on the options - which, it can be argued, did not occur in the process leading up to the 1999 referendum - a wider debate that will allow serious involvement from republican models, like 2MEC, that are not currently as prominent as the 1999 proposal or "direct-election" models.

The Australian Republican Movement (ARM) has acknowledged this and the importance of a wider debate on republican options, and in October 2001 released a discussion paper, "6 models for an Australian Republic". While 2MEC is not one of the 6 models, the discussion paper marks the beginning of a new stage in Australian republicanism, invigorated by a new debate, in which Australians have an opportunity to develop an outstanding constitutional system that is uniquely Australian!

About 2MEC by David Catchpole [ ] 24 October 2001

1  2MEC's key features
  1.1  2MEC would replace the Governor-General and the British monarch with a non-executive President
  1.2  Under 2MEC, a two-member college elected by proportional representation would select the President
2  Options for 2MEC
  2.1  The College
    2.1.1  Eligibility
    2.1.2  Dismissal
    2.1.3  Call of elections
    2.1.4  Tenure
    2.1.5  Casual vacancies
  2.2  The President
    2.2.1  Eligibility
    2.2.2  Removal
    2.2.3  Tenure
    2.2.4  Casual vacancy

2MEC's key features

2MEC would replace the Governor-General and the British monarch with a non-executive President
In the current Australian Constitution, the Governor-General is the British monarch's appointed representative in Australia. The Governor-General selects the federal government, makes appointments to constitutional bodies like the High Court, calls elections and has other powers which are common to most other heads of state around the world.

While under the Constitution, the Governor-General has a lot of discretion in selecting governments, the real implications of the Constitution are different. The Governor-General has to select Ministers of State from Parliament, and Parliament has power over legislation and budgets. This power of Parliament over the government, as well as the conventions of Australian government that have continued since federation in 1901, means that the Governor-General takes account of the composition of Parliament when choosing the government. Conventionally, the government is really led by a Prime Minister who comes from the lower house of the federal parliament (the House of Representatives), which is elected in such a way that one or another large political group, of which the Prime Minister is the leader, has a majority and can initiate or veto legislation from that house. Also conventionally, the Governor-General is appointed and removed by the British monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister.

This means Australia has the system of responsible parliamentary government shared by many countries around the world. Most Australian republicans want to preserve this system, so the models they propose for an Australian republic are for a non-executive President who will replace the Governor-General and the British monarch and perform the same roles (2MEC is one of these models). This is where one key debate in Australian republicanism arises - should we change the constitutional powers of the head of state and codify the current arrangements so that there is less power in the one person? This debate has a lot to do with how the President is appointed and with the President's relationship with other constitutional bodies. The October 2001 discussion paper "6 models for an Australian Republic" from the Australian Republican Movement (ARM) discusses this debate-

"...what if the President could not be removed by the Prime Minister, but instead had a secure tenure in office? What if the President owed his job not to Prime Ministerial favour but the majority vote of the Australian people?"

It is usually accepted amongst Australian republicans that the need for codification of the President's power is reduced if the President-

- is appointed in such a way that the President is neutral between parliamentary groups and complies with convention; and / or

- is accountable to other constitutional bodies in such a way that the President complies with convention and cannot or will not abuse the President's wide range of powers.

Under 2MEC, a two-member college elected by proportional representation would select the President
This is the key defining feature of 2MEC. It would create a new constitutional entity (the "Presidential College"?), which would be made up of two people. These two people would appoint a President by agreeing with each other on a suitable candidate.

An election with significant impact on the selection of the President would be involved, letting 2MEC appeal to "direct-election republicans" and to others who were apparently dissatisfied with a lack of public participation under the model that was unsuccessful in 1999.

Unlike some other models, like the 1999 proposal, 2MEC separates the appointment of the President from Parliament and the government. This removes possible problems in the relationship between the President and these bodies. An example of such a problem would be if a President was facing re-appointment and felt that it did not look like Parliament would re-appoint him or her. The President might then call a certain type of election or refuse to call another (for instance, an election can be held for either half or all of the Senate) in order to get an outcome favourable to a re-appointment. Similarly, by creating a new constitutional body, 2MEC allows arrangements for the removal of a President that remove some of the bad tensions that can arise between the President, Parliament and the government. This feature of 2MEC is discussed below.

An important aspect of 2MEC is the way the College would be elected. The Constitution would prescribe a method of Proportional Representation election for the College, perhaps with the following terms-

"The Presidential College shall be composed of two members, directly chosen by the people of Australia, voting as one electorate.

"The Parliament of the Commonwealth may make laws prescribing the method of choosing members of the Presidential College, but so that the Presidential College:

(i)  shall be chosen by an electoral method of proportional representation such as that established for choosing the senators for a State or Territory [at the present time]; and

(ii)  shall be such that if a candidate for the Presidential College is indicated as the most preferred candidate by more than one-third of the electors voting then that candidate shall be chosen as a member of the Presidential College."

2MEC brings together some great properties that would be lost if a College had more members or was elected by a method other than proportional representation. With 2 members, the natural majority is two- a unanimous vote, representing the votes of 67% of the Australian voters, and ensuring a non-partisan President. A unanimous vote of 2 people is obviously easier to attain than a unanimous vote or even a two-thirds vote of a larger College, and the distortions of power that would occur in a larger College, where the groups within it might have different voting strengths, do not occur in 2MEC. Under 2MEC, if the elections to the College were partisan, each side (for instance Labor / Liberal) would receive a member, keeping the composition of the College even and ensuring that any President appointed by the College would need to be assented to by both sides of politics. It is extremely unlikely that one side of politics would be able to gain the 67% of the vote which would be required to elect two members of the College.

If a potential President was supported by 67% of the population, then it would be possible for such a "candidate" to be "elected" by the election of two supporters to the college. In this way, the elections to the college might even be considered as a proxy presidential election, such as elections to the presidential college in the USA. This would definitely be pleasing to "direct-election republicans".

Options for 2MEC

The College

There are many alternatives for restrictions on who can be a member of the College. The minimum acceptable restrictions would be those for a member of Parliament, given in section 44 of the Constitution. These prevent a person from being a member of Parliament if that person-

- is a citizen of a foreign power;

- has committed treason;

- is subject to be sentenced or under sentence for an offence punishable by imprisonment for one year or longer; or

- is in certain financial situations that present a conflict of interest.

Other possible restrictions might prevent a person from being-

- a member of the Commonwealth Parliament or a State or Territory Parliament;

- a member of the Government;

- a member of the High Court;

- the President; or

- a member of a political party.

The first 4 of these possible restrictions would be intended to remove conflicts of interest and distortions of power that would arise from a person holding more than one constitutional position. However, there are reasons for not placing these restrictions on the College. As argued above, the system under 2MEC can handle a partisan College and so banning members of Parliament or the government is not essential. Also, it can be argued that it would be acceptable for a person wanting to become President to stand for election to the College as the best representative of themselves. Just as a party-political College would be acceptable, a College with one or two Presidential aspirants might also be acceptable.

The banning of members of political parties is a troublesome issue that will become an important part of the debate over republican models. Placing restraints on members of political parties is dangerous because "political party" is a general term that can be abused. Membership of political groups is a civil right, and it is a right that Australians have consistently embraced. The Menzies proposals to ban the Communist Party were resoundingly defeated, demonstrating the importance of this right to Australians.

If the College is expected to be operational for a significantly long amount of time, for instance if it is given powers to dismiss the President, then possibly arrangements should be made so that another constitutional body could dismiss or call elections for the College. The two constitutional bodies obviously suited to this are the President and Parliament. The President is expected to have power to dismiss or call elections for Parliament, and so having the same power for the College makes some sense. Also, if the College has power to dismiss the President, then giving the President power to dismiss the College balances power between the two bodies and restricts conflict, in a crisis relating to the President, to those two bodies, as discussed below.

Alternatively, the power to dismiss the College could be given to one or both houses of parliament. This power of dismissal could be limited by a requirement for proof of misbehaviour or incapacity, as in the arrangements for dismissal of High Court judges under section 72(ii) in the Constitution.

If the College has a continued role, then there could be times when the College should or should not be dismissed. For instance, if the College has just removed a President after appointing that President, perhaps elections should be held for the College so that it can be held accountable. Also, when a College has only just been elected, it should not be dismissed.

The Constitution might provide, for instance, that-

"The Presidential College may be dissolved by the President:

(i)  at a time no sooner than 300 days after the most recent election of the Presidential College; or

(ii)  where, since the most recent election of the Presidential College, a President has been chosen and then removed by the Presidential College."

Call of elections
If the College's function were simply to appoint a new President, then an election for the College could be held whenever the appointment was necessary. If, however, the College had a continued role, there would be different times in the life of the College when an election outside the ordinary election cycle could be warranted - for instance-

- when one of the members of the College dies or resigns. While continuity measures such as those discussed below can keep the College running, it makes sense that an election should be held as soon as possible - and the expectation for proportional representation in the College means that both positions should be subject to election.

- when the College has been dismissed, an election should be held for it quickly afterwards.

- after the College has removed a President, perhaps an election should be held afterwards at a convenient time (say, at the same time as the next election for the House of Representatives) to keep it accountable.

There are no arrangements in the present Constitution putting upper or lower limits on the time in which an election is held. This may be a good thing to add, if only in reference to the College.

The following are examples of the terms an arrangement for elections could have-

"The President in Council may cause writs to be issued for the election of the members of the Presidential College.

"The writs shall be issued within ten days from a vacancy occuring in the Presidential College or the expiry of the Presidential College.

"Where a member of the Presidential College has removed a President the writs shall be issued for election of the members of the Presidential College before or at the same time as the writs are next issued for general elections of members of the House of Representatives."

The maximum term of the College should correspond with that of the President, or that expected for the President. Usually in republican models this is put at 5 or 6 years. If it were 6 years, elections could correspond with those of Parliament, which has a maximum term of 3 years.

The Constitution might provide, for instance, that-

"The Presidential College shall continue for no longer than six years from the most recent election of the Presidential College."

Casual vacancies
If the College has a continuing role, arrangements for vacancies in the College need to be made. A replacement member could be appointed by either the President or Parliament. Obviously, the President might abuse the power to appoint people to vacancies in the College, but if an election were held soon after the attraction of such abuse is low.

The Constitution might provide, for instance, that-

"Whenever a vacancy happens in the Presidential College, the President may select an Australian citizen to fill the vacancy."

The President

The possibilities for restrictions on who can be President are similar to those discussed above for the College. The President is expected to be neutral between other constitutional bodies and so in republican models the restrictions on who can be President are usually quite exclusive.

The President could be removed by the College or Parliament. The possibilities for dismissal by Parliament are discussed above for dismissal of the College.

Dismissal by the College, especially if each member can individually dismiss the President, might be much better than dismissal by Parliament. It makes sense because the College appointed the President and giving its members a dismissal power would ensure the College's continued confidence. It removes the power to dismiss the President from Parliament, a party-political body from which the government is drawn. Giving the dismissal power to the College would remove some of the possible tension between the President, the government and Parliament, and avoid some of the possibility of bad conduct by any of these, during a crisis. This is because the body the President would sack if acting in self-interest to avoid dismissal would be the College, not Parliament. Tension would be between the members of the College and the President. A downside of giving the College the dismissal power would be the expectation that the College would have a continued involvement in constitutional and political affairs after the initial selection for the President. This might imply that there would be a large cost in retaining the college members, or that the college members would normally be people already involved in constitutional and political affairs, such as politicians, judges, State Governors or even the President.

As discussed above, the maximum term between appointments for a President in republican models is usually 5 or 6 years. Many republican models also put a limit on the number of terms a President can serve.

Because under 2MEC the College is elected regularly, placing a term limit on the position appointed by the College (the President) is not so important as under other republican models.

Casual vacancy
It has now become commonplace since 1999 for republican models with a non-executive President to arrange for a vacancy in the Presidency to be filled temporarily by the most senior state governor, if they have not been removed as acting President.

The Constitution might provide, for instance, that-

"Whenever a vacancy happens for the position of President, the longest serving State Governor available shall act as President until the Presidential College chooses a person to fill the vacancy. A State Governor is not available if that Governor has been removed as acting President."


2MEC and "Model 3"
by David Catchpole

2MEC and "Model 3"
by David Catchpole [ ] 24 October 2001
In October 2001, the Australian Republican Movement (ARM) released a discussion paper, "6 models for an Australian Republic", in which the 6 models were-

- "Prime Minister appoints the President";

- "People nominate, Parliament appoints the President";

- "Presidential Assembly appoints the President";

- "People elect the President";

- "People elect from Parliament's List"; and

- "Executive Presidency".

Of these, the most similar to 2MEC is "Model 3: Presidential Assembly appoints the President", but there is an important difference - which has important implications - in the composition of the electoral college that appoints the President. "Model 3"'s electoral college is the Presidential Assembly, composed given current conditions of 42 members (8 from NSW, 8 from Victoria, 6 from Queensland, 5 from SA, 5 from WA, 4 from Tasmania, 3 from NT and 3 from ACT) and the 6 State Governors. There is some confusion over how the elected members would be elected- the main explanation of the model in the discussion paper has half of the Presidential Assembly elected at the same time as Senate elections were held, while the appendices arrange for the whole Presidential Assembly being elected at the same time as every second Senate election. There is no explanation for how, if the half-Assembly elections are held, the proposed odd numbers of members from the states and territories would be handled. 2MEC's electoral college has 2 members, elected by the whole of Australia in an election using proportional representation.

2MEC is better! The rules are less confusing and the connection to the Australian people clearer. While the discussion paper says -

"It is envisaged that the Presidential Assembly should conduct itself as a non party political body; a body that resembles the 1998 constitutional convention instead of a parliament. While this would be the ideal, there is no way to ensure this would happen, short of banning party participation, which would be both undemocratic and probably unconstitutional."

- 2MEC does not have to have such expectations. If a party-political election were held for 2MEC's college, the two sides, government and opposition, would receive one seat each, ensuring a President who was acceptable to both sides. With "Model 3"'s larger college, differences in power between groups within it emerge. Even if a unanimous vote were required, the larger of such groups would have a better implied position. 2MEC ensures that a majority decision is a unanimous decision, that the groups in the college have equal numbers and power, and that the number of members of the College required to make an appointment is small and manageable.

The inclusion of the 6 State Governors in "Model 3" smacks of elitism and would not have much of an impact on the 48-member Assembly. There is also a possibility of conflict of interest - after all, State Governors are in a position to be nominated for President, and are part of an elite in Australian society from which the President is more likely to be drawn!


Australian republicanism

Australian Republican Movement (ARM)

Current debates

"6 models for an Australian Republic"

ARM message board

The 1999 proposal

Constitution Alteration (Establishment of Republic) 1999


Future progress

Australian Labor Party (ALP) policy on republican plebiscites