Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Republican thinking

A few months ago, in my articles entitled Land of law? [display] and Indian doctor and Aussie patient [display], I evoked the case of a 28-year-old Indian physician working in Australia, Mohamed Haneef, who was looked upon momentarily, in an unfounded manner, as a possible accomplice of terrorists who had been operating in the UK. Here's a family photo of Haneef and his wife on a Queensland beach, before the affair blew up:

Many observers felt that, in the context of this affair, the behavior of certain Australian authorities was faulty. The outgoing minister of Immigration, Kevin Andrews, spearheaded guilty charges against Haneef in a stubborn style that did not even accord the foreign physician the benefit of the doubt. For the moment, although Haneef is no longer considered as a possible terrorist, the aftermath of the affair is still in the Australian law courts, and Haneef is still in India. But, since the downfall of John Howard and his cronies a few days ago, people are already evoking the idea that there should be a major inquiry, as soon as possible, into what went wrong in this fiasco.

In Australia, the time-honored independent inquiry procedure for dealing with an exceptional affair of this kind is referred to as a Royal Commission. This antiquated expression—in a context where few entities of a "royal" kind still exist—underlines the fact that it is the highest possible tribunal that exists in the land.

In the French Republic, an administrative controversy such as the Haneef affair would be dealt with in a perfectly everyday manner by a permanent tribunal: the Conseil d'Etat [state council], whose modern republican form has existed for over two centuries. The following painting shows the swearing-in ceremony in 1799:

Talking of republican institutions, I was intrigued to see that this theme didn't come up explicitly during the recent elections in Australia.

The ARM [Australian Republican Movement] still exists, of course, but it would appear to be hibernating a little for the moment, no doubt waiting for the electoral smoke to clear. In fact, with Kevin Rudd as the new prime minister, and Malcolm Turnbull as a senior member of the future opposition, the time will soon be ripe, no doubt, to start talking intensely once again about the exciting idea of republicanism in Australia. Do we really need to procrastinate endlessly, while awaiting the reign of a King Charles or a King William? What the hell does the identity of the current reigning Windsor have to do with Australia's potential future as a great southern republic?

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