Australia rejects Referendum on becoming a Republic

November 05, 2018

On 6 November 1999, Australia rejected a proposal to both convert the Commonwealth of Australia into a republic with a president and insert a politically-correct preamble to our Constitution.

Both proposals were resoundingly defeated, failing to get either part of the double majority required for a referendum to succeed: (1) a majority of the country-wide popular vote and (2) a majority of the six states. (See More Details below)

The “Yes” campaign was led by the Australian Republican Movement (ARM) which was headed by Malcolm Turnbull (1993-2000), a then left-wing barrister and merchant banking globalist, who had moved in Labor party (and even harder-leftist) and elitist circles of inner-city Sydney since his university days of the 1970s.

The “No” campaign was led by the group, Australians for Constitutional Monarchy (ACM), headed by Kerry Jones – who took over from Tony Abbott in early 1994, a year after he entered Parliament. (For more on both camps, see further details below).

It was ironic that the most prominent and ardent supporters of the proposed republic – touting that such radical change would boost national pride and standing at home, in our region and around the world – tended to be those most sneering, unpatriotic and ashamed Australians. Those in the suburban and regional Australia saw this irrevocable and major constitutional change was likely to become a republic for Labor-leftist elites.

Mark/celebrate this anniversary of Australians rejecting the proposed republic for the politicians, media and elites by:

  • watching these clips on the 1999 referendum
  • viewing this debate on the future of our Constitution and head of state between Messrs Turnbull and Abbott in 1993
  • browsing the website “No Republic” for the case to preserve our current constitutional monarchy and developments in this space, and/or
  • sharing this Action Plan post on social media with family, friends, conservatives, constitutional monarchists and those that want a stable nation with a constitution and head of state that has served, is serving and will continue to serve, us well.

Further details:

The ACM and the 'No' campaign

ACM head, Kerry Jones put the “No” case so well when she said:

“No republic model will ever offer the protection and safeguards that work so well in our current Constitution”

And:

“I [became] a constitutional monarchist—not out of my love of English blood, for my blood is actually Irish; not out of birth in the Protestant establishment, for I am actually a Catholic; not out of enthusiasm for all things royal, for I have little interest in such trivia. I had become a constitutional monarchist because I was persuaded, as was Michael Kirby, that the system of government bequeathed to us by our founders is superior to any republican models proposed.”

Tony Abbott, then Minister for Employment Services in the Howard Government – and former head of ACM (1992-94) – was also a prominent and effective advocate for the “No” campaign. Arguably, the fierce and open rivalry between Abbott and Turnbull – who headed the ARM for most of the 1990s – flared during this 1999 contest and was still raging 20 years later.

The No campaign was also supported by some republican groups that wanted a directly-elected president (head of state) and not a “politicians’ republic” or “Labor’s republic” - as it was then easily and successfully painted.

The ARM and the 'Yes' campaign

The ARM was launched on 7 July 1991, a week after the Australian Labor party national conference in late June resolved to pursue a republic for Australia by 2001 (the centenary of Federation). Its first chairman, Thomas Keneally, and key founding director and former NSW Labor Premier, Neville Wran, were the ones that conceived the movement following a lunch, over a bottle of chardonnay (as Turnbull confessed in Parliament during Budget week 2014, in his speech on a condolence motion for the passing of Neville Wran – his best friend). Keneally and Wran co-opted Turnbull as another key founding ARM director along with many other noted elitist leftists and/or Labor party figures of the time.

In April 1993, then PM Paul Keating established his Republic Advisory Committee, appointing Malcolm Turnbull as its chair, to explore and devise a path to such a republic. Turnbull became chair of the ARM later that year (until 2000).

  • Since 2015, the ARM has been chaired by (the red bandana-wearing) Peter FitzSimons.

The “Yes” campaign also enjoyed the support of former PMs Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser, very many prominent Australians and the media, giving the movement a distinct 'elite' flavour. 

Malcolm Turnbull took the referendum's defeat very hard and personally. In his concession speech (or diatribe, as many saw it), Turnbull unloaded on then Prime Minister John Howard by infamously and ungraciously thundering:

“Whatever John Howard achieves, history will remember him for only one thing. He was the Prime Minister who broke the nation’s heart.”

Having failed but gotten a taste for politics and grand stages, Turnbull applied for pre-selection to the Labor party – the side of politics most suited to his republican ideals, prior networks, elitist circles and globalist tendencies. But he was flatly rejected. He then set about hopping on an entirely different, antithetical train to deliver him higher office, even the prime ministership. After a bitter pre-selection battle in the Federal seat of Wentworth in 2004, Turnbull burrowed his way into (then) Liberal heartland and deep into its inner-sanctum. The rest, as they say, is history.

Current Labor opposition leader, Bill Shorten, has pledged to pose the question (of Australia becoming a republic) again in the next term of parliament if Labor wins office at the coming Federal election, due by May 2019.

Breaking down the Result

Of nearly 12 million Australian votes cast, around 55% voted “No” to the republic and around 61% voted “No” to the preamble (the text of which appears further below)Incidentally, since Federation, only eight of 44 proposals put to a referendum have been carried.

No state voted “Yes” to either question, with Queensland the most adamant in its rejection of both proposals and Victoria the least. (Only the ACT, with its Canberra bubble, voted “Yes”, by a whopping 63.3%. As Canberrans knew, this was always going to be “their republic”.)

The highest “Yes” votes for the republic came from inner metropolitan areas. Of Australia's 148 divisions, 42 voted yes, with [the seats of] Melbourne (70.92%), Sydney (67.85%), Melbourne Ports (65.90%), Grayndler (64.77%) and Fraser (64.46%) registering the highest “Yes” votes at division level. [The cities of] Sydney and Melbourne voted in favour of the proposition for Australia to become a republic, in contrast to No votes in Adelaide, Brisbane, Gold Coast and Perth. Wealthier areas also tended to support the proposal for Australia to become a republic — of the top 10% divisions on the 2001 SEIFA Advantage/Disadvantage index, only two out of 15 (Mitchell (46.89%) and Mackellar (49.43%)) voted “No”. Votes in opposition to the proposal predominantly came from rural and remote divisions, as well as many outer suburban areas.

The Questions put 

A Constitutional Convention in February 1998 endorsed a republican model with an appointed head of state (ie not popularly elected by the people but by politicians). Despite not getting the support of the majority of delegates – a pre-condition for progressing any proposal – then PM Howard mercifully put the model to a referendum anyway, much to the relief of the ARM delegates, elites and the media – as they then still had a fighting chance to get their big change.

Specifically, Australian electors were asked two questions – firstly, whether they approved of:

“A proposed law: To alter the Constitution to establish the Commonwealth of Australia as a republic with the Queen and Governor-General being replaced by a President appointed by a two-thirds majority of the members of the Commonwealth Parliament.”

And secondly:

“A proposed law: To alter the Constitution to insert a preamble.”

For the record, the proposed preamble was the following:

“With hope in God, the Commonwealth of Australia is constituted as a democracy with a federal system of government to serve the common good.

We the Australian people commit ourselves to this Constitution:

proud that our national unity has been forged by Australians from many ancestries;

never forgetting the sacrifices of all who defended our country and our liberty in time of war;

upholding freedom, tolerance, individual dignity and the rule of law;

honouring Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, the nation's first people, for their deep kinship with their lands and for their ancient and continuing cultures which enrich the life of our country;

recognising the nation-building contribution of generations of immigrants;

mindful of our responsibility to protect our unique natural environment;

supportive of achievement as well as equality of opportunity for all;

and valuing independence as dearly as the national spirit which binds us together in both adversity and success.”

Australians rejected both propositions.

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