Republicanism in Australia
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Republicanism in Australia is a movement to change Australia's system of government from a constitutional monarchy to a republic. Republicanism was first espoused in Australia before Federation in 1901. After a period of decline after Federation, the movement again became prominent at the end of the 20th century after successive legal and socio-cultural changes loosened Australia's ties with the United Kingdom.
Politically, republicanism is officially supported by the Labor Party and the Greens, and is also supported by some Liberal Party members of the Australian parliament including former leader and prime minister Malcolm Turnbull. In a referendum in 1999, Australian voters rejected a proposal to establish a republic with a parliamentary appointed head of state.
In his journal The Currency Lad, first published in Sydney in 1832, pastoralist and politician Horatio Wills was the first person to openly espouse Australian republicanism. Born to a convict father, Wills was devoted to the emancipist cause and promoted the interests of "currency lads and lasses" (Australian-born Europeans). His son Tom Wills was a founder of Australian rules football.
Some leaders and participants of the revolt at the Eureka Stockade in 1854 held republican views and the incident has been used to encourage republicanism in subsequent years, the Eureka Flag appearing in connection with some republican groups. The Australian Republican Association (ARA) was founded in response, advocating the abolition of governors and their titles; the revision of the penal code; payment of members of parliament; nationalisation of land; and an independent federal Australian republic outside of the British Empire. At the same time, a movement emerged in favour of a "White Australia" policy; however British authorities in Whitehall were opposed to segregational laws. To circumvent Westminster, those in favour of the discriminatory policies backed the proposed secession from the Empire as a republic. One attendee of the ARA meetings was the Australian-born poet Henry Lawson, who wrote his first poem, entitled A Song of the Republic, in The Republican journal.
|“||Banish from under your bonny skies
Those old-world errors and wrongs and lies
|— Henry Lawson, A Song of the Republic|
Federation and decline
At the Australian Federation Convention which produced in Sydney in 1891 the first draft that was to become the Australian constitution, a former Premier of New South Wales, George Dibbs, described as the "inevitable destiny of the people of this great country" the establishment of "the Republic of Australia".
However, the fervour of republicanism tailed off in the 1890s as the labour movement became concerned with the federation of Australia. The republican movement dwindled further during and after World War I. Emotionally, patriotic support for the war effort went hand in hand with a renewal of loyalty to the monarchy. The Bulletin abandoned republicanism and became a conservative, Empire loyalist paper. The Returned and Services League formed in 1916 and became an important bastion of monarchist sentiment.
The conservative parties were fervently monarchist and, although the Labor Party campaigned for greater Australian independence within the Empire and generally supported the appointment of Australians as governor-general, it did not question the monarchy itself. Under the Labor government of John Curtin, a member of the Royal Family, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, was appointed governor-general during World War II. The royal tour of Queen Elizabeth II in 1954 saw a reported 7 million Australians (out of a total population of 9 million) out to see her.
Reflecting re-orientation of trade flows in the 1950s and 1960s, Britain had decided in the late 1960s to re-orientate its trade and economic policy from the Commonwealth of Nations to the European Economic Community, and the 1960s and early 1970s saw a corresponding further reduction in the economic relationship between Britain and the major realms, including Australia. In 1967, the pound sterling was devalued, but Australia did not follow suit, instead moving to a peg between the Australian dollar and the pound sterling at a different rate. In 1971, Australia switched its peg altogether, to the United States dollar, and in June 1972 Britain responded to this and other changes resulting from Britain's shrinking economic presence in the world by shrinking the sterling area, effectively ending the former monetary union.
The election of a Labor majority in 1972 marked the end of a period where Australians saw themselves principally as part of the Commonwealth of Nations (formerly the British Empire), with the Whitlam government implementing a number of reforms that strengthened Australia's independent nationhood.
The Whitlam government ended in 1975 with a constitutional crisis in which Governor-General John Kerr dismissed the ministry and appointed Opposition Leader Malcolm Fraser as prime minister, an act in which the monarch herself was not consulted and, when approached after the event, pointedly refused to intervene, noting that she lacked authority to do so under the Australian constitution. The incident, though, raised questions about the value of maintaining a supposedly "symbolic" office that still possessed many key political powers and what an Australian president with the same reserve powers would do in a similar situation.
Australia Act and other changes
Moves elsewhere in the Commonwealth of Nations continued to dilute the ties between its members, including between Britain and Australia. In 1982, Britain changed its citizenship laws to remove Commonwealth citizens (and United Kingdom citizens, now to be British citizens) from the definition of "British subject", which until then was a status shared by all Commonwealth citizens. Like its late acceptance of the Statute of Westminster, Australia was once again one of the last Commonwealth countries to adopt the change in its own laws: the category "British subjects" was abolished in Australian law only in 1987.
In 1986, the Australia Act was enacted, thereafter eliminating the remaining, mainly theoretical, ties between the legislature and judiciary of the United Kingdom and the Australian states. It was later determined by the High Court in Sue v Hill that this legislation established Britain and Australia as independent nations sharing the same person as their relevant sovereign.
At broadly the same time, references to the monarchy were being removed from various institutions. For example, in 1993, the Oath of Citizenship, which included an assertion of allegiance to the Australian monarch, was replaced by a pledge to be loyal to "Australia and its people". Further, the state of Queensland deleted all references to the monarchy from its legislation, with new laws being enacted by its parliament and "binding on the State of Queensland," not the Crown. (Other states, and the Commonwealth, later made similar changes.)
Barristers in New South Wales (from 1993), Queensland (from 1994), ACT (from 1995), Victoria (from 2000), Western Australia (from 2001), Tasmania (from 2005), Northern Territory (from 2007), Commonwealth (from March 2007) and South Australia (from 2008) were no longer appointed Queen's Counsel (QC), but as Senior Counsel (SC). Many monarchists condemned these changes as moves to a "republic by stealth". However beginning with Queensland in 2013 and then followed by Victoria and the Commonwealth in 2014, the title of Queen's Counsel (QC) has again been conferred. Currently South Australia and New South Wales are discussing the reintroduction.
Nevertheless, all Australian senators and members of the House of Representatives continue to swear "to be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty" before taking their seats in parliament; as a part of the constitution, any changes to this oath could only be approved by a referendum.
Keating government proposals
The Australian Labor Party (ALP) first made republicanism its official policy in 1991, with then Prime Minister Bob Hawke describing a republic as "inevitable". Following the ALP decision, the Australian Republican Movement, the leading republican advocacy group, was born. Hawke's successor, Paul Keating, pursued the republican agenda much more actively than Hawke and established the Republic Advisory Committee to produce an options paper on issues relating to the possible transition to a republic to take effect on the centenary of federation: 1 January 2001. The committee produced its report in April 1993 and in it argued that "a republic is achievable without threatening Australia's cherished democratic institutions."
In response to the report, Keating promised a referendum on the establishment of a republic, replacing the governor-general with a president, and removing references to the Australian sovereign. The president was to be nominated by the prime minister and appointed by a two-thirds majority in a joint sitting of the Senate and House of Representatives. The referendum was to be held either in 1998 or 1999. However, Keating's party lost the 1996 federal election in a landslide and he was replaced by John Howard, a monarchist, as prime minister.
1998 Constitutional Convention
With the change in government in 1996, Prime Minister John Howard proceeded with an alternative policy of holding a constitutional convention. This was held over two weeks in February 1998 at Old Parliament House. Half of the 152 delegates were elected and half were appointed by the federal and state governments. Convention delegates were asked whether or not Australia should become a republic and which model for a republic is preferred. At the opening of the convention, Howard stated that if the convention could not decide on a model to be put to a referendum, then plebiscites would be held on the model preferred by the Australian public.
At the convention, a republic gained majority support (89 votes to 52 with 11 abstentions), but the question of what model for a republic should be put to the people at a referendum produced deep divisions among republicans. Four republican models were debated: two involving direct election of the head of state; one involving appointment on the advice of the prime minister (the McGarvie Model); and one involving appointment by a two-thirds majority of parliament (the bi-partisan appointment model).
The latter was eventually successful at the convention, even though it only obtained a majority because of 22 abstentions in the final vote (57 against delegates voted against the model and 73 voted for, three votes short of an actual majority of delegates). A number of those who abstained were republicans who supported direct election (such as Ted Mack, Phil Cleary, Clem Jones, and Andrew Gunter), thereby allowing the bi-partisan model to succeed. They reasoned that the model would be defeated at a referendum and a second referendum called with direct election as the model.
According to critics, the two-week timeline and quasi-democratic composition of the convention is evidence of an attempt by John Howard to frustrate the republican cause, a claim John Howard adamantly rejects.
1999 Republican referendum
The republic referendum was held on 6 November 1999, after a national advertising campaign and the distribution of 12.9 million 'Yes/No' case pamphlets. It comprised two questions: The first asked whether Australia should become a republic in which the governor-general and monarch would be replaced by one office, the President of the Commonwealth of Australia, the occupant elected by a two-thirds vote of the Australian parliament for a fixed term. The second question, generally deemed to be far less important politically, asked whether Australia should alter the constitution to insert a preamble. Neither of the amendments passed, with 55% of all electors and all states voting 'no' to the proposed amendment; it was not carried in any state. The preamble referendum question was also defeated, with a Yes vote of only 39 per cent.
Many opinions were put forward for the defeat, some relating to perceived difficulties with the parliamentary appointment model, others relating to the lack of public engagement or that most Australians were simply happy to keep the status quo. Some republicans voted no because they did not agree with provisions such as the president being instantly dismissible by the prime minister.
Following the referendum
On 26 June 2003, the Senate referred an inquiry into an Australian republic to the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee. During 2004, the committee reviewed 730 submissions and conducted hearings in all state capitals. The committee tabled its report, called Road to a Republic, on 31 August 2004.
The report examined the contest between minimalist and direct-election models and gave attention to hybrid models such as the electoral college model, the constitutional council model, and models having both an elected president and a governor-general.
The bi-partisan recommendations of committee supported educational initiatives and holding a series of plebiscites to allow the public to choose which model they preferred, prior to a final draft and referendum, along the lines of plebiscites proposed by John Howard at the 1998 constitutional convention.
Issues related to republicanism were raised by the March 2006 tour of Australia by Queen Elizabeth II. Then John Howard, still serving as prime minister, was questioned by British journalists about the future of the monarchy in Australia and there was debate about playing Australia's royal anthem, "God Save the Queen", during the opening of the that year's Commonwealth Games, at which the monarch was present.
In the lead-up to the 2010 federal election, then Prime Minister Julia Gillard stated "I believe that this nation should be a republic. I also believe that this nation has got a deep affection for Queen Elizabeth." It was her view that it would be appropriate for Australia to become a republic only once Queen Elizabeth II's reign ends. On the process for becoming a republic, Gillard said "What I would like to see as the prime minister is that we work our way through to an agreement on a republic." In 2010, then opposition leader Tony Abbott, who previously served as Executive Director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, supported the status quo. He opined: "While there may very well be further episodes of republicanism in this country, I am far from certain that, at least in our lifetimes, there's likely to be any significant change."
In early 2015, leading up to Australia Day, opposition leader Bill Shorten called for a new push for Australia to become a republic. Former ARM chair Malcolm Turnbull said upon his appointment as prime minister in September of the same year he would not pursue "his dream" of Australia becoming a republic until after the end of the Queen's reign, instead focusing his efforts toward the economy. A majority of parliamentarians currently support Australia becoming a republic.
In July 2017, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten revealed that should the Labor Party be elected to government at the next Federal election, they would legislate for a compulsory plebiscite on the issue. Should that plebiscite be supported by a majority of Australians, a second vote would be held, this time a referendum, asking the public for their support for a specific model of government.
Arguments for change
Independence and head of state
A central argument made by Australian republicans is that, as Australia is an independent country, it is inappropriate for Australia to share the person of its monarch with the United Kingdom. Republicans argue that the Australian monarch is not Australian and, as such, a person who is a national of another country cannot adequately represent Australia, either to itself or to the rest of the world. Former Chief Justice Gerard Brennan stated that "so long as we retain the existing system our head of state is determined for us essentially by the parliament at Westminster". As Australian Republican Movement member Frank Cassidy put it in a speech on the issue: "In short, we want a resident for President."
Multiculturalism and sectarianism
Republicans associate the monarchy with British identity and subsequently argue that Australia has changed demographically and culturally, from being "British to our bootstraps", as prime minister Robert Menzies once put it, to being less British, albeit maintaining an "English Core". For some Australians not of British ancestry, they argue, the idea of one person being both monarch of Australia and of the United Kingdom is an anomaly. It is also claimed that there are some Aborigines and some Australians of Irish origin who see the Australian Crown as a symbol of British imperialism.
However, monarchists argue that immigrants who left unstable republics and have arrived in Australia since 1945 welcomed the social and political stability that they found in Australia under a constitutional monarchy. Further, some Aborigines, such as former Senator Neville Bonner, said a republican president would not "care one jot more for my people".
It has also been claimed monarchism and republicanism in Australia delineate historical and persistent sectarian tensions with, broadly speaking, Catholics more likely to be republicans and Protestants more likely to be monarchists. This developed out of a historical cleavage in 19th- and 20th-century Australia, in which republicans were predominantly of Irish Catholic background and loyalists were predominantly of British Protestant background. Whilst mass immigration since the Second World War has diluted this conflict, the Catholic–Protestant divide has been cited as a dynamic in the republic debate, particularly in relation to the referendum campaign in 1999. Nonetheless, others have stated that Catholic–Protestant tensions—at least in the sense of an Irish–British conflict—are at least forty years dead.
It has also been claimed, however, that the Catholic–Protestant divide is intermingled with class issues. Republicanism in Australia has traditionally been supported most strongly by members of the urban working class with Irish Catholic backgrounds, whereas monarchism is a core value associated with urban and rural inhabitants of British Protestant heritage and the middle class, to the extent that there were calls in 1999 for 300,000 exceptionally enfranchised British subjects who were not Australian citizens to be barred from voting on the grounds that they would vote as a loyalist bloc in a tight referendum.
Social values and contemporary Australia
From some perspectives, it has been argued that several characteristics of the monarchy are in conflict with modern Australian values. The hereditary nature of the monarchy is said to conflict with egalitarianism and dislike of inherited privilege. The laws of succession were, before amendment to them in 2015, held by some to be sexist and the links between the monarchy and the Church of England inconsistent with Australia's secular character. Under the Act of Settlement, the monarch is prohibited from being a Catholic. As it is constitutional, this Australian law over-rides anti-discrimination laws, which prohibit arrangements under which becoming a Catholic invalidates any legal rights.
Proposals for change
A typical proposal for an Australian republic provides for the Queen and governor-general to be replaced by a president or an executive federal council. There is much debate on the appointment or election process that would be used and what role such an office would have.
Methods for deciding a head of state
- by the prime minister;
- by consensus among the government and opposition;
- by a constitutional council.
An alternative minimalist approach to change provides for removing the sovereign and retaining the governor-general. The most notable model of this type is the McGarvie Model, while Copernican models replace the monarch with a directly-elected figurehead. These Copernican models allow for regular and periodic elections for the office of head of state while limiting the reserve powers to the appointed governor-general only. A popularly elected head of state would have the same powers as the monarch, but he or she could not dismiss the prime minister. If this were to happen, it would be a first, as all other former Commonwealth realms have created presidencies upon becoming republics.
Alternatively it has been proposed to abolish the roles of the governor-general and the monarchy and have their functions exercised by other constitutional officers such as the Speaker.
The Labor for an Australian Republic Group (LFAR) has undertaken work to explore and develop further possible models. One such model is the 50/50 model.This model is supported and created by Anthony Cianflone – LFAR Grassroots Member. A new President of Australia would become our Head of State after being elected under a 50-50 model i.e. 50 per cent of the vote would be elected by the Australian people and 50 per cent of the vote would be elected by a joint sitting of the Australian Parliament. The President of Australia would play a similar ceremonial role to our current Governor General. However under the 50-50 model the President would be more than just a ceremonial figure. The vision is for the Australian President to act as Australia’s ‘Social Conscience and Moral Compass’. The President would have the capacity to influence and campaign on non-partisan issues such as Aboriginal Policy, Veterans’ Affairs, Education, Health, Environment, Human Rights, Multiculturalism, Domestic Violence, Homelessness, Poverty, Disabilities, Youth, Women, Arts, Tourism, Families, Older Australians and Sport. Whilst not having the power to veto bills, prior to providing Presidential ascent, the Constitution could allow for the President to review and seek further clarification, and information on bills from the Parliament based on a ‘Social and Moral Conscience Charter’. The President’s annual ‘State of the Nation’ Address’ to Parliament would provide one of the key formal mechanisms for the President to relay to Parliamentarians the priorities and expectation of Australians in relation to the non-partisan issues, and help improve the quality and consistency of policy reforms, parliamentary debates and community outcomes over the lifetime of different governments.
Australians for Constitutional Monarchy and the Australian Monarchist League argue that no model is better than the present system and argue that the risk and difficulty of changing the constitution is best demonstrated by inability of republicans to back a definitive design.
From its foundation until the 1999 referendum, the Australian Republican Movement (ARM) supported the bi-partisan appointment model, which would result in a President elected by the Parliament of Australia, with the powers currently held by the Governor-General. It is argued that the requirement of a two-thirds majority in a vote of both houses of parliament would result in a bi-partisan appointment, preventing a party politician from becoming president.
The ARM now supports a non-binding plebiscite to decide the model, followed by a binding referendum to amend the Constitution, reflecting the model chosen. Opponents of holding non-binding plebiscites include monarchist David Flint, who described this process as "inviting a vote of no confidence in one of the most successful constitutions in the world," and minimalist republican Greg Craven, who states "a multi-option plebiscite inevitably will produce a direct election model, precisely for the reason that such a process favours models with shallow surface appeal and multiple flaws. Equally inevitably, such a model would be doomed at referendum."
|June 2012||Roy Morgan||35%||58%||7%|
|May 2011||Roy Morgan||34%||55%||11%|
Polls and surveys generate different responses depending on the wording of the questions, mostly in regards the type of republic, and often appear contradictory.
In 2009, the Australian Electoral Survey that is conducted following all elections by the Australian National University has found that support for a republic has remained reasonably static since 1987 at around 60%, if the type of republic is not part of the question. The Electoral Survey also shows that support or opposition is relatively weak: 31% strongly support a republic while only 10% strongly oppose.
An opinion poll held in November 2008 that separated the questions found support for a republic at 50% with 28% opposed. Asked how the president should be chosen if there were to be a republic, 80 percent said elected by the people, against 12 percent who favoured appointment by parliament. In October 2009 another poll by UMR found 59% support for a republic and 33% opposition. 73% supported direct election, versus 18% support for parliamentary appointment.
On 29 August 2010 The Sydney Morning Herald published a poll produced by Neilson, asking multiple questions on the future of the monarchy:
- 48% of the 1400 respondents were opposed to constitutional change (a rise of 8 per cent since 2008)
- 44% supported change (a drop of 8 per cent since 2008).
- 31% said Australia should never become a republic.
- 29% said Australia should become a republic as soon as possible.
- 34% said Australia should become a republic only after Queen Elizabeth II's reign ends.
A survey of 1,000 readers of The Sun-Herald and The Sydney Morning Herald, published in The Sydney Morning Herald on 21 November 2010, found 68% of respondents were in favour of Australia becoming a republic, while 25% said it should not. More than half the respondents, 56%, said Australia should become a republic as soon as possible while 31% said it should happen after the Queen dies.
However, an opinion poll conducted in 2011 saw a sharp decline in the support for an Australian republic. The polling conducted by the Morgan Poll in May 2011 showed the support for the monarchy was now 55% (up 17% since 1999), whereas the support for a republic was at 34% (down 20%). The turnaround in support for a republic has been called the "strange death of Australian republicanism".
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Vote Compass during the Australian federal election, 2013 found that 40.4% of respondents disagreed with the statement "Australia should end the monarchy and become a republic", whilst 38.1% agreed (23.1% strongly agreed) and 21.5% were neutral. Support for a republic was highest among those with a left-leaning political ideology. Younger people had the highest rate for those neutral towards the statement (27.8%) with their support for strongly agreed the lowest of all age groups at 17.1%. Support for a republic was highest in the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria and lowest in Queensland and Western Australia. More men than women said they support a republic.
In early 2014, a ReachTEL poll of 2,146 Australian conducted just after Australia Day showed only 39.4% supported a republic with 41.6% opposed. Lowest support was in the 65+ year cohort followed by the 18–34-year cohort. Geoff Gallop, the then chairman of the Australian Republican Movement, said higher support for a republic among Generation X and baby boomer voters could be explained by them having participated in the 1999 referendum and remembering the 1975 constitutional crisis.
In April 2014, a poll found that "support for an Australian republic has slumped to its lowest level in more than three decades"; namely, on the eve of the visit to Australia by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince George of Cambridge, 42% of those polled agreed with the statement that "Australia should become a republic", whereas 51% opposed.
ARM commissioned a poll to be conducted by Essential Research from 5 to 8 November in 2015, asking "When Prince Charles becomes King of Australia, will you support or oppose replacing the British monarch with an Australian citizen as Australia's head of state?" Of the 1008 participants, 51% said they would prefer an Australian head of state to "King Charles", 27% opposed and 22% were undecided.
The Australian has polled the same question "Are you personally in favour or against Australia becoming a republic?" multiple times since 1999 though it hadn't polled it since 2011. After Australia Day 2016 they found 51% support. This level of support was similar to levels found between 1999 and 2003 by the same newspaper. Total against was 37% which was an increase over the rates polled in all previous polls other than 2011. Uncommitted at 12% was the lowest ever polled. However support for a republic was again lowest in the 18–34-year cohort.
Party political positions
The Liberal Party is a conservative and classical liberal party. The former generally favours the status quo, the latter favours republicanism. Proponents of republicanism in the Liberal Party include: its former leader (also former leader of the Australian Republican Movement) Malcolm Turnbull, as well as Joe Hockey and Peter Costello. Supporters of the status quo include former leader and former ACM Leader, Tony Abbott, former opposition leaders Alexander Downer and Brendan Nelson, and Sophie Mirabella.
The National Party has few republicans, its former leader, Tim Fischer being the leading example. A conservative party with a rural base, its core constituency has always been strongly monarchist. As such, it remains against change as official policy.
Under former Prime Minister John Howard, a monarchist, the government initiated a process to settle the republican debate, involving a constitutional convention and a referendum. Howard, who supports the status quo, says the matter was resolved by the failure of the referendum.
Australian Labor Party
Labor has supported constitutional change to become a republic since 1991 and has incorporated republicanism into its platform. Labor is currently the only party that proposes a series of plebiscites to restart the republican process. Along with this, Labor spokesperson (and former federal attorney general) Nicola Roxon has previously said that reform will "always fail if we seek to inflict a certain option on the public without their involvement. This time round, the people must shape the debate".
The Australian Greens party is a strong proponent for an Australian republic, and this is reflected in the Greens 'Constitutional Reform & Democracy' policy. In the Senate, the Greens proposed legislation to hold a plebiscite on the republic at the 2010 federal election.
The Australian Democrats, formerly Australia's third party, strongly supported a move towards a republic through a system of an elected Head of State through popular voting. However, the party was deregistered in 2015 due to a decline in membership.
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