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Politics and government of
Supporters of republicanism in Australia have differing motives. The most common include the monarch being resident in the United Kingdom for the majority of the year, the differing ethnic demographics in modern Australia to its mostly British past, and that laws of succession to the throne are contradictory to the Australian constitution.
Republicanism is the view of Australia's ruling Labor Party, and a significant amount of the opposition Liberal Party. A 1999 referendum kept the monarchy, and popular support for a republic, although higher than in the United Kingdom, has declined in some recent polls.
Arguments for change and the characteristics of the debate
A central argument made by Australian republicans is that, as Australia is an independent country, it is inappropriate for Britain's monarch and head of state, who is a citizen of the UK, to be the same for Australia. Some supporters of the monarchy argue that the Governor-General of Australia already is Australia's head of state in his/her capacity as the Queen's authorised viceroy in Australia. Republicans argue that a person who is resident primarily in another country cannot adequately represent Australia, either to itself or to the rest of the world, and don't necessarilly recognise the Governor-General as being head of state in the current system. 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." (The UK's laws of succession continue to apply in Australia with the Westminster Accords being the governing accord). 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 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 Monarch of the United Kingdom is an anomaly. It is also claimed[by whom?] 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. Certainly, 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[which?], it has, more often than not, 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 are 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, passed by the British Parliament in 1701, the monarch is prohibited from either being Catholic, or from marrying a Catholic. This law overrides Australian anti-discrimination laws which prohibit arrangements under which males have precedence over females, or under which becoming or marrying 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 selecting a president
An alternative minimalist approach to change provides for removing the Queen and retaining the Governor-General. The most notable model of this type is the McGarvie Model, while Copernican models replace the Queen 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 Queen 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.
Some republicans propose an executive presidency, a semi-presidential system, a federal council or other constitutional reforms, such as citizen-initiated referenda. 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.
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."
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 May 2008, a Morgan poll found 45% believe Australia should become a republic with an elected president, while 42% support Australia remaining a monarchy and 13% are undecided.
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.
- 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).
But when asked which of the following statements best described their view:
- 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".
A poll taken in the wake of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee found that support for the monarchy is at a twenty-five-year high. 58% of respondents supported the monarchy whereas 35% supported a republic.
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 and former leader of the Australian Republican Movement Malcolm Turnbull, Joe Hockey and Peter Costello. Supporters of the status quo include current leader and former ACM Leader, Tony Abbott, former opposition leader Brendan Nelson, Cory Bernardi, Sophie Mirabella and Alexander Downer. Historically, however, the party has always upheld monarchism and links with Britain (see the comment by Liberal Prime Minister Menzies above).
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 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, which came to power near the end of 2007, has supported constitutional change to become a republic since 1991 and has incorporated republicanism into its platform. Labor currently proposes a series of plebiscites to restart the republican process. 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 founding of the British penal colony at Sydney Cove in 1788 was in the geopolitical context of the revolution in the American colonies in 1776 and a year before the French revolution of 1789. The Anti-Transportation League, a group founded in 1849 which was opposed to the transportation of convicts to Australia, argued that such a "Fenian" colony could separate from the British Empire, due to its then largely Irish Catholic make up.
Prior to Federation
John Dunmore Lang, a Presbyterian cleric and politician, published The Coming Event! Or, the United Provinces of Australia in 1850 and Freedom and Independence for the Golden Lands of Australia in 1852.
Some leaders and participants of the revolt at the Eureka Stockade in 1854, held republican views. The incident has been used to encourage republicanism in subsequent years. The Eureka Flag appears in connection with some republican groups.
A scheme proposed at the Imperial Conference of 1887 would have seen colonies taxed for the protection of the Royal Navy. The Australian delegates were highly critical of the proposal, echoing the rallying cry of the American revolution "No taxation without representation".
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 Empire. The League held a number of public meetings. 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; a move advertised and advocated by the journal The Bulletin. One attendee of the ARA meetings was the Australian-born poet, Henry Lawson. Lawson 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
At the Australian Federation Convention which produced the first draft that was to become the Australian Constitution in Sydney in 1891, 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, and which became the focus following federation in 1901.
The election of a Labor Government in 1972 marked the end of a period where Australians saw themselves principally as part of the Commonwealth of Nations (formerly the British Empire). Prime Minister Gough Whitlam instituted a number of changes, including removing reference to the United Kingdom in Queen Elizabeth's Australian title on 19 October 1973, when she signed her assent to the Royal Style and Titles Act, and creating a domestic system of conferring civil and military honours. It was also during this time that Britain dropped Australia's preferred economic and trade status in favour of the European Economic Community. Nevertheless, Whitlam's administration was not itself republican, as Whitlam himself noted in his memoirs, written long afterwards.
The Whitlam Government ended in 1975 with a dramatic constitutional crisis in which the Queen's representative, the Governor-General (then John Kerr), dismissed Whitlam and his entire ministry, appointing Opposition Leader Malcolm Fraser in his place. This particular incident raised questions about the value of maintaining a supposedly "symbolic" office that still possessed many key, and potentially dangerous, political powers. It is notable however, that the monarch herself was not consulted in the decision to use the reserve powers and pointedly refused to intervene, noting that she lacked authority to do so under the Australian constitution. What an Australian President with the same reserve powers would do in a similar situation is also debatable.
Australia Act and other changes
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, references to the Queen were removed from the Oath of Citizenship, sworn by naturalised Australians, who would now pledge loyalty 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, not the Queen, and "binding on the State of Queensland," not the Crown. Barristers in New South Wales and Victoria are no longer appointed Queen's Counsel (QC), but as Senior Counsel (SC), as in Hong Kong, India, Ireland and South Africa. Institutions in Australia could also no longer apply to have a royal in their title. Many monarchists condemned these changes as moves to a "republic by stealth."
Nevertheless, all Australian Senators and Members of the House of Representatives continued 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 first made republicanism its official policy in 1991, with then Prime Minister Bob Hawke describing a republic as inevitable. His successor Paul Keating pursued the republican agenda much more actively than Hawke had done, and he 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 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 Queen. 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 was voted out of office at the Australian federal election, 1996.
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 Federal and state governments. A number of convention delegates appointed by Howard himself were accused of having fixed views on retaining the monarchy. For example, in the ACT, Sir David Smith and Heidi Zwar were appointed to represent the people of Canberra. Both these delegates were on the public record of holding unswerving support for the monarchy despite being appointed to articulate the views of one of Australia's most pro-republican territories. The presence of a number of such appointed delegates acted to elevate voting opposition to a republican consensus. Prime Minister Howard was able to point to their intransigent opposition as evidence of broad community concern over a move toward a republican constitution. 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, John 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 bi-partisan appointment model 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 republicans who supported direct election abstained from the vote (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. Although he admits to being an "unashamed royalist", the claim is one he adamantly rejects.
1999 Republican referendum
The 1999 Australian republic referendum was a two question referendum held in 1999. The first question asked whether Australia should become a republic with a President appointed by Parliament, a model that had previously been decided at a Constitutional Convention in February 1998. 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.
Under the referendum proposal, the Governor-General and Queen would be replaced by one office, the President of the Commonwealth of Australia. The President would be elected by a two-thirds majority of the Australian Parliament for a fixed term.
The referendum was held on 6 November 1999, after a national advertising campaign and the distribution of 12.9 million Yes/No case pamphlets. The question on a republic was defeated. It was not carried in any state and attracted 45 per cent of the total national vote. 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 Australian 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 dismissable by the Prime Minister.
2004 Senate Inquiry
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.
2006 and the Queen's visit
Issues related to republicanism were raised by the March 2006 visit to Australia by Queen Elizabeth II. Then Prime Minister John Howard was questioned at the time by British journalists about the future of the monarchy in Australia, and there was debate about playing God Save the Queen during the opening of the Commonwealth Games.
In the lead-up to the 2010 federal election, Prime Minister of Australia 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." She stated 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." The current leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott supports the status quo and previously served as Executive Director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy. He stated "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".
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