The Prime Minister, John Howard, last night made it clear that he would not be voting in favour of Australia becoming a republic at the referendum to be held in the second half of 1999.
He said he would be adopting a “withdrawn” stance during the campaign and lauded his party’s willingness to tolerate differences of opinion, citing the stand taken by his deputy, Peter Costello, in support of a republic.
The referendum will put to the people the decision of the Constitutional Convention held in Canberra last February. Comprising appointed and elected delegates, the Convention voted in support of a republic and adopted a model that calls for a president to be appointed by the Parliament on the joint nomination of the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader.
The issue has been in the news since about 1992 when the then Prime Minister, Paul Keating, proposed a republic by the year 2001, the centenary of Federation. Derided by his opponents at the time as an issue that was manufactured as a distraction from economic issues, Keating pursued the subject over the years. During the 1996 election campaign, in a move that was widely seen as an attempt to neutralise the debate, Howard promised to hold a convention to consider the matter. By this time, growing numbers of Liberals, such as former NSW Premier, Nick Greiner, and current NSW Liberal leader, Peter Collins, announced their support for a republic.
In Howard’s ministry, people such as Costello, Peter Reith, John Fahey and Amanda Vanstone are all declared republicans. The Labor Party’s official platform expresses support for a republic. The National Party is generally opposed to any change to the existing constitutional arrangements.