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Historic Opportunity: An Australian Republic?

The Weekend Australian, 6-11-99Overnight, the British government has continued the process of abolishing hereditary peers in the House of Lords. In Australia, a historic referendum is taking place today in which voters have the choice of removing links with the hereditary monarch of Great Britain.

Opinion polls suggest that the referendum is heading for defeat. The AC Nielsen AgePoll yesterday had the YES vote at 41%, NO at 47%, and 12% undecided. A Newspoll published in The Australian today has the YES vote at 47%, NO on 50% and 3% undecided. The poll also shows the Preamble question facing defeat. The Australian boldly calls on its readers to vote YES.

If the referendum passes Australia will become a republic on January 1, 2001. If it is defeated tonight, consider the words of playwright David Williamson, in his article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald:

Tonight the politician haters are going to have their moment, and the monarchists are going to hold the line against the dilution of the master race. And those of us who would like to see ourselves as a nation mature enough to have our own head of state are going to feel ashamed and wonder whether there’s any point to waiting up to see Australia play France.

We had a chance to really make it Australia playing France, but I suspect it will still be the Queen of England’s Australia playing a real nation called France. Could any of us imagine a France so insecure about its own worth and identity that it had a German head of state? And, if it did, wouldn’t we feel it was somehow a little pathetic? Despite the brave braying of John Howard that we are in all respects a nation to be respected, I think the truth is that we are going to look more than a little pathetic in the eyes of the world tomorrow morning.

The Speech That Started It All

Paul KeatingIn June 1995, the then Prime Minister, Paul Keating, rose in the House of Representatives to deliver a speech titled “An Australian Republic – The Way Forward.” The speech committed the then-Labor government to the establishment of an Australian republic by the centenary of Federation in 2001.

Whilst defeated in the general election 9 months later, Keating laid the foundations for the referendum that takes place today. His government’s policy position in 1995 forced the resurrected leader of the Liberal Party, John Howard, to offer a constitutional convention and a referendum, as a means of defusing the republic issue in the election campaign.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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