First published February 7
After the defeat of the 1999 Australian republic referendum to amend the Constitution of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull rapidly retreated with his tail between his legs from his budding Liberal ascendency back into the semi-conservative shadows. This man who so graciously accepted defeat is now weighing up this position once again, but will it be his political saviour?
Prior to Malcolm Turnbull’s eye on the Lodge, he was the chairman of the Australian Republic Movement from 1993-2000. Content to be a merchant banker and not a prime minister Malcolm - as an unorthodox progressive Liberal - drove the republic campaign, which finally become a referendum issue.
The 1999 referendum was defeated in a 55% No – 45% yes
The referendum consisted of two questions.
1 Australia should become a republic with a President appointed by Parliament following a bi-partisan appointment model, which had been approved by a half-elected, half-appointed Constitutional Convention held in Canberra in February 1998.
2 - Should Australia alter the Constitution to insert a Preamble.
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.
For some years opinion polls prior to the referendum had suggested that a majority of the electorate favoured a republic. Nonetheless, the republic referendum was defeated due to sustained opposition from monarchist groups, and to division among republicans on the method proposed for selection of the president.
Just over a month ago Malcolm Turnbull spoke at the 25th anniversary dinner of the Australian Republican Movement ( http://malcolmturnbull.com.au/media/speech-to-australian-republican-movements-25th-anniversary-dinner )
Prior to that anniversary speech, David Morrison, Australian of the Year 2016, thrust the Republican issue back into the national debate by vowing to make pushing for an Australian republic one of his priority issues during his tenure as Australian of the Year as he said: “It is time, I think, to at least revisit the question so that we can stand both free and fully independent amongst the community of nations.”
General Morrison’s comments came only hours after the Australian Republican Movement released a pledge signed by eight of the nine premiers and chief ministers calling for an Australian head of state.
Malcolm Turnbull’s position seems circumspect even though he has bipartisan support for a republic from the Labor Party. “I have led a yes case for a republic into a heroic defeat once - I have no desire to do so again,” he said. “If you really are committed to Australia becoming a republic, then you want to be sure that the manner and the timing of the referendum is as such that it is successful and that it unites rather than divides Australians.”
The 1999 referendum didn’t divide the nation, more so it confused the nation. The average Australian probably doesn’t understand what our constitution is, and more likely the ones that voted ‘No’ did so on suspicious grounds that it may have a deep political agenda leading to an undesirable outcome.
History shows that changes or amendments to the Constitution of Australia are difficult to sell to voters.
Mr Turnbull said a referendum would fail if it was seen to be politically driven. He has repeated his long-held view that success would only follow the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
Maybe Malcolm is biding time so he can be ‘Head of State’ after his luminary days at the lodge?
The timing for this first appointment may yet just be perfect!
*Ted Mead is particularly disinterested in politics, monarchies and even republics, and can’t see a solution out of the deep rut that we humans have evolved into ever since we came out of the Neanderthal caves. Ted aspires to the comical attitude of Michael Leunig who often makes light of the dreary, warped and confused aspects of our bewildering existence.