Twenty years ago, a national referendum asked Australians whether they wanted to leave the Commonwealth and become an independent republic. The proposal was rejected then, but two decades on, where do Aussies stand? We took it to the polls.
The question was put to the Australian public on Saturday 6 November 1999. It was 55% of voters who said ‘no’ to leaving the Commonwealth, and under the Queen’s reign is where we’ve stayed.
So we wanted to know: If the question were asked today, would Australians vote to stay, or go?
So what went down in the 1990s?
Going independent from the British monarchy had for a long time been considered a popular position in Australia. The topic began to gain national attention in the 1990s when Prime Minister Bob Hawke’s government made moving towards a republic an official Labor Party policy.
In 1993, Prime Minister Paul Keating’s government established the Republic Advisory Committee, chaired by Malcolm Turnbull. The committee explored the options of transitioning to a republic, a move described by Keating as something that, “many Australian have come to favour… [and] now believe it is inevitable.”
However, a federal election in 1996 elevated John Howard to Prime Minister. His party’s policy included the creation of a Constitutional Convention, a half representative, half government-appointed body to deliberate Australia’s republican options. The Convention agreed on this question to put to the Australian people in the form of a referendum:
To alter the Constitution to establish the Commonwealth of Australia as a republic with the Queen and Governor-General being replaced by a President appointed by a two-thirds majority of the members of the Commonwealth Parliament.
The question was controversial as it only proposed one method of Australian republicanism—the election of a president via a two-thirds majority in parliament, rather than directly by the people. Republican and former Prime Minister Bob Hawke suggested that it was clear Australians wanted a republic and that the proposal had created confusion among constituents. Former High Court Justice Michael Kirby penned ten reasons why the proposal was rejected, including disagreement between republicans, as well as media bias against constitutional monarchists.
Twenty years on: Where are we at?
Recent national polling has suggested that overall support for republicanism in Australia is at a 25-year low. Recent Royal marriages have been huge media events in Australia, with four million Aussies tuning into Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding last year, and a similar number for Prince William and Kate Middleton’s in 2011.
However, our poll shows that there is some appetite for a change in Australia’s relationship with the Commonwealth. Close to two-thirds were in favour of becoming a republic, but with the minority still over 30% of those surveyed, it seems we’re still a long way from consensus.
For the time being, Australia remains a part of the Commonwealth under the monarch of the United Kingdom. Will we be checking back in another 20 years to see where the conversation is at, or will we see changes? Only time will tell.
Are you an advocate for a constitutional monarchy? Do you want to see Australia become a republic? Tell us what you think! Email firstname.lastname@example.org.