INDEPENDENT NEWS

Australia Keeps Our Queen

Published: Sun 7 Nov 1999 09:45 AM
Australia has rejected becoming a republic with the referendum failing to meet either of the two requirements to be passed. John Howard reports.
Fifty-four percent of Australians voted "no" and Victoria is the only state registering support for the model - and that is by a paper thin majority. ACT - a territory - also voted "yes"
The head of the Australian Republican Movement, businesseman Malcolm Turnbull, laid the blame for the defeat squarely at the feet on the Prime Minister John Howard.
Speaking to supporters in Sydney, many of whom openly wept, Turnbull said, " Whatever else John Howard achieves, history will remember him for only one thing, he was the Prime Minister that broke this nation's heart."
But Turnbull has conveniently forgotten that it was the February 13, 1998, Australian Constitutional Convention consisting of 152 delgates who voted for and set the model.
And the Convention itself was a sham. Of the 73 who voted in favour of a republic, 34 were elected to the convention and 39 were parliamentary appointed of whom 25 were actual politicians.
Moreover, only 10 working days was allowed to resolve such a difficult issue as to the future form of an Australian republic. Hardly enough time to seriously consider the political future of a nation.
Then, many of those elected to the 1998 Convention sought to introduce items which were never on the agenda. This wasted an enormous amount of time. Undoubtedly the environment, aboriginal land rights, law and order, Bill of Rights and gender equity are important issues in themselves, but this attempted introduction of them to the agenda reduced the time that was available to discuss the central issue.
Then there was the intractable attitude of the Australian Republican Movement to any model but their own and their refusal to compromise left a wide schism in the whole Convention.
The total Australian republican exercise demonstrated that to make such a fundamental political change, in a peaceful manner, is not so simple as sloganeers would have people believe.
The manner in which a new head of state is to be elected, the powers of the office, and the relationship between president and government are not matters that are readily decided. Nor ar they subject to easy compromise in the manner of democratic politics. They would affect in a fundamental manner the future polity of Australia.
Add to these the peripheral, but highly emotive questions about a new flag. Then there's a new Constitution - which still includes a provision that New Zealand can join if it wants to.
Becoming a republic is much more than a simple: "We don't want the Queen" and that is a lesson for New Zealander's now promoting a republic here.
The bottom line is that in their referendum Australians were not suckered in by sophistry.

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