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Republicanism in Australia is a movement to change Australia's status as a constitutional monarchy to a republican form of government. Such sentiments have been expressed in Australia from before federation onward to the present, generally achieving little success or approval. Modern arguments focus on abolishing the Australian monarchy.

Arguments for change and the characteristics of the debate

Representing Australia

A central argument made by Australian republicans is that, as Australia is an independent country, it is inappropriate for the same person to be the head of state of more than one country. Republicans argue that a person who is resident primarily in another country cannot adequately represent Australia, either to itself or to the rest of the world. Former Chief Justice Gerard Brennan stated that "so long as we retain the existing system our head of state is determined for us essentially by the parliament at Westminstermarker." (The UK's laws of succession continue to apply in Australia, and may be changed by the United Kingdom parliament only with the consent of the other Commonwealth countries affected.) As Australian Republican Movement member Frank Cassidy put it in a speech on the issue: "In short, we want a resident for President."

Change and Racism

Republicans argue that Australia has changed demographically and culturally, from being "Britishmarker to our bootstraps", as prime minister Robert Menzies once put it, to being less British, albeit maintaining an 'English Core'. For Australians not of British ancestry, they argue, the idea of one person being both Monarch of Australia and Monarch of Britain is an anomaly. It is also claimed that Aborigines and Australians of Irishmarker origin see the Australian Crown as a symbol of British imperialism.

However, monarchists argue that immigrants who left unstable republics and have arrived in Australia since 1945 welcomed the social and political stability that they found in Australia under a constitutional monarchy. Further, some Aborigines such as former Senator Neville Bonner, said a republican president would not "care one jot more for my people".

It has also been claimed monarchism and republicanism in Australia delineate historical and persistent sectarian tensions with, broadly speaking, Catholics more likely to be republicans and Protestants more likely to be monarchists. This developed out of a historical cleavage in 19th- and 20th-century Australia, in which republicans were predominantly of Irish Catholic background and loyalists were predominantly of British Protestant background. Whilst mass immigration since the Second World War has diluted this conflict the Catholic-Protestant divide has been cited as a dynamic in the republic debate, particularly in relation to the referendum campaign in 1999. Nonetheless, others have stated that Catholic-Protestant tensions — at least in the sense of an Irish-British conflict — are at least forty years dead.

It has also been claimed, however, that the Catholic-Protestant divide is intermingled with class issues. Certainly, republicanism in Australia has traditionally been supported most strongly by urban working class of Irish Catholic background, whereas monarchism is a core value associated with urban and rural inhabitants of British Protestant heritage and the middle class, to the extent that there were calls in 1999 for 300,000 exceptionally enfranchised British subjects who were not Australian citizens to be barred from voting on the grounds that they would vote as a loyalist bloc in a tight referendum.

Social values and contemporary Australia

It has been argued that several characteristics of the monarchy are in conflict with modern Australian values. The hereditary nature of the monarchy is said to conflict with egalitarianism and dislike of inherited privilege. The laws of succession are held by some to be sexist and the links between the monarchy and the Church of England inconsistent with Australia's secular character. Under the Act of Settlement, passed by the British Parliament in 1701, the monarch is prohibited from either being Catholic, or from marrying a Catholic. This law is in conflict with Australian anti-discrimination laws which prohibit arrangements under which males have precedence over females, or under which becoming or marrying a Catholic invalidates any legal rights.

Monarchists claim that the succession of an apolitical head of state provides a far more stable constitutional system compared to one involving appointing or electing a president who is likely to have a political agenda. Also, laws surrounding the line of succession, those that stipulate the eldest male is first in line, etc., can be altered without removing the Australian monarchy (although, in practice, such laws would require consent from the Parliaments of all the other Commonwealth Realms).

Proposals for change

A typical proposal for an Australian republic provides for the Queen and Governor-General to be replaced by a president. There is much debate on the appointment or election process that would be used and what role such an office would have.

From its foundation until the 1999 referendum, the Australian Republican Movement (ARM) supported the bi-partisan appointment model, which would result in a President elected by the Parliament of Australia, with the powers currently held by the Queen and the Governor-General. It is argued that the requirement of a two-thirds majority in a vote of both houses of parliament would result in a bi-partisan appointment, preventing a party politician from becoming president.

An alternative minimalist approach to change provides for the replacement of the Queen alone and retaining the Governor-General. The most notable model of this type is the McGarvie Model, while Copernican Models replace the Queen with a directly-elected figurehead. If this were to happen, it would be a first, as all other former Commonwealth Realms have created presidencies upon becoming republics.

Some republicans propose an executive presidency, a semi-presidential system or other constitutional reforms, such as citizen-initiated referenda. Alternatively it has been proposed to abolish the roles of the Governor-General and the monarchy and have their functions exercised by other constitutional officers such as the Speaker.

Australians for Constitutional Monarchy and the Australian Monarchist League, who reject republicanism, argue that no model is better than the present system and argue that the risk and difficulty of changing the constitution is best demonstrated by inability of republicans to back a definitive design.

Party political positions

Liberal-National Coalition

The Liberal party is a conservative and classical liberal party. The former generally favours the status quo, the latter favours Republicanism. Proponents of Republicanism in the Liberal Party include, its former leader and former leader of the Australian Republican Movement Malcolm Turnbull, Julie Bishop, Joe Hockey and Peter Costello. Supporters of the status quo include current leader and former ACM Leader, Tony Abbott, former opposition leader Brendan Nelson and Alexander Downer. Historically, however, the party has always upheld monarchism and links with Britain (see the comment by Liberal Prime Minister Menzies above).

The National party has few republicans, its former leader, Tim Fischer being the leading example. A conservative party with a rural base, its core constituency has always been strongly monarchist. As such, it remains against change as official policy.

Under former Prime Minister Howard, a monarchist, the government initiated a process to settle the republican debate, involving a constitutional convention and a referendum. Howard, who supports the status quo, says the matter was resolved by the failure of the referendum.

Australian Labor Party

Labor, which came to power near the end of 2007, has supported constitutional change to become a republic since 1991 and has incorporated republicanism into its platform. Labor currently proposes a series of plebiscites to restart the republican process. Labor spokesperson (now federal health minister) Nicola Roxon has previously said that reform will "always fail if we seek to inflict a certain option on the public without their involvement. This time round, the people must shape the debate".

Minor parties

The Australian Democrats and Australian Greens all support a move towards a republic. In the Senate, the Greens have proposed legislation to hold a plebiscite on the republic at the next federal election.


Early history

The founding of the British penal colony at Sydney Covemarker in 1788 was in the geopolitical context of the revolution in the American colonies in 1776 and a year before the French revolution of 1789. The Anti-Transportation League, a group founded in 1849 which was opposed to the transportation of convicts to Australia, argued that such a "Fenian" colony could separate from the British Empire, due to its then largely Irish Catholic make up.

Prior to Federation

John Dunmore Lang, a Presbyterian cleric and politician, published The Coming Event! Or, the United Provinces of Australia in 1850 and Freedom and Independence for the Golden Lands of Australia in 1852.

The revolt at the Eureka Stockade in 1854, was not fought to establish a republic. The writings of Raffaello Carboni, who was present at the Stockade, disputes the accusations "that have branded the miners of Ballaarat as disloyal to their QUEEN" (emphasis as in the original) . However, the incident has been used to encourage republicanism in subsequent years. The Eureka Flag appears in connection with some republican groups

A scheme proposed at the Imperial Conference of 1887 would have seen colonies taxed for the protection of the Royal Navy. The Australian delegates were highly critical of the proposal, echoing the rallying cry of the American revolution "No taxation without representation"

The Australian Republican Association (ARA) was founded in response, advocating the abolition of Governors, and their titles; the revision of the penal code; payment of members of Parliament; nationalisation of land; and an independent federal Australian republic outside of the Empire. The League held a number of public meetings. At the same time a movement emerged in favour of a "White Australia" policy; however British authorities in Whitehallmarker were opposed to segregational laws. To circumvent Westminster, those in favour of the discriminatory policies backed the proposed secession from the Empire as a republic; a move advertised and advocated by the journal The Bulletin. One attendee of the ARA meetings was the Australian-born poet, Henry Lawson. Lawson wrote his first poem, entitled A Song of the Republic in The Republican journal.

When the Republican League disrupted the Sydneymarker centenary in 1888 Anniversary Day, one visiting British statesman said "Thank God there is an English fleet in harbour"


At the Australian Federation Convention which produced the first draft that was to become the Australian Constitution in Sydney in 1891, a former Premier of New South Wales George Dibbs described as the "inevitable destiny of the people of this great country" the establishment of "the Republic of Australia".

However, the fervour of republicanism tailed off in the 1890s as the labour movement became concerned with the Federation of Australia, and which became the focus following federation in 1901.

Whitlam era

The election of a Labor Government in 1972 marked the end of a period where Australians saw themselves principally as part of the Commonwealth of Nations (formerly the British Empire). Prime Minister Gough Whitlam instituted a number of changes, including removing reference to the United Kingdom in Queen Elizabeth's Australian title on 19 October 1973, when she signed her assent to the Royal Style and Titles Act, and creating a domestic system of conferring civil and military honours. It was also during this time that Britainmarker dropped Australia's preferred economic and trade status in favour of Britain joining the European Economic Community.

The Whitlam Government ended in 1975 with a dramatic constitutional crisis in which the Queen's representative, the Governor-General (then John Kerr), dismissed Whitlam and his entire ministry, appointing Opposition Leader Malcolm Fraser in his place. This particular incident raised questions about the value of maintaining a supposedly "symbolic" office that still possessed many key, and potentially dangerous, political powers. It is notable however, that the monarch herself was not consulted in the decision to use the reserve powers and pointedly refused to intervene, claiming that she lacked authority to do so under the Australian constitution.

The Australia Act and other changes

In 1986, the Australia Act was enacted, thereafter eliminating the remaining, mainly theoretical, ties between the legislature and judiciary of the United Kingdommarker and the Australian states. It was later determined by the High Courtmarker in Sue v Hill that this legislation established Britain and Australia as independent nations sharing the same person as their relevant sovereign.

At broadly the same time, references to the monarchy were being removed from various institutions. For example, in 1993, references to the Queen were removed from the Oath of Citizenship, sworn by naturalised Australians, who would now pledge loyalty to "Australia and its people." Further, the state of Queenslandmarker deleted all references to the monarchy from its legislation, with new laws being enacted by its parliament, not the Queen, and "binding on the State of Queensland," not the Crown. Barristers in New South Walesmarker and Victoriamarker are no longer appointed Queen's Counsel (QC), but as Senior Counsel (SC), as in republics like Irelandmarker and South Africa. Institutions in Australia could also no longer apply to have a royal in their title. Many monarchists condemned these changes as moves to a "republic by stealth."

Nevertheless, all Australian Senators and Members of the House of Representatives continued to swear "to be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty" before taking their seats in parliament; as a part of the constitution, any changes to this oath could only be approved by a referendum.

Keating Government proposals

The Australian Labor Party first made republicanism its official policy in 1991, with then Prime Minister Bob Hawke describing a republic as inevitable. His successor Paul Keating actively pursued the republican agenda and established the Republic Advisory Committee to produce an options paper on issues relating to the possible transition to a republic to take effect on the centenary of federation: January 1, 2001. The Committee produced its report in 1993, and argued that "a republic is achievable without threatening Australia’s cherished democratic institutions."

In response to the report, the Prime Minister proposed a referendum on the establishment of a republic, replacing the Governor-General with a President, and removing references to the Queen. The President was to be nominated by the Prime Minister and appointed by a two-thirds majority in a joint sitting of the Senate and House of Representatives.

1998 Constitutional Convention

With change in government in 1996, Prime Minister John Howard proceeded with an alternative policy of holding a constitutional convention. This was held over two weeks in February 1998 at Old Parliament House.marker Half of the 152 delegates were elected and half were appointed by Federal and state governments. A number of convention delegates appointed by then Prime Minister, John Howard, were accused of having fixed views on retaining the monarchy. For example, in the ACTmarker, Sir David Smith and Heidi Zwar were appointed to represent the people of Canberra. Both these delegates were on the public record of holding unswerving support for the monarchy despite being appointed to articulate the views of one of Australia's most pro-republican territories. The presence of a number of such appointed delegates acted to elevate voting opposition to a republican consensus. Prime Minister Howard was able to point to their intransigent opposition as evidence of broad community concern over a move toward a republican constitution. Convention delegates were asked whether or not Australia should become a republic and which model for a republic is preferred. At the opening of the Convention, John Howard stated that if the Convention could not decide on a model to be put to a referendum, then plebiscites would be held on the model preferred by the Australian public.

At the Convention, a republic gained majority support (89 votes to 52 with 11abstentions), but the question of what model for a republic should be put to the people at a referendum produced deep divisions among republicans. Four republican models were debated: two involving direct election of the head of state; one involving appointment on the advice of the Prime Minister (the McGarvie Model); and one involving appointment by a two-thirds majority of Parliament (the bi-partisan appointment model).

The bi-partisan appointment model was eventually successful at the Convention, even though it only obtained a majority because of 22 abstentions in the final vote (57 against delegates voted against the model and 73 voted for, three votes short of an actual majority of delegates) It was put to referendum the following year. The Convention also made recommendations about a preamble to the Constitution, and a proposed preamble was also put to referendum.

According to critics, the two-week timeline and quasi-democratic composition of the convention is evidence of an attempt by John Howard to frustrate the republican cause. Although he admits to being an "unashamed royalist", the claim is one he adamantly rejects.

The 1999 Republican referendum

The 1999 Australian republic referendum was a two question referendum held in 1999. The first question asked whether Australia should become a republic with a President appointed by Parliament, a model that had previously been decided at a Constitutional Convention in February 1998. The second question, generally deemed to be far less important politically, asked whether Australia should alter the constitution to insert a preamble. Neither of the amendments passed, with 55% of all electors and all states voting 'no' to the proposed amendment.

Under the referendum proposal, the Governor-General and Queen would be replaced by one office, the President of the Commonwealth of Australia. The President would be elected by a two thirds majority of the Australian Parliament for a fixed term.

The referendum was held on 6 November 1999, after a national advertising campaign and the distribution of 12.9 million Yes/No case pamphlets. The question on a republic was defeated. It was not carried in any state and attracted 45 per cent of the total national vote. The preamble referendum question was also defeated, with a Yes vote of only 39 per cent.

Many opinions were put forward for the defeat, some relating to perceived difficulties with the Parliamentary Appointment model, others relating to the lack of public engagement or that most Australian were simply happy to keep the status quo. Some republicans voted no because they did not agree with provisions such as the President being instantly dismissable by the Prime Minister.

The 2004 Senate Inquiry

On 26 June 2003, the Senate referred an Inquiry into an Australian Republic to the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee. During 2004, the committee reviewed 730 submissions and conducted hearings in all state capitals. The Committee tabled its report called Road to a Republic on 31 August 2004.

The report examined the contest between minimalist and direct-election models and gave attention to hybrid models such as the Electoral College Model, the Constitutional Council Model and models having both an elected President and a Governor-General.

The bi-partisan recommendations of committee supported educational initiatives and holding a series of plebiscites to allow the public to choose which model they preferred, prior to a final draft and referendum, along the lines of plebiscites proposed by John Howard at the 1998 Constitutional Convention.

2006 and Queen's visit

Issues related to republicanism were raised by the March 2006 visit to Australia by Queen Elizabeth II. Then Prime Minister John Howard was questioned at the time by British journalists about the future of the monarchy in Australia, and there was debate about playing God Save the Queen during the opening of the Commonwealth Games. By 2007 comments in the media questioned the public interest in the subject; writing in The Australian Financial Review, Lenore Taylor stated that republicanism in Australia was "on life support."

Current status

There are no current plans for a second referendum. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who described himself as a "life-long republican", stated "our position in support of a republic is clear and I would fully look forward to there being a spirited animated debate during the course of this year and beyond on our future Constitutional arrangements and that includes the republic... these questions are a matter of time and due process." The current leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott, supports the status quo and previously served as Executive Director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy. Both the Australian Republican Movement and opponent monarchist groups, such as Australians for Constitutional Monarchy remain active. In May 2008, a Morgan poll found 45% believe Australia should become a republic with an elected president, while 42% support Australia remaining a monarchy and 13% are undecided. By November 2009 support for an Australian republic had increased to 59%.

Some Australians, such as Peter Costello and Bob Hawke, and the Federal opposition, argue there will be no change to a republic while Queen Elizabeth II reigns. The Queen is remarkably popular throughout the British Commonwealth, and her personal esteem and popularity has been credited with helping the Monarchy survive the challenges of republicanism, the Annus Horriblius of 1992, and the crisis surrounding the death of Princess Diana when the MORI Poll in Britain suggested that upwards of one in four people in Britain would prefer a Republic.

Opponents of holding non-binding plebiscites include monarchist David Flint, who described this process as "inviting a vote of no confidence in one of the most successful constitutions in the world," and minimalist republican Greg Craven, who states "a multi-option plebiscite inevitably will produce a direct election model, precisely for the reason that such a process favours models with shallow surface appeal and multiple flaws. Equally inevitably, such a model would be doomed at referendum."


  1. The way forward, P. Keating [1]
  2. Monarchy v Republic, P. Costello from Options editor C. Pyne[2]
  3. Official Committee Hansard, Senate, Legal and Constitutional References Committee, 13 April 2004, Sydney, p21 [3]
  4. Address by Frank Cassidy Part of "Australia Consults" community debates, Saturday 25 January 1997: Source
  5. Road to a republic, p5[4]
  6. The birth of the Republic of Australia, B. Peach 6 May 2005[5]
  7. Road to a republic, p6[6]
  8. Neville Bonner; speech to the Constitutional Convention; 4 February, 1998
  9. Knightley, Philip. Australia: A Biography of a Nation. London: Vintage (2001).
  10. Rickard, John. Australia: A Cultural History. London: Longman (1996)
  11. Ibid.
  12. Knightley. Australia (2001), p. 344
  13. Rickard. Australia (1996).
  14. Road to a Republic, p5[7]
  15. Road to a Republic, p106[8]
  16. The Captive Republic : A History of Republicanism in Australia 1788-1996 (Studies in Australian History) Mark McKenna
  17. RC:108,153
  18. No Republic! Australians for Constitutional Monarchy Eureka Australia's Historical Distraction
  19. British Imperialism and Australian Nationalism: Manipulation, Chapter 6. Luke Trainer, 1994
  20. Flint, David; A White Republic; December 9, 2006
  21. The Captive Republic : A History of Republicanism in Australia 1788-1996 (Studies in Australian History) Mark McKenna
  22. British Imperialism and Australian Nationalism: Manipulation, Chapter 5. Luke Trainer, 1994
  23. Justice Kirby: The Australian Republican Referendum 1999 Ten Lessons, 3 March 2000 Source
  24. Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard Address by the Prime Minister to the Opening session of the Constitutional Convention, Old Parliament House, Canberra, Monday, 2 February 1998
  25. ABC: Constitutional Convention website- results
  27. Taylor, Lenore; The Australian Financial Review: Long Live Our Noble Queen; 9-10 June, 2007
  28. >


  • An Australian republic: The options: the report of the Republic Advisory Committee, Parliamentary paper / Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia (1993)
  • Booker, M., A Republic of Australia: What Would it Mean, Left Book Club Co-operative Ltd, Sydney (1992)
  • Costella, John P., A Republic For All Australians (2004) online version
  • Flint,David, The Cane Toad Republic Wakefield Press (1999)
  • Goot, Murray, "Contingent Inevitability: Reflections on the Prognosis for Republicanism" (1994) in George Winterton (ed), We, the People: Australian Republican Government (1994), pp 63–96
  • Hirst, J., A Republican Manifesto, Oxford University Press (1994)
  • Keating, P. J., An Australian Republic: The Way Forward, Australian Government Publishing Service (1995)
  • McGarvie, Richard E., Democracy: Choosing Australia's Republic (1999)
  • McKenna, Mark, The Captive Republic: A History of Republicanism in Australia 1788–1996 (1998)
  • McKenna, Mark, The Traditions of Australian Republicanism (1996) online version
  • McKenna, Mark, The Nation Reviewed (March 2008, The Monthly) online version
  • Stephenson, M. and Turner, C. (eds.), Australia Republic or Monarchy? Legal and Constitutional Issues, University of Queensland Press (1994)
  • Warden, J., "The Fettered Republic: The Anglo American Commonwealth and the Traditions of Australian Political Thought," Australian Journal of Political Science, Vol. 28, 1993. pp. 84–85.
  • Wark, McKenzie, The Virtual Republic: Australia's Culture Wars of the 1990s (1998)
  • Winterton, George (ed), We, the People: Australian Republican Government, Allen & Unwin (1994),
  • Woldring, Klaas, Australia: Republic or US Colony? (2006)

See also

External links

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