January 2

Correcting republican attempts to re-write history

In this excellent letter which appeared in The West Australian on 26 December, 2007, Neil C Fearis, the Chairman of the Western Australian Division of ACM, corrects republican attempts to rewite history:

" Sir

In attacking John Howard for "deliberately muddying the water" during the 1999 republic referendum Jim King displays an unfamiliarity with the process of constitutional reform in Australia, as well as an ignorance of the events leading up to that referendum ("Time for a new republic vote", Letters, 18/12).

Under the Australian Constitution, a republic can only come about through a referendum in which the people vote on a specific republic model and approve specific amendments to the Constitution necessary to give effect to that model. To imply, as Mr King appears to, that Mr Howard somehow denied Australians the opportunity to vote for a republic is to miss this fundamental point.

Republicans like Mr King would prefer the Australian people to be asked to vote in favour of "a" republic without telling them what form of republic is on offer. As Mr King puts it, "we can sort out the nuts and bolts down the track". This is tantamount to asking people to cast a vote of no confidence in our present Constitution without giving them any idea of what would replace it – beyond a vague notion that the Governor-General would be re-badged as "President".

Mr King seems to be unaware that the republic model that was put to voters at the 1999 referendum was chosen by delegates to the Constitutional Convention held the previous year, an overwhelming majority of whom were republicans.

That model was vigorously promoted by the Australian Republican Movement and supported during the referendum campaign by big business, the trade unions, all of the mainstream political parties (with the exception of the Nationals and sections of the Liberal Party), prominent academics and churchmen, sporting and show business personalities, and the electronic and print media – with the notable and honourable exception of your newspaper.

Despite this support, the model was emphatically rejected by the Australian people in the referendum, with every State and Territory (with the exception of the ACT) voting "No". Ironically, Mr Howard's own electorate of Bennelong voted "Yes", whilst Brand, the seat of then Opposition Leader and staunch republican Kim Beazley, voted "No" by a large majority.

Mr King expresses surprise that the republic issue never got a big mention in the recent Federal Election campaign. The explanation may be very simple: politicians on all sides recognise that whatever their personal views, and whatever may be the level of support in the community for a republic in principle, opinion polls show that an overwhelming majority of Australians regard the republic issue as having a very low priority in their lives and have no wish to re-visit the issue in the near future. In short, they have concluded that if our present Constitution ain't broke, don't fix it.

Yours faithfully, etc"




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