The report to the Senate of the Finance and Public Administration Committee was tabled on 15 June. The Committee’s two recommendations, which are rather innocuous, are set out below. They are for a better informed electorate. ACM is the only organisation which has been taking initiatives to achieve this. This resulted in a completely unsubstantiated attack on ACM by the Hon. Lindsay Tanner, now Minister for Finance. Made under parliamentary privilege, and found to be completely baseless by the Tax Office, he has not even apologised.
As to plebiscites, ACM has been alone in consistently arguing from the time the republicans first proposed a series of cascading plebiscites and referenda in 2000, that this was grossly irresponsible.
We said it invited a vote of no confidence in one of the world’s most successful constitutional systems, without putting anything in its place. If carried it would lead to a long period of constitutional instability.
ACM’s submission to the Committee has been described by an informed Canberra observer as the most substantial and comprehensivel. We regularly reminded supporters to put in submissions and posted a short model submission on our site. It is pleasing to read so many of their names among the list of submissions. The Report is available on the Parliamentary site.
It is of course highly unlikely the Senate will pass the Plebiscite for an Australian Republic Bill. Although the government is formally committed to some sort of vague politicians’ republic, the government believes a referendum is doomed. A plebiscite held at the time of the next election would be distracting, and the result cannot be assured. This is so no matter how well the spin doctors word the question. Reliable polling, confirmed no doubt by any secret polling and focus groups, suggests support for some vague politicians’ republic is at its lowest level in years.
Extracts of the appearance by the ACM National Convenor Professor David Flint and Executive Director Thomas Flynnn can be seen on Aussie Crown TV and are embedded below.
The committee's conclusions
6.1 The Plebiscite for an Australian Republic Bill 2008 inquiry received 249 submissions from a wide range of involved stakeholders and private citizens reflecting both the level and scope of public interest in the issues surrounding Australia's constitutional arrangements and reform including an Australian republic.
6.2 The committee appreciates that the question of an Australian republic is one in which there is a wide range of views and well-established positions on both sides of the debate. However, the one issue on which there was consensus amongst witnesses regardless of their views on a republic and of the bill in question was that there is a need for greater public education and awareness in relation to Australia's constitutional system.
6.3 In light of the evidence before it, the committee recognises the importance of improving the understanding of Australia's constitutional arrangements. The committee takes the view that such awareness would, in turn, enable greater community engagement and provide for a more informed public debate about any future constitutional reform including a republic. The committee maintains therefore, that if Australians are to be active participants in making decisions about the future of the country, they need to be fully informed about the current constitutional context in order to understand the ramifications of any proposed reform including steps towards a republic.
6.4 The committee has noted the recommendations of the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee in relation to public education and awareness raising and specifically its first recommendation. The committee is also of the view that programs should be established to provide for general constitutional education and awareness.
Recommendation 1 6.5 The committee recommends the establishment of an ongoing public awareness campaign on Australia's constitutional system which engages as wide a range of the public as possible.
6.6 In response to evidence highlighting the importance of Australians being consulted and involved in any process leading towards a future Australian republic, (including the view that there was inadequate public ownership in relation to the 1999 referendum), the committee recommends that any such future process engage Australians to the fullest extent possible.
Recommendation 2 6.7 The committee recommends that if any further process advocating constitutional change is undertaken, including that of a republic, it seek to encourage Australians to engage meaningfully in the debate.
Senator Helen PolleyChair