The announcement on 8 November, 2010 by the Prime Minister of a referendum on the recognition of Aborigines in the Constitution recalls her observations on referendums immediately prior to the 2010 election.
From the video channel of the National Times, www.media.smh.com.au, 16th August 2010, in the final part of her discussion with The Age, Prime Minister Julia Gillard talks about constitutional change.
….The 1999 referendum…
A referendum must be approved in a Bill normally passed by the two Houses of Parliament. Accordingly the people will see all of the details of the proposed changes to the Constitution before they vote.
This process, taken from Switzerland, should be contrasted with the plebiscite widely used in the French Revolution and by the two Napoleons. In plebiscites the details are given after the people vote and therefore are wide open to abuse.
The republican movement is campaigning for the use of the plebiscite in Australia.
They are however divided over the number, depending on how the president is to be chosen. This was illustrated when a senate committee divided on this very issue, with Senator Marise Payne dissenting on the number of plebsicites. She was so persuaded by Professor Greg Craven, who along with many prominent republicans is strongly opposed to an elected presidency.
In fact most say they prefer the status quo to an elected presidency. Australia’s republicans remain strongly divided on the form of a politicians' republic.
The 1999 referendum was about two issues.
The first was whether or not Australia should become a republic, or rather, a politicians’ republic.
On 6 November, voters were asked this question:
Do you approve of an Act 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 republican movement had earlier attempted to have the words 'President' and 'republic" removed from the question. ACM had proposed that the power of the PM to remove the President without notice, without reason and without appeal should be included.
Voters were asked to vote 'yes' or 'no'.
The form of the politicians’ republic was the choice of the overwhelming majority of elected republican delegates at the 1998 Constitutional Convention. It was the specific choice of the republican movement, which campaigned for it at the referendum.
The referendum was supported by only 45.13% of the national vote and was also defeated in every state.
….1999 referendum: second question…
In this referendum, voters also decided whether to add a new Preamble to the Constitution. A Preamble to the Constitution Act already exists and was to remain.
The proposed Preamble was:
With hope in God, the Commonwealth of Australia is constituted as a democracy with a federal system of government to serve the common good.
We the Australian people commit ourselves to this Constitution:
proud that a unity has been forged by Australians from many ancestries;
never forgetting the sacrifices of all who defended our country and our liberty in time of war;
upholding freedom, tolerance, individual dignity and the rule of law;
honouring Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, the nation's first people, for their deep kinship with their lands and for their ancient and continuing cultures which enrich the life of our country;
recognising the nation-building contribution of generations of immigrants;
mindful of our responsibility to protect our unique natural environment;
supportive of achievement as well as equality of opportunity for all; and valuing independence as dearly as the national spirit which binds us together in both adversity and success.
This referendum was supported by only 39.34% of the national vote and was also defeated in every state. It did not gain majority support in either mainland territory.