January 19

Republicans: Take president, republic out of referendum question. Nicola Roxon: Why?


 Who wanted the words  ‘president ‘ and ‘republic’ taken out of the referendum question so the people would not notice them?  It was the republican movement's leaders, Malcolm Turnbull and Greg Barns.

Can you imagine what  their polling and focus groups been telling them? 

Now some leading republicans*  are saying ACM invented this story. 
This is typical of their  knee-jerk reaction these days.

The standard response in recent times has been to say that ACM is lying.  The latests example is about the large number of visitors to our sites and the number of fans or ”likes” following our Facebook.

So, without any evidence whatoever, they say we are going to a US site which they say sells them. We have never before heard of it. The offical ARM Facebook page repeats this.
More seriously, they have libelled some leading opinion pollsters, impugning their integrity.   They say we paid them for their polling results on the monarchy.


This behaviour reached a crescendo with their attack when we recalled the well established fact that the Irish Republican Army’s leader Gerry Adams came to Australia and campaigned in the republican referendum.

We had in 1999 unsuccessfully called on the ARM to distance itself from such support, particularly given the murder of two young Australians by the IRA in the Netherlands.

The ARM’s then media chief and deputy president David Donovan sent this email to me:

"When did Gerry Adams come to Australia in 1999 and when did he ask Australians to vote yes to the referendum? No one seems to be able to find any record of either event.

Are you quite mad, a habitual liar or just an idiot? "

This was despite the fact that while in Australia campaigning for the  republican Yes case, Adams had delivered a lecture at the University of New South Wales, attended a champagne reception offered by a republican Lord Mayor, was interviewed by the ABC and that his comments were reported in the Sun Herald and other newspapers.

The Australian newspaper then confirmed that they had had no difficulty at all in ascertaining that Gerry Adams was in fact in Australia in 1999.

Apparently Mr Donovan had relied on the research of the New Zealand republican leader, Mr  Lewis Holden.

…ARM official request that  the words ‘president’ and ‘republic’ be removed from the referendum question….

The NZ republican leader, Mr Holden, then claimed that ACM was lying when we recalled that  Malcolm Turnbull had wanted to remove two words from the 1999 referendum question.

The words were “president” and “republic”.   Mr. Holden says this could not have happened. Why? Because Malcolm Turnbull does not mention it in his book about the campaign.  If we were writing vaudeville, we could not have anything better than this.

…Hansard – and a video record…

A glance at the Hansard report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on 5 July 1999 shows that we are correct.

Now, here’s the coup de grâce. We have two videos which support this. 

In the first you can  hear Mr. Turnbull proposing an amended question in which the words “president” and “republic” are deleted.


In the second he is challenged about this by  leading republican and now Attorney General, Nicola Roxon.


…Why have you dropped those words asks republican Nicola Roxon…



Clearly concerned by his proposal to remove the two words, the ‘passionate’ republican MP nicola Roxon, now Attorney General in the Gillard Government, pins Malcolm Turnbull down at the hearing:

"I have noticed that in your suggested change you have also dropped the reference to a republic….The other thing is that I have noticed you use ‘Australia’s head of state’, rather than ‘President’…..

Mr. Turnbull gives a long, convoluted and entirely unconvincing answer. It is clear that he wants the two words removed. But this does not convince his supporters who are upset by this.

...torrent of ridicule..
His proposal was greeted by a torrent of ridicule and condemnation by his republican supporters, especially those in the media.

“Turnbull’s republic strategy: please don’t mention the President,” and “Republicans Running Away from Their Republic” screamed The Australian the next morning.

This was extremely damaging for the republican movement. The reaction was the same across the normally supportive republican media.

The Canberra Times heaped ridicule on them. Their headline recalled the BBC comedy, Fawlty Towers. 

“Don’t mention the republic,” they sneered.

Kerry Jones tells how the story about republicans not wanting their republic was also a hot topic on talk back radio for days (The People's Protest, 2000, pp.161-162).

Malcolm Turnbull was no doubt warned that the momentum from this could destroy the Yes case.

Finally as Sir David Smith later briefed the nation's federalist think tank, The Samuel Griffith Society: 

“Two days later, responding to the ridicule and condemnation which resulted, Turnbull changed his submission to the Parliamentary Committee and conceded that these terms might stay.

“He proposed instead that the question refer to the President replacing the Queen as Head of State.”

The republican media were no doubt greatly relieved that Mr.Turnbull has seen sense and the attacks on talk back would end.

They knew that if this continued public opinion could swing further against the Yes case.

Hold it: republic’s back in question,” declared The Australian on 8 July, 1999. Indeed  

*[This was on a site edited by a leading member of the republican movement.  A member of  their national controlling body and until recently their media director and deputy president, he is  Mr. David Donovan. The comments were writtenby Mr. Lewis Holden, who heads the New Zealand republican movement.]


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