June 11

The 1999 referendumquestion- was it misleading?

A story has long circulated , and is in the process of becoming something of the equivalent of  an urban myth. This is  that the question in the 1999 referendum campaign was misleading, or in the ill advised words of no less than the Victorian Governor, in the Melbourne Herald Sun of 10 June, 2006 :"At the last referendum some of the questions weren’t asked as clearly as one could have."

There was in fact only one question about a republic on the ballot paper. Under this statement  : “A proposed law to alter the Constitution to establish the Commonwealth of Australia as a republic with the Queen and the Governor-General being replaced by a President appointed by a two thirds majority of the members of the Parliament, ” voters were  asked “Do you approve of this proposed alteration?”


The two principal protagonists had each proposed change.


 ACM pointed out tow errors of fact in the question. The President, at least in relation to his appointment at least, would  not replace The Queen-the politicians would. Nor would he replace The Queen as to his dismissal, the prime minister would. The question, we argued should not only refer to the mode of appointment, but also the crucial mode of dismissal. As we pointed out, this was the only republic in the world, or in history, where it would be easier for the prime minister to sack the president than his cook.

Mr. Turnbull and Mr. Barns, for the republican movement, to the amazement of the nation, and the ridicule even of the republican media, asked for two words to be removed : “republic” and ”president”.

The question, while inadequate, was clear. Every voter had received a document setting out the arguments from both sides.  The matter was widely debated in the media. Comment was overwhelmingly in favour of a yes vote. To say the people were misled by the question is a furphy to negate the overwhelming defeat of the referendum.










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