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Australia and the World Summary

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Summary of Week 5 Tutorial Reading

In ‘This Time’, Benjamin Jones analyses the fundamental reasons as to why Australia lost the Referendum of 1999, which involved the vote on whether Australia should become a republic, or resume its position as a federation. The author explores the complex politics and republican division that ensued prior and post 1999 referendum, in which he argues altered the outcome of the vote, and thus resulted in its failure.

Jones chronicles the movements towards Australia becoming republican such as the Australian Republican Movement (ARM) and the major weight of Paul Keating in its founding, the role of opposition including the Australians for Constitutional Monarchy (ACM) and influence of the latter prime minister John Howard. The author notes that the fundamental reason that the referendum lost was “simply that many republicans voted no” (p.76). Jones highlights the large support for Australia becoming a republic through the AGB McNair poll that suggested “76 percent of Australians would answer yes” (p.83) to an Australian individual becoming head of state.  

In 1993 the Republic Advisory Committee (RAC) was established by Keating, this saw a minimal constitutional change approach, involving the removal of the monarchy and the institution of an Australian as head of state. This model was supported by the ARM and believed to most likely be the model carried out in a referendum. This saw a republic coalition working in unison. However, the following year Howard was elected into parliament. Jones emphasises that in hindsight “this was the moment the republic ceased to be inevitable” (p.82). Howard initially held support of the referendum, however his sentiments changed, and in 1996 he insisted a referendum would “negatively distort the present system” (p.83). Further, the Howard government’s refusal to hold a republican plebiscite resulted in the Constitutional Convention meeting at Old Parliament House in 1998. This involved the debate on which republican model should be offered in a referendum. Three variations were considered and an elimination-style voting system was employed. Howard announced the ARM model as the winner and agreed to put a referendum to the Australian people. In addition, Jones highlights this as the crucial reason for the failure of the Referendum as “Howards request for a consensus, rather than a majority…allowed him to go straight to a referendum” (p.87). This created a division between reformist and minimalist republicans. Consequently, many supporters of a non- ARM republicans voted no in the referendum, as they were led to believe a “subsequent direct election would…follow” (p.88). The author believes that this common-belief managed to convince many republicans to vote no and resulted in its ultimate failure. He concludes that a lesson be learnt in its failure and that republicans “must want change more than they want their particular model” (p.93).

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