Mar 23

Next Referendum In View - it's really happening!

Momentous day for federal constitutional change in Australia as the Prime Minister announces the draft question to be put to referendum later this year to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and enshrine their Voice to Parliament in the Constitution. It's 24 years since this has happened, all the way back to the first republic referendum in 1999. The single question of principle is yet to be debated in draft legislation to pass through the federal parliament by June following reference to a parliamentary committee for an inquiry lasting six weeks.  The Constitutional Alteraration bill is due to be tabled in the House of Representatives on 30 March. The precise form of The Voice and its operations will be decided by federal Parliament after the referendum vote. An exciting and inspiring day as this also takes us one step closer to the Republic referendum expected by 2028 if the current Government is returned for a second term. For full dertails of the recognition question and the actual changes it will make the Constitution, click on the link. ["We now know exactly what question the Voice referendum will ask Australians. A constitutional law expert explains" by Professor Anne Twomey, The Conversation online, 24 March 2023]

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Mar 22

Referendum Machinery Act - immediate campaign priority for republicans

The amended Referendum Machinery (Provisions) Act 1984 passes the Senate after two weeks of intense - and probably somewhat brutal - negotiations following initial tabling in the House of Representatives on 1 December 2022 and a short inquiry by the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Matters. The inquiry attracted 78 submissions about half of which dealt with the provisions of the Act and suggested a wide range of improvements. In the end, the Government did a deal with the Opposition which had voted against the bill in the House to secure their support, Stage 1 of getting bipartisan unity on YES to the actual referendum question.

To about 40 pages of consequential amendments arising from changes to electoral laws since 1999, eg allowing pre-poll and postal voting, were added a large number of amendments in the Senate including those tabled by the Government reflecting agreements with the Opposition principally reinstatement of the section providing for a YES/NO case pamphlet written by politicians as well as making provision to spend $9.5m on a neutral education campaign and adding a 72 hour media blackout (does not apply to social media). A large number of highly desirable amendments proposed by the Senate crossbench to enable maximum participation by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, on the day enrolment and more controls over donations including monitoring in real time were rejected because, with the Coalition's support, the Government did not need to deal with the crossbench to pass the bill.

Still the Act is crying out for further improvement. There just has to be a better way to replace the contentious pamphlet with the provision of neutral, vetted information for all voters (it is be scrutinised by a new parliamentary committee this time but that's hardly reassuring). It is also clear that the Government made problems for itself by not revealing all of its plans at the time of initial tabling particularly in relation to the pamphlet, funding and the civics program so preparation was sloppy or just poor political judgement. A total rethink of the conduct of referendums must be an immediate priority for republic campaigners and the Act redrafted for fairness, maximum participation and modernised in readiness for the next one. The article below contains some further commentary on the outcome of the bills passing and the desirability of making further changes outside the heat of an impending referendum campaign. ["The referendum rules have been decided. What does this mean for the Voice?" by Dr Paul Kildea, The Conversation online, 24 March 2023]

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Mar 21

Female Co-Chair for ARM

 ARM announces that Nova Peris, well known athlete, former Senator for the NT and Indigenous campaigner has been chosen as its first female co-chair, a new position created last week when ARM's constitution was changed. Two of the three top office holders at ARM are now women. The new Deputy Chair is Meredith Doig who is in her second term on ARM's National Council until late 2024.  This is long overdue change initiated by recently elected ARM chair, Craig Foster (who is now also a co-chair) with the vast majority of the 200 members voting in favour and will materially assist ARM to get its message through to women voters.

Quick Info

For a brief but useful guide to republicanism in Australia, see the entry in Wikipedia

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Woman for an Australian Republic, Adelaide Ironside, republican poet and artist, 1831-1867

Self portrait 1855, Newcastle Region Art Gallery NSW

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Senate Inquiry

Report of Senate Inquiry into the Republic Plebiscite Bill released 15 June 2009

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