Hot Topics

Opinion polls over the last few years have consistently shown that women are less likely than men to support a republic for Australia

  1. Which model favours women presidents - bipartisan appointment or direct election?
  2. What happened to the Presidential Nominations Committee Bill?
  3. The final version of the Preamble
  4. The "YES....and MORE" Campaign [To article]
  5. The Controversy over the wording and content of the Preamble; public comment closed 30 April 1999. [To article]
  6. Legislation for the Republic introduced into the House of Representatives, 10 June 1999 [To article]
  7. More information about Conservatives for An Australian Head of State. [To article]

1.     Which model favours women presidents - bipartisan appointment or direct election?

The debate is now public with differing views among women about whether the parliamentary appointment model or direct election will produce women Presidents for the people of Australia.

Below find Women for an Australian Republic’s letter to The Australian of 22 October which had top billing in Letters to the Editor supporting parliamentary appointment as the only way to get women up as President; views from young Sydney women involved in the YES case responding to Jocelynne’s Scutt’s article in The Australian of 18 October and Dr Scutt’s opinions that started it all.

Letter to the Editor from Women for an Australian Republic

YES means woman president more likely.

Jocelynne Scutt is mistaken when she claims that direct election will produce women presidents.

Direct election as currently understood will be an undignified and competitive free-for-all to determine the most popular candidate.

The fact that we will all be able to nominate possible presidents to the Presidential Nominations Committee means that the selection process proposed in the republican model is a consensus one leading to a mature and sensible outcome. It’s a women’s way of doing things.

A woman will find it extremely hard to get up in a direct election due to Australians’ habit of revering men as leaders and heroes. Indigenous women and women from the smaller states or territories will stand no chance.

If the YES case wins, women’s groups will be working hard to ensure that the first president is a woman. We know that our best chance to achieve this aim is the model on offer on 6 November.

We find it odd that Dr Scutt, Tasmania’s new anti-discrimination commissioner, advocates a NO vote which will lumber our country with that most sexist of institutions, the British monarchy.

Sarah Brasch

Convenor

Women for an Australian Republic

Weston ACT

 

Young women in Sydney, Rebecca Huntley and Julie Smith, working on the YES media campaign did not agree with Jocelynne Scutt’s comments about direct election.

This excerpt is from Stephanie Peatling’s article in the Sydney Morning Herald on 19 October.

..."Neither Ms Huntley nor Ms Smith agree with the statements made yesterday by the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Jocelynne Scutt, who said the model to be voted on on November 6 would leave women out in the cold.

"There is a large pool of women out there without party political connections who would be suitable for the president’s role, such as Lowitja O’Donoghue, and who could be nominated via the committee system, whereas with the direct election model you actually need the party machine more because of the time and money that is needed in that type of campaign," Ms Huntley says.

"This model is our greatest chance to get someone different, someone who is a woman or is from an ethnic background. With the changing nature of women in the public arena, the future of the republic is with women."

Ms Smith says people who believe that the prime minister in a republic would be able to sack the president do not have faith in the current system of government.

"The prime minister would be accountable to the Parliament and to the committee who put forward the nominations. People who debate against this model show they don’t have faith in this system now."

 

Dr Jocelynne Scutt was a participant is The Australian’s Town Hall meeting series of debates on the republic in Hobart on 17 October. She followed up the views that she expressed at that meeting with this article in The Australian on 18 October. Dr Scutt is Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Commissioner.

Black and bright but will it count?

Glowing with intelligence and wit, a young Aboriginal Tasmanian, Kathryn Hay, earlier this year became Miss Australia.

But is there any chance of a Tasmanian woman - or any Australian woman - becoming president of Australia? Under the November 6 referendum, very little. The Australian Republican Movement and the political parties want to limit women’s chances.

They say our "only chance" for a republic is to vote YES to the prime minister choosing the president, with endorsement by a two-thirds majority of parliament. Yet in all Australia’s history, no prime minister has ever chosen a woman or an indigenous Australian as governor-general.

Preselection of indigenous Australians has been limited so that only two have ever gained parliamentary seats. Why then would the prime minister, leader of the opposition and two-thirds of the members of parliament choose and endorse a woman or indigenous Australian as head of state?

At the Constitutional Convention, women rarely figured prominently as ARM spokespeople. If the ARM, the Australian Labor Party, Andrew Robb’s business group haven’t seen the importance of women’s voices throughout the debate, and see minimal relevance for our voices now, who would believe that they would see it otherwise when it comes to a president speaking for Australia?

Of course, we need a republic. Why? Because the existing system no longer reflects who we are as people, what Australia is and stands for, or our aspirations. We want to have a say in who is our head of state. We want to claim for all Australians the right to have, as our representative, a person who is an Australian citizen.

Why vote NO on November 6? It is not designed to give us the republic we want. Some in the YES camp say that if the referendum wins, there will be a Constitutional Convention within two years to review the two-thirds system. Yet this is unlikely, for a prime minister, parliament and president will hardly agree to reviewing an office operating for only two, three or even five years.

The powers of the president were never the subject of debate at the Constitutional Convention. Voting YES now means saying YES to powers we’ve never debated and YES to the so-called reserve powers which John Kerr manufactured to dismiss the democratically-elected government of Australian in 1975.

I refuse to be pushed into saying YES when I agree with half the question only.

2.    What happened to the Presidential Nominations Committee Bill?

"The Presidential Nominations Committee bill was introduced into the House of Representatives in mid June along with the other two referendum bills - one to alter the Constitution for the Republic, the other on the Preamble.

There was a Second Reading Speech. Then the matter was suspended without debate. The reason why this happened is because the bill does not need to be dealt with until the vote for the republic is successful. If the YES vote wins on 6 November, debate will recommence to make this process law (with possible amendments in the Senate) for the selection of the first President of Australia in time for 1 January 2001.

If the YES case wins, women's groups including WfaAR will assume their lobbying in earnest to ensure that women are properly involved in this process and can participate equally in the Public Nominations Committee's operations and deliberations."

3. The Final Version of the Preamble

On 11 August, the Prime Minister read his revised version of the Preamble to the House of Representatives and announced that it would be put to the vote at the 6 November referendum. Here is the new text:

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 our national 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.

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4.    The "YES....and MORE" Campaign

On 21 July, the YES....and MORE Coalition was launched in Sydney. This group opposes the current minimalist republican model but will argue for a YES vote on 6 November as the first step to achieving more radical constitutional change, including direct election of the President.

The Coalition is formed by prominent members of direct election groups at the 1998 Constitutional Convention including Dr Pat O'Shane (former senior public servant and magistrate from Sydney) from A Just Republic; Ms Moira Rayner (former Victorian EEO Commissioner and lawyer from Melbourne) from A Real Republic. They are joined by the Reverend Tim Costello also from A Real Republic, Baptist minister and brother of the federal Treasurer also from Melbourne.

Ms Rayner said there was a risk that the momentum for change could be lost if the NO vote got up in November.

The Coalition also includes representatives from green groups, churches and unions.

They will call on voters to vote YES but also write "and MORE" or place a sticker on the ballot paper showing their support for further constitutional change.

For more information on Yes and ....More click here

5.    The Preamble Controversy

The draft preamble proposed by the Prime Minister has had a stormy reception. Women are shocked and appalled by the reference to "mateship" which is an overtly masculine concept of a past Australia (see Section on the Preamble in News Updates).

The Constitution Amendment (Preamble) Bill provides for the insertion of a new preamble in the Constitution. It will be located just after the title of the Constitution. Check out the draft legislation and explanatory statement at www.dpmc.gov.au  and click on Referendum.

The existing preamble, contained in the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 (an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom) rather than in the Australian Constitution itself, will remain - as recommended by the Constitutional Convention.

The draft preamble drafted by the Prime Minister, assisted by Les Murray (Australian poet), Professor Geoffrey Blainey and senior advisers in his office is shown below:

"With hope in God, the Commonwealth of Australian is constituted by the equal sovereignty of all of its citizens.

The Australian nation is woven together of people from many ancestries and arrivals.

Our vast island continent has helped to shape the destiny of our Commonwealth and the spirit of its people.

Since time immemorial our land has been inhabited by Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, who are honoured for their ancient and continuing cultures.

In every generation immigrants have brought great enrichment to our nation’s life.

Australians are free to be proud of their country and heritage, free to realise themselves as individuals, and free to pursue their hopes and ideals. We value excellence as well as fairness, independence as dearly as mateship.

Australia’s democratic and federal system of government exists under law to preserve and protect all Australians in an equal dignity which may never be infringed by prejudice or fashion or ideology nor invoked against achievement.

In this spirit we, the Australian people, commit ourselves to this Constitution."

The Constitution Centenary Foundation announced in early March 1999, the results of its Preamble Quest in which 383 people participated. The published report ‘We the people of Australia....’ contains suggested versions of the preamble (the published contributions by women are shown in our Preamble Section) and the results of the questionnaire about desired inclusions in the preamble (Appendix 4). Refer to the CCF website at www.centenary.org.au

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6. Legislation for the Republic Referendum

There is one bill covering the changes to the current Constitution which will be necessary if Australia becomes a republic:

Constitution Alteration (Establishment of Republic Bill) 1999

A separate bill addressing the process for public nomination of the President will be considered by the Parliament at the same time as it considers the changes necessary to the Constitution to establish the Commonwealth of Australia as a republic:

Presidential Nominations Committee Bill 1999

This provides for a committee of 32 people, half parliamentarians and half members of the community to provide suitable nominations for the President to the Prime Minister.

If passed by Parliament, the final version of the Constitution Alteration (Establishment of Republic) 1999 will be put to the referendum.

The Presidential Nominations Committee Bill 1999 is not part of the referendum question on the republic nor will there be a question about the process for nomination. The content of this bill draws directly from the voting at the Constitutional Convention in 1998 about how the President should be selected by calling for public nominations, the drawing up a shortlist of candidates to be presented to the Prime Minister and how the President can be dismissed.

The Government introduced both bills into the House of Representatives on 10 June from where they will be referred to a Joint Select Committee having representatives from both Houses of the Federal Parliament (see News item of 21 May).

There are few changes in these bills from the drafts which the Government circulated earlier in the year for public comment.

The new Section 62 of the Constitution which deals with the dismissal of the President now provides that if the House of Representatives does not approve the Prime Minister's decision to dismiss the President - on which it has to decide within 30 days - then the President is not reinstated. This seems to imply that a new Presidential selection process would be conducted and that the dismissed President is eligible for reappointment, although in practice this would be highly unlikely given that the Prime Minister would be in the position of then reappointing the person which she or he had just dismissed.

Despite the lobbying done by women in response to the request for public comments, the Presidential Nominations Committee Bill does not contain any gender specific provisions for either the composition of the Committee itself (requested as 50% men and 50% women) or the shortlist of names to be submitted to the Prime Minister (requested as at least half to be women). There is provision retained in Section 22 that the Presidential Nominations Committee when considering nominations or preparing its report must consider a) the diversity of the Australian community and b) the ability of the nominees to command the respect and support of the Australian community.

Women for an Australian Republic considers that the first of these provisions can be interpreted as more likely to refer to the ethnic diversity of the country rather than the fact that women make up more than 50% of the population while the second may not necessarily act in the favour of women nominated and may be a convenient provision for women candidates to be excluded at various stages of the Committee's considerations especially when there is no requirement that at least half the Committee itself be female. WfaAR is disappointed that gender specific provisions have not been included in this bill at appropriate points.

The Joint Select Committee invites public comments on the legislation. Please e-mail to republic@aph.gov.au   This committee is required to report by 9 August and the bills must pass both Houses of Parliament by 20 August to meet the Government's preferred date of 6 November for the referendum.

For further information about both bills, we suggest that you access the following sources of information. They are listed in increasing order of complexity:

1. For general information about the contents of the legislation and a summary about where things relating to the referendum are at generally, refer to www.dpmc.gov.au/referendum

2. Refer to the thorough, but easy to understand analysis of both bills on the Constitution Centenary Foundation site at www.centenary.org.au/voting/index.html click on item 3 on this page ie 1999 Referendum Draft Bills - Analysis

3. Access the explanatory memorandums which were submitted to the House of Representatives on 10 June. These are lengthy but explain in plain language the content and purpose of the bills and list content and changes section by section of the legislation at www.aph.gov.au/parlinfo/billsnet/em.htm

This site lists all the explanatory memorandums for legislation currently before the Parliament in alphabetical order (available in PDF or Word 6). For the republic bills, check Constitution Alteration (Establishment of Republic Bill) 1999 – this explanatory memorandum also has the communique from the Constitutional Convention as an attachment and Presidential Nominations Committee Bill 1999.

4. Check out the legislation itself at: www.aph.gov.au/parlinfo/billsnet/bills.htm

This site is also in alphabetical order and available in PDF and Word 6 with entries under:

  • Constitution Alteration (Establishment of Republic Bill) 1999 and
  • Presidential Nominations Committee Bill 1999

5. Read the Hansard for the House of Representatives for Thursday 10 June available at: www.aph.gov.au/hansard/hansreps.htm. This is in PDF with facility for conversion.

 If you are still requiring information or clarification about the legislation or hardcopies, contact the Referendum Task Force in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet: referendum@dpmc.gov.au or freecall 13 24 47

Information about the bills can also be found on the Constitution Centenary Foundation website at www.centenary.org.au/voting/index.html ;also available in hardcopy from (03) 9349 1846 or e-mail: ccf2001@ibm.net

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7.    More about Conservatives for An Australian Head of State

Andrew Robb, Convenor of Conservatives for an Australian Head of State spoke at the National Press Club in Canberra on 29 March 1999.

Here are some of the things he had to say:

"We set up Conservatives for an Australian Head of State....to play some part in raising the issue above party politics, and to provide a genuine voice for those Australians who are naturally cautious about change to our Constitution, yet would now like to see an Australian citizen and resident as our head of State."

"...Much of the focus of our organisation will be on the numerically smaller States - Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania - and outlying regional centres."

"...We have formed a group to be know as "Friends" of Conservatives for an Australian Head of State. These "Friends" will be eminent Australians who are prepared to put their name down in support of the position of our organisation."

The first three Friends have been named as:

  • Doug Anthony, former Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the National Party;
  • Don McGauchie, former President of the National Farmers Federation; and
  • Rod McGeoch, CEO of the Sydney Olympic Games bid.

Conservatives for An Australian Head of State favour this question to be put at the referendum:

"A Bill for an Act to alter the Constitution to provide for an Australian citizen, chosen by a two thirds majority of a joint sitting of the Federal Parliament, to replace the British Monarch as Australia’s head of state."

Andrew Robb’s speech also addressed The Case for Change, Why Bother?, The Risk to our Constitution, The Governor General as Head of State, Direct Election of Head of State, The Preamble and Why Vote YES Now?

Read the full text at www.republic.org.au/spch/robb2.html

Founding members of its Federal Committee are: Professor Greg Craven, Robert Champion de Crespigny, the Hon Paul Everingham AO, Charles Goode, Paul Houlihan, Michael Lishman, Professor Jack Richardson, Andrew Robb (Convenor), Deane Russell, Fiona Sinclair, Professor Judith Sloan, the Hon Warwick Smith, the Hon Michael Yabsley.

Contacts: (02) 9233 2156; fax (02) 9371 7820

GPO Box 3955 Sydney NSW 2001

Women for an Australian Republic call on Conservatives for An Australian Head of State to involve more women in all aspects of their operations.

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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