Women’s Constitutional Convention 1998

Held right before the Constitutional Convention on 29-30 January 1998 at new Parliament House in Canberra, the Women’s Constitutional Convention was attended by over 300 women representing women’s groups and individuals from all over Australia.

It discussed and debated a large number of issues around the proposal that Australia become a republic.

For more information and copies of the papers delivered by women attending the Convention, consult its website through our Links section.

The outcomes of the Convention were:

The Republic

1.    The majority of women attending the Women’s Constitutional Convention considered that Australia should become a Republic provided that the principles listed below are adhered to.

2.    The principles which must be adhered to in relation to the Republic and all other constitutional changes are:

  • full recognition of Indigenous Australians;
  • gender equity in all processes of change. That is, in all mechanisms for developing, evaluating and finalising options for change and in the operation of processes for selection of the Head of State;
  • gender equity must also be promoted by the outcomes. That is, the effect of a move to a Republic and any other constitutional changes must promote women’s equality in society;
  • respect for diversity including cultural, religious, and sexual diversity; and
  • the need to ensure that social cohesion, political stability and our democratic culture are promoted.

3.    That the government ensure that there is properly resourced and financed discussion and community contribution following on from the Constitutional Convention leading to a referendum on the Republic by the year 2000. This discussion must fully address diverse community needs including accessibility issues related to literacy and language.

Selection of the Head of State

4.    The selection / appointment process for the Head of State must involve women at least to the same extent as men. This means, for example, that if selection / appointment involves an advisory or determinative college that women must be represented at least to the same extent as men.

5.    The selection / appointment process for the Head of State must guarantee that women’s chances of occupying the position are substantively equal to those of men. For example, the selection process should address and overcome matters such as women’s disadvantaged status in political parties, women’s inferior financial power, women’s restricted access to the media.

Powers of the Head of State

6. The powers of the Head of State should be no greater than those of the current Governor-General.

7. There should be strong emphasis on the importance of the ceremonial role as a source of social cohesion and unity.

Civic Education

8. That in order for the whole community to participate effectively in considering whether additional constitutional reform occurs, there must be an active, effective and immediate process of civic education which fully addresses diverse community needs including accessibility issues related to literacy and language.

9. That the government facilitate and assist to resource women’s participation in constitutional change and broad awareness of women’s concerns following on from the Women’s Constitutional Convention.


10. That there be a new preamble to the Constitution which should be a short, poetic, symbolic and inspirational statement which makes reference to the land and recognises Australia’s past, present and future. The Preamble should also include:

  • a statement to the effect that all Australians are the source of the authority to establish the Constitution eg: We the People of Australia…
  • acknowledgment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander occupation, rights and culture and a statement of regret for past injustices;
  • affirmation of our multicultural society;
  • commitment to equality including equality between women and men and racial equality;
  • commitments to human rights and freedoms, justice,representative democracy, unity, community, diversity, tolerance, and peace; and
  • commitments to the environment and ecological sustainability.

11. That the new preamble should be developed through broad consultation which includes consultation with, and endorsement by, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Bill of Rights

Constitutional Bill of Rights

12. That there be a Constitutional Bill of Rights which builds upon United Nations Human Rights instruments.

13. The Bill of Rights must include an equality right for women. This must explicitly protect substantive equality rather than formal equality. It should operate in both the public and private spheres.

14. To ensure substantive equality the Bill of Rights must contain provision for special measures to address inequalities in society.

15. The Bill of Rights should specifically refer to the responsibilities of government in relation to the people.

16. The Bill of Rights should recognise rights in relation to sexual orientation and education.

Legislative Bill of Rights

17. In the event that a constitutional Bill of Rights is not attainable, that there be a legislative Bill of Rights.

Electoral Reform

18. That there be seats dedicated at both State and Federal levels for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Members of Parliament.

19. That the Senate should be retained as the House of Review.

20. That local government should be recognised in the Constitution.

21. That proportional representation should be entrenched.

Other Reforms

22. That reform measures should be implemented to ensure that Australia plays a full role in promoting non violence in the resolution of international conflict.

23. That processes be implemented to ensure that more women are appointed to the High Court.

24. That adequate funding be available now and in the future to ensure that human rights legislation is accessible to all Australians.

For more information about the Women’s Constitutional Convention held in Canberra, 29-30 January 1998 visit :www.womensconv.dynamite.com.au