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Q.   How many questions were there in the 1999 referendum?

There will be two questions – one about the republic and one about the preamble to the Constitution. The first one will ask whether you agree to Australia becoming a republic – and it will specify that the intent of the referendum is to replace the Queen and the Governor General with a (Australian) President and describe a particular method for choosing the President. The wording of the question is:

“An Act to alter the Constitution to establish the Commonwealth of Australia as a republic with the Queen and Governor-General being replaced by a President appointed by two-thirds majority of the members of the Commonwealth Parliament. Do you approve of this proposed law?”.

This way of electing the President (called the bipartisan model) was decided at the Constitutional Convention in 1998. The Prime Minister decided to put the final resolutions of the Convention to the people for endorsement in this referendum.

The second question will ask you whether you agree to a new Preamble to the Constitution. The final text has now been released.  (Read this text in Preamble)

Q.     Will the President replace the Prime Minister?

A.    No.  The President will replace the British monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II, as our Head of State and her representative in Australia, the Governor General. The Prime Minister remains elected by the party which has the majority of seats in the House of Representatives.

Q.     What if I support direct election of the President by the people?

A.    You will NOT be able to vote for direct election of the President at this referendum. The only question on the republic will ask you to agree that the President is nominated by the public with the selection to be made by the Prime Minister from a small number of suitable candidates recommended by the Presidential Nominations Committee (and agreed by the Leader of the Opposition) and then endorsed by a two-thirds majority of a joint sitting of the federal parliament. This was the model which had the most support at the Constitutional Convention and, as a result, it is this one which will be put to the vote this year.

Q.     Why didn’t the Constitutional Convention support direct election of the President?

A.    The Constitutional Convention supported the view put forward by the Australian Republican Movement (ARM) since the early 1990s that the best model for the new republic was to have a President ratified by Parliament rather than direct election. The ARM considers that an Australian republic should be introduced with minimal change to the Constitution, that the President should have the same powers as the Governor General has now and that this model will ensure that a politician is not elected President.

Q.     Why doesn’t the Australian Republican Movement (ARM) support direct election of the President?

A.    Here is what ARM has had to say about direct election:

“The Constitutional Convention decided that our Westminster system of parliamentary democracy in Australia would not work with a directly elected president.

In a direct election, only the political parties or very wealthy individuals would have the money, experience and organisation to run a national election campaign. This would most likely result in a politician becoming head of state – someone who owes allegiance to a political party.

A directly elected President, therefore, would be a politician and would be seen to be the very opposite of impartial. Our Head of State should be someone who is above partisan politics and supported by all sides.

Under our system, one of the most important roles for the Head of State is to act as a constitutional umpire in the event of a constitutional crisis. While rare, this typically would involve conflict between the House of Representatives and the Senate which have equal power. An umpire must not only act impartially but be seen to do so.

It must also be remembered that Australians do not directly elect their Premiers, Ministers or Prime Minister. To create a directly elected office of President would place it above our parliamentary system, which most Australians agree has served the nation very well.”

Text extracted from ARM pamphlet: “Questions and Answers Next Steps to an Australian Republic”

Q.    Why does Women for An Australian Republic support a YES vote for the Republic?

A.    We think at this stage, the bipartisan model is more likely to produce a woman or an indigenous person as President. To be directly elected, a candidate for President will have to be a popular person who is well recognised around the country.

This method of electing the President provides for all women in Australia to have their say on who the President should be through the public nominations process.

However, we note that direct election has produced two very good women Presidents in the Republic of Ireland – the current President Mary McAleese and her predecessor, Mary Robinson, after a succession of uninspiring men. We also think that the model for selection of the President should be closely examined at later Constitutional Conventions – the Government has promised that the next one will take place in three to five years time – and that desirable changes to the Presidential selection process that are recommended by delegates should be implemented.

We also note that for direct election to succeed, the powers of the Head of State would need to be carefully understood and determined ie would we have a purely ceremonial President or one with wide powers similar to the President of the United States? To date, a finite description of the powers of the Australian President has not been attempted by direct election supporters – some critics even say that it is impossible to do. In short, we believe the direct election proposal needs more work to flesh out the idea so that everyone can understand what is meant by it.

Q.     What if I still support direct election of the President?

A.    You can make up your mind whether you are going to vote YES now or whether you think there will be another opportunity to vote for an Australian Republic with a directly elected President in the future. If the Republic is voted down in November1999, there is no guarantee that the question will be put to the people again at any time in the future.

Q.   Does an Informal Vote count as a NO vote?

A.   According to the Australian Electoral Commission, informal votes will not count against the republic. Voters cannot vote against the republic by voting informal or not at all. Votes will be put into three piles: YES, NO and informal.

The referendum will succeed if more than half the valid votes in a majority of States are YES votes, even if this does not amount to an absolute majority of votes cast or possible votes.

Q.    Can I write that I support direct election on the voting paper and still vote YES?

A.    For your vote to be valid, you must mark one box only (either the YES box or the NO box). You must write YES or NO in the box, as long as you write in only one box.  You can also write anything that you like on the voting paper and still have a valid vote as long as you don’t identify yourself eg by giving you name.

Generally, any written comments will be ignored unless there is an observer at the counting (called a scrutineer) who is interested enough to record the comments. The best known – and most successful – use of a write on campaign was “No Dams” written by voters in Tasmania against a hydroelectricity scheme in the early 1980s.

There is one republican lobby group (Campaign for the Popular Election of the Australian President [CPEAP]) which is advocating that direct election supporters put “PEP” – for popularly elected president – on their ballot paper if they vote YES or NO.

[“CPEAP is a constituent member body of the Coalition of Republican Organisations (CRO) of which the federally registered Republican Party of Australia is the party political wing. CPEAP exclusively is the vehicle for the driving of the PEP campaign.” CPEAP flyer, Summer 1999 – see Links].

A second write-on campaign has now been launched by the YES…and MORE Coalition. This group proposes that supporters of direct election and further constitutional change vote YES and then write “and MORE” on their ballot paper. They will also be providing stickers with this message which can be stuck on the voting slip.

Q.    Is voting compulsory?

A.    Yes, if you are over 18 and enrolled to vote. If you are not enrolled, pick up an application form at any post office or consult the website of the Australian Electoral Commission at:

Q.  What is the Referendum Advisory Committee and who is on it?

A.    The Government has appointed an expert panel to advise it on the materials developed for the public education campaign which it will run on the republic issue in September at a cost of $4.5m. The role of the Committee is to ensure that the materials about the proposed republic model, existing Constitutional arrangements, the role of the State constitutions and the referendum process are fair, balanced and accurate. There are five members of whom only one is a woman – Professor Cheryl Saunders. The other members are Professor Geoffrey Blainey, Colin Howard QC, Dr John Hirst with, former Governor General, Sir Ninian Stephen as chair.

Q.    What is the YES Committee and who is on it?

A.    The YES and NO Committees have been appointed by the Government to run the campaigns for the referendum question on the republic (the Government will also conduct a limited public education campaign, see above).

The YES Committee will be running the campaign for the YES Vote and four of its 10 members are women. They are: from the Australian Republican Movement – Janet Holmes a Court (WA) Malcolm Turnbull (NSW), Neville Wran (NSW) and Steve Vizard (Vic) – and Lowitja O’Donoghue (SA, delegate to the Constitutional Convention); Natasha Stott Despoja (Senator for SA); Christine Gallus (Member for Hindmarsh SA); Gareth Evans (Member for Holt, Vic); Jason Yat-Sen Li (NSW, delegate to Constitutional Convention) and Greg Craven (professor of law, WA).

Andrew Robb, Convenor of Conservatives for An Australian Head of State and former federal Director of the Liberal Party has been appointed by the YES Committee to its five member campaign committee to shape and carry out the YES campaign. Mark Textor, Liberal Party pollster, will be assisting the YES Committee with market research.

 Q.    What is the Vote YES YES YES Campaign?

A.    Vote YES YES YES was the slogan used on the T-shirts worn by volunteers and organisers at the National Convention of Republicans in Canberra in early February 1999. The eye-catching design, described by Senator Natasha Stott Despoja as “orgasmic”, caught the attention of conference delegates and the media and featured prominently in TV coverage of the Convention. 

Q.    What is the YES Coalition?

A.    This is a loose grouping of organisations and individuals who support a YES vote for the Republic launched at the National Convention of Republicans in February 1999. There is a YES Coalition in each State and Territory – contact your local ARM group for further information. 

Q.    How long will the person selected as President be in the job?

A.    Five years 

Q.    What is the Australian Women’s Constitutional Network?

A.    The AWCN arose from the Women’s Constitutional Convention Steering Committee which ceased at the conclusion of the Convention. Membership of AWCN is:

  • Equal Say – Women for a Representative Democracy;
  • National Women’s Justice Coalition;
  • Women’s Electoral Lobby;
  • Women for an Australian Republic;
  • Women into Politics;
  • YWCA of Australia;
  • Australian Women Lawyers;
  • Women for Constitutional Reform WA.

Find AWCN online at

 Q.    Are there any prominent women who previously supported direct election, now supporting a YES vote in November 1999?

A.    Yes.  Kate Carnell, Chief Minister for the ACT and Natasha Stott Despoja, Senator for South Australia, supported direct election at the Constitutional Convention. Both spoke at the National Convention of Republicans in February 1999 in favour of a YES vote for the Republic at this years referendum.  Women associated with the YES…and More campaign are Mary Kelly (Qld), Moira Rayner from Melbourne and Dr Pat O’Shane of Sydney, the latter were both elected to the ConCon in 1998 as members of direct election groups.

Q.    Do any women Government Ministers support the Republic?

A.    Yes, Senator Amanda Vanstone, Minister for Justice and Customs and Senator for South Australia has announced that she supports a YES vote for the Republic.

Other leading women YES vote supporters in Government ranks are Mrs Christine Gallus, Liberal member for Hindmarsh (SA) in the House of Representatives and Senator Marise Payne, Senator for New South Wales. 

Q.    What is likely to happen if the NO vote on the Republic wins?

A.    We expect, like Conservatives for an Australian Head of State, that there will be a sense of profound national disappointment mixed with strong sense of an opportunity having been lost as we come up towards the Sydney Olympics in September 2000 and then move on to the celebrations for the centenary of Federation in 2001.

Q.  Why does the Constitution have to be changed for Australia to become a republic?

A. The present Constitution is basically all about setting up a Federal Government and making the six individual colonies of Australia, which existed before 1901, into States. There are eight chapters:

1. Creates the Federal Parliament (the “Legislature”); specifies its powers; discusses voting; and provides for resolutions to deadlocks between the Senate and the House of Representatives.

2. Creates the Governor General (the “Executive”); discusses his/her role; and provides for the appointment of Ministers of the Crown.

3. Creates the High Court (“the Judiciary”) and provides for the appointment of judges; and clarifies jurisdiction.

4. Deals with finance and trade; and specifically provides for free trade among the States

5. Deals with the States; provides for Commonwealth laws to prevail over State laws; adds a couple of general rights eg freedom of religion.

6. Provides for new States to be added to the Commonwealth.

7. Miscellaneous eg location of the seat of Government

8. Describes the referendum process by which the Constitution may be altered.

(Supplied by Anne Winckel, Lecturer in Legal Studies at the University of Melbourne)

Q.    What is not in the current Constitution?


  • Reference to the rights of women to live free from discrimination;
  • Acknowledgment of the prior occupation and custodianship of the land by Indigenous peoples, both Aboriginal people and the people of the Torres Strait;
  • A bill of rights;
  • A statement of equality of all citizens;
  • Reference to Australian citizenship;
  • Reference to the Prime Minister or Cabinet

(Text from Queens, Kings, Presidents, YWCA of Australia, 1997)

Q.    Will people who have dual Australian/British citizenship be affected by a YES vote which severs Australia’s ties with the British monarchy?

A.      No – only the Constitution is being amended by the vote on 6 November. Our citizenship laws are determined in separate Commonwealth legislation. A YES vote on 6 November will not affect Australian citizens who also have British citizenship or change their citizenship status.

It should be noted, however, that the criteria for our President settled at the ConCon in 1998 provided that persons nominating for this job should meet the eligibility criteria for election to the House of Representatives. This excludes people who have dual citizenship unless they have taken reasonable steps to renounce it.

Q.    Who chooses the members of the Presidential Nominations Committee? Are they to be prominent Australians?

A.   The Presidential Nominations Committee Bill is still before the Commonwealth Parliament and has not yet been made law pending the outcome of the vote on the republic. If the YES vote wins, the bill will be debated in both Houses and it is highly likely that it will be amended.

At present, the bill provides for the Prime Minister to appoint the 32 members of the Presidential Nominations Committee which will be established whenever it is necessary to choose a president.

16 members will be sourced from the Commonwealth and State Parliaments (eight federal and eight State representatives) while the remaining 16 community members will be directly appointed by Prime Minister and are not to be a member of any legislature.

There is no stipulation in the bill at present as to what type of person the community members of this Committee might be ie they don’t have to be well-known Australians. The ConCon in 1998 recommended to the Government that the composition of the committee should, as far as practicable, take into account federalism ( ie all States and Territories), gender, age and cultural diversity but this has not been written into the bill as it currently stands. Similarly the ConCon recommended that the Committee should be mindful of community diversity when compiling the shortlist of candidates for President but this has not been included in the drafting either.

Q.    How can you say that this model allows for public input to who is going to be President when that person is appointed by the Commonwealth parliament?

A.    ConCon described the objective of the presidential nomination procedure as being “to ensure that the Australian people are consulted as thoroughly as possible”. This is provided for under the parliamentary appointment model because although the President will finally be endorsed by a two-thirds majority of a joint sitting of the Commonwealth parliament, the person’s nomination will come from the Australian community. The nomination process is expected to be as wide as possible involving individual members of the public, community organisations, local government and the State and Territory parliaments. Any Australian citizen or group of citizens may nominate a person as President. This is an important aspect of the two-thirds appointment model and one that has been continuously overlooked throughout the debate on the republic.

Q.     Will the change to a republic be costly?

A.     The Prime Minister has said that it would not be a costly change. Apart from the cost of conducting the ConCon and the referendum (around $100m), the costs of other possible changes eg to military insignia and coinage will depend on the nature of the changes, the proposed timetable for transition and the extent to which they can be absorbed into existing budgets.

The cost of running the office of President will probably be about the same as it costs to support of the Governor-General for staff and accommodation etc. There is no proposal to construct a Presidential Palace in Canberra – the Governor-General’s existing official residence at Yarralumla could be used. There would be some costs associated with the appointment of the President but these have not yet been quantified and could also be absorbed into existing budgets if they are modest.

Q.    The legislation for the republic, including the Constitution refers only to “he”. Does this mean that women are excluded from becoming President?

A.    The convention used in all Commonwealth legislation is that “he” means “she” and “he”. There is nothing in the legislation or bills which prevents a woman from becoming President.

Q.    Is it true that veterans are not eligible to be President?

A.    No, it is not true – all veterans are eligible. Section 44 of the new Constitution which we will vote on on 6 November specifically provides for people receiving naval and military pensions to be eligible for appointment as President.

Q.     Can a non-Australian citizen be appointed as President?

A.    No – only people eligible for election to the House of Representatives can be appointed as President. Section 34 to the Constitution is being slightly amended in this referendum to say that only Australian citizens are eligible. The President must be an Australian citizen and not have dual citizenship unless they have taken reasonable steps to renounce it.

Under the present arrangements, our current Head of State is not an Australian citizen at all, in fact she or he is a citizen of the United Kingdom. And there are no limitations on who the Prime Minister can appoint as Governor-General eg members of his or her own family, non-Australian citizens, members of the British royal family. The new provision is, therefore, a big improvement on the current arrangements as to who is eligible to be our head of state and Governor-General.

Q.    What are the reserve powers of the Governor-General which the President will also exercise?

A.   The reserve powers are generally considered to be: appointing and dismissing the Prime Minister (used by Kerr in 1975), refusing to dissolve the federal parliament and forcing a dissolution of the federal parliament. They are not specified or mentioned in the Constitution, either current or proposed. Other roles carried out by the Governor-General eg commander in chief of the armed forces, appointing Commonwealth public servants, summoning the parliament are specified in the current Constitution and will be also exercised by the President.

The President would use the reserve powers to sack the Prime Minister as the Governor-General can do now. It is not a new power that the President would have.

This has been a point of contention about the adequacy of direct election models proposed so far ie they would give much greater power to a President who is popularly elected and because of this, the reserve powers should be defined in the Constitution. Some say that this is too difficult to do; no serious to attempt to define the reserve powers has so far been made by direct election supporters.

Q.    Is it true that there are 69 changes to the Constitution?

A.   Yes there are 69 changes in all but 43 of them involve changing only the word “Queen” or “Governor-General” to “President”. The one main change is to provide for an Australian citizen as our head of State as the President of the Commonwealth of Australia and most of the large new clauses relate to this ie eligibility for, appointment and dismissal of the President. The other changes are mostly tidying up of associated clauses ie eligibility for persons to be appointed to the House of Representatives. For precise information, please refer to your referendum booklet from the Electoral Commission which shows the text of the new Constitution with the deletions and additions to the existing version.

Q.   How can I ensure that my vote will be counted if I write on my voting slip?

A.   A vote is formal only if:

  • you write YES or NO in the box provided; no ticks or crosses are allowed
  • you do not identify yourself ie sign your voting slip
  • what you write or stick on the voting slip does not obscure what you have written in the boxes so that counters can clearly discern whether you have voted YES or NO.

Once you have clearly written YES or NO in one of the boxes, you can write another message on the voting slip if you wish or affix a sticker eg for YES…and More.


Will the flag or coins change?


No, neither will change automatically if the YES vote wins the referendum on 6 November. The flag is governed by a separate act of the Commonwealth parliament which requires a national vote to change it and, at present, no such national vote is proposed. The existing flag will remain. Its retention is supported by many republicans as well as monarchists.

Our coins will not be melted down immediately to allow a new emblem to replace the head of the current head of state ie Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. The coins would be changed over time, that is when new coins are minted and after a new design has been decided on by the Government.