From the Archives, 1998: PM pledges republic vote

First published in on February 3, 1998


The Prime Minister offered a new incentive to republicans yesterday, promising them a referendum next year on a new head of state if they can establish “clear support” for a republican model at the Constitutional Convention.

Delegates assemble on the front steps of old Parliament House in Canberra at the start of the Constitutional Convention. Barry Jones (L) Deputy Chair, Ian Sinclair (C) chair and PM John Howard

Mike Bowers

The timing is an advance on the Federal Government’s original policy of staging a referendum by the end of 2000, enabling a new head to be installed by the centenary of federation.

But Mr Howard, delivering his opening address to the convention, said failure to establish consensus would force an indicative plebiscite on the issue sometime after the next election, making it unlikely the deadline would be met.

Despite the Howard commitment, and optimism from the chairman of the Australian Republican Movement (ARM), Mr Malcolm Turnbull, that the convention would end in majority support for a republic, there was no sign of clear consensus after the opening day.

Mr Howard maintained his personal resistance to change, saying he did not believe the alternatives being canvassed would “deliver a better system of government than the one we currently have”.

The smaller States have also emerged as a stumbling block, with Tasmania, Queensland and Western Australia expressing concern about the dominance of Victoria and NSW in any new system to appoint a head of state.

Conservative leaders in WA and Tasmania also want any change approved by all States – not just by the majority required for successful passage of a referendum under the Constitution.

Just how difficult that would be was highlighted by a new Herald/AC Nielsen poll which shows that while there is majority support nationally for a republic, it is still below 50 per cent in some States.

The poll has republican support rising slowly but steadily to 52 per cent. In October 1994 it was at 50 per cent.

PM John Howard and Republican Malcolm Turnbull at the Constitutional Convention, February 1998.

Andrew Meares

NSW has the highest level of support at 57 per cent. Victoria and WA each have 50 per cent, while Queensland and South Australian support is 49 per cent and 45 per cent respectively.

The ARM, which has the biggest bloc of votes at the convention, is now pinning its hopes on backroom negotiations with other republicans and non-committed delegates in the hope of securing support for its model of a parliamentary-appointed head of state.

Mr Turnbull confirmed last night his group was prepared to meet the concerns of some breakaway republican groups by embracing changes to the preamble of the Constitution, acknowledging prior Aboriginal occupation of Australia and respect for the environment, human rights and parliamentary democracy.

In his speech, Mr Howard said that if clear support for a republic model emerged “my Government will, if returned at the next election, put that model to a referendum of the Australian people before the end of 1999.

“If the people then decide to change our present Constitution, the new arrangements will be in place for the centenary of the inauguration of the Australian nation and the opening of the new millennium on the first of January, 2001.”

Mr Howard said Liberal Party members would be free to speak and vote “according to their personal convictions” in the debate.

( Information from was used in this report. Also if you have any problem of this article or if you need to remove this articles, please email here and we will delete this immediately. [email protected] )

Leave a Comment

Share to...