The Republic Referendum

The Prime Minister argued last week that holding a simple plebiscite would have left Australia in limbo had voters said yes to a republic but no to a subsequent referendum on a particular model; we would have shown our lack of faith in the present system, but failed to replace it with another. It was a reasonable concern—but Saturday's referendum has left us in exactly the same position.

Almost half of the national electorate has voted unequivocally to replace the current system. The remainder showed what can only be described as highly equivocal support for it. The final result turned on the preferences of one twenty-fifth of the electorate. This is not a country united behind the monarchy, however much John Howard and Kerry Jones would wish it to be.

We often heard during the referendum campaign that the republic was a side-issue—not one of the 'things that matter' to most Australians. That claim was always disingenuous. Every law, every bureaucratic decision, every influence that government has on our lives, draws its authority ultimately from the crown; and half the country has rejected that basis of authority. That may not affect our everyday lives now, but before long it will.

I don't blame the Prime Minister for supporting the current system; he is entitled to his views. Nor do I blame him for defending those views in the campaign; of course he would want to. But he surely deserves our blame if he fails to address this crisis of authority at the heart of our system of government. He owes it to the nation, as our senior elected representative, to do so. And we owe it to ourselves to make him.


Letter published in The Canberra Times, 10 November 1999.
This page: 6 February 2000; last modified 16 February 2001.

©2000 Rory Ewins