The Defeat of the Republic Referendum 20 Years Ago
6 November, 2019
The 6th November marks the 20th anniversary of the failed republic referendum of 1999. It was the accumulation of around eight years of hard campaigning essentially on a daily basis and was a learning curve for all, even for those lawyers involved.
Nearly all of the campaigners were amateurs. Even the politicians had no expertise in a referendum proposing changes as drastic as this. The last time there were referendums was in 1988 when the Hawke government submitted four proposals to the people. These four were on parliamentary terms, fair elections, local government and rights and freedoms, all of which were rejected by the people and all of which were totally unlike the republic referendum which, in itself, required nearly 70 changes to the Constitution.
Campaigning was essentially based along Liberal for the No case and Labor for the Yes case. Whilst the Yes case also had a number of senior Liberals actively involved, the No case comprised only token Labor identities. This was totally at odds with the eventual vote when, as is estimated, one third of Labor voters voted No to a republic.
The Australian Monarchist League, which did not form a part of the official No case and did not share in any of the government funding, campaigned, using its own resources, predominantly in the outer suburban typically Labor electorates, in the country areas and in the smaller states like Tasmania, which seemed to have been written off, but all of which resulted in an overwhelming No vote as opposed to the city Liberal electorates which voted Yes.
However, it was the vote of traditional Labor that swung the pendulum against a republic. Traditional Labor have always been deeply conservative in the traditional sense. Unlike so many trendy Liberals, they honour the Queen and respect our constitutional system of governance. In the 1990s, we knew this because a significant proportion of our supporters were – and still are - Labor voters.
The nationwide vote in the 1999 referendum was 54.87% No (against the republic) which may not seem much but if a political party received that vote in a general election, it could well result in winning 72% of all electorates. It is rare that a political party receives over 50% of the total primary votes cast in any general election.
Furthermore, all six states voted No as did the Northern Territory. Only the Australian Capital Territory voted Yes, but as a territory it did not qualify as a state.
Since 1999, republicans have continued to mount campaigns and the Australian Monarchist League has continued to oppose them whilst, at the same time, promoting the benefits and security of our system of constitutional monarchy.
To celebrate the anniversary of the defeat of the republic referendum, the Australian Monarchist League is not holding a conference with lengthy speeches bragging about the victory because the defeat of the referendum was not really due to monarchists but more to the wisdom of the people who, resiling against such massive change, opted to place their trust in the Queen.
Instead, we are holding a dinner on a tall ship sailing around Sydney Harbour on Thursday the 14th of November, enjoying the fact that we remain a constitutional monarchy.
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