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The Commonwealth of Nations and the 1999 Australian referendum  


All parties to the republican debate in Australia in the nineties  indicated their wish that whatever the outcome of the referendum, Australia should remain a member of the Commonwealth. Indeed, the ARM has consistently stated, without qualification, that if Australia becomes a republic, she will continue a member of the Commonwealth. And the Australians for Constitutional Monarchy has just as consistently pointed to the actual practice from 1947 that the consent of all other members of the Commonwealth is necessary.

In May 1999 Attorney-General Daryl Williams repeated the ARM view during a speech:“The Australian Government proposes that the name, Commonwealth of Australia, be retained and that Australia continue to be a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. Australia would not need to reapply for membership of the Commonwealth if it becomes a republic as constitutional status is not a criterion of membership.This would mean that if the proposed change were supported Australia would still participate in the Commonwealth Games.” (Canberra Times, Monday, 10 May 1999)

ACM believed this statement should not go uncorrected. It was part of a wider message — that the change was only symbolic, and was quite simple. So the  ACM National Convenor Professor David Flint stated that, were Australia to become a republic, any of the other 53 commonwealth governments might be able to block its continuing membership of the commonwealth.

He  pointed out that in 1960 South Africa withdrew after it became a republic, accepting that not all of the other governments would consent to its continuing membership. And Fiji's membership was deemed to lapse in 1987 after it became a republic and it became clear that there was some opposition to its continuing membership.He agreed that the attorney-general was correct in saying that constitutional status is not a criterion of membership. But convention clearly requires that a change of this nature be approved, or at least not opposed by any one of the other 53 governments.

No Republic—ACM has always believed that all of the consequences of change, legal, political and financial be placed before the people. They are all entitled to be in a position to cast an informed vote.

The ARM then issued a press release on 13 May under this heading: "Australians for Constitutional Monarchy talk nonsense about Australia's membership of the commonwealth."Professor Flint’s warning was dismissed as "silly", "an insult to the intelligence of all Australians" and "shameful".

In what one journalist described as a "battle of press releases", he then asked, "Why not check the facts on commonwealth membership?"

Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke appeared on a national radio programme and said Professor Flint was a liar.  But Professor Flint said  ACM had never claimed that Australia would be excluded from the Commonwealth if we were to become a republic.

 

 

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