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[The Premiers meet at the 1891 Federal Convention. National Archives of Australia C 4076/1]

Federation was a unique achievement:

  • It was peaceful.
  • Although the British had first proposed it decades before, it was actually drafted in Australia by Australians and approved by the Australian people in each of the colonies.
  • The British allowed Australians to change their Constitution without reference to London.
  • The Governor-General was granted by a constitutional provision the direct exercise of the executive power of the Commonwealth.

Federation was thus the sixth pillar of the nation.

The Federal Constitution has since served us well, allowing Australia to enjoy peaceful limited government, in peace and in war, in prosperity and in depression.

Under it the nation has evolved peacefully from being a self governing Dominion within the British Empire, to full independence as a Realm within the Commonwealth.

The Federation was based on the new entity being an indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown.

This is the fundamental nature of the federal  structure of the nation : it is an indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown.

There have always been those who want to remove the Crown, but they were not elected to the nineteenth century conventions.

For almost all of the first century of federation, nol Australian leader had questioned the place of the Crown in our constitutional system.  

But in 1993 , the Federal Keating Government moved to find the ways in which this could be achieved. A Republic Advisory Committee under the chairmanship of Malcolm Turnbull was appointed.

Although the advice of the Premiers was sought on appointments , there  was an absolute requirement of appointment to the committee that all  appointees be committed in advance to the removal of the Australian Crown.

The report contains useful research on republican models. In 1995, the then Prime Minister indicate d the government would proceed with a proposal to change the Constitution to remove the Crown.  The new president would be elected by and removeable by a vote passed by a two thirds majoity at a joint sitting of the Senate and House of Representatives. 

The Keating government was defeated at the 1996 election, so this proposal did not proceed.

In 1997, in pursuit of an election promise, the Howard government called an election for half of the places to the Constitutional Convention, which met in 1998.

The remaining members were appointed and were mainly ex officio. By their voting at the Convention, it was clear that a majority of the apppointed members favoured removing the Crown.

Although the Convention voted for change, the model preferred by the overwhelming majority of republican delegates could not command a majority vote.  To the approval of the republican movement, and most of the mainline media who were campaigning for change, the Prime Minister ruled that this would be the subject of a referendum.

In 1999, a referendum was called in which the people were invited to vote on this republican model. This was the referendum model, which had the overwhelming support of the republican delegates to the Constitutional Convention. Most of the mainline media and most of the sitting politicians campaigned in its favour.

The referendum was defeated nationally (55:45), in all states and 72% of electorates. After the defeat the ARM and the Labor Party called for a national plebiscite to be held in which people would be asked whether they wanted Australia to become a republic. No details would be revealed.

If this were passed, another plebiscite would follow to choose between different forms of republics. The existing constitution would be excluded from that vote. After the second plebiscite, a  referendum on the preferred republican model would follow. After this a conference was held at Corowa which endorsed this plan.

Senate Inquiry was established in 2003 which produced a  report just before the 2004 election, Road to a Republic. This  endorsed the ARM-ALP proposal for two plebiscites, but Liberal Senator Marise Payne, an ARM office bearer  dissented from the proposal for two plebiscites.

Then came a republican “Mate for a Head of State”  campaign which failed to create any support for a renewed campaign, and then the 2020 Summit, whose governance panel after minimal  discussion voted an improbable 98:1 in favour of Australia becoming some vague, undefined republic.

Shortly after the Summit, the Morgan Poll reported the lowest support for a republic in 15 years, with very low support among the young.

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