The Republic Debate is back: Is this Hockey’s Marriage Equality?

Joe Hockey – along with Peter FitzSimons (head of the Australian Republican Movement) and Labor Senator Katy Gallagher – announced today that they are putting the Republic back on the table for discussion. At a time when Hockey is struggling for popularity, and when even dangling tax cuts before people isn’t winning him any votes, a cynical person might wonder if this is Hockey’s attempt to get back behind a barrow that others will be happy to push along with him.

Don’t get me wrong – as I wrote recently, I’m as staunchly pro-republic as Abbott is a monarchist. And if Hockey is fair-dinkum about this, then more power to him. But just as I believe Marriage Equality has little chance of getting up while Abbott is prime minister, the same is true of a republic.

Let’s revisit what happened in the 90s

By way of context, here’s a quick summary of the key events around the vote for Australia to become a republic in the 1990s:

  • Support for Australia becoming a republic was strong in the 90s – as shown in the graph below. The green line represents the percentage of people who were for Australia becoming a republic, and the red line is people who were against it. Right up to the referendum, there was consistently a significant margin between those who were pro-republic and those who were against it.

PollsPriorToReferendum99

So how did the republican movement fail  – I hear you ask? Good question……

  • In 1993, Paul Keating created a ‘Republic Advisory Committee’ – which was chaired by then banker and lawyer, one Mr Malcolm Turnbull – to determine what changes would be needed to the constitution for Australia to become a republic. Which they did. Before they could start putting more detail behind these changes so that they could be put to a referendum however….
  • In 1996, John Howard – a confirmed monarchist – was elected Prime Minister on a reluctant platform of putting Australia becoming a republic to a referendum late in his first term.
  • In 1999 Howard successfully put the question of Australia becoming a republic to bed, for what turns out to be a good 16 years. He did this by tying Australia becoming a republic with a model which he knew was not popular with the Australian people. The republican model Howard put forward to be voted on would have replaced the Governor General with a President elected by politicians. (The more popular model – which had over 70% support – had the Australian public electing the President.)By doing this, Howard cleverly split the pro-republic movement so that those who favoured the more popular model actually told people to vote ‘no’ in the republic referendum, some mistakenly believing they would get a second go at a vote with their preferred model. But with Howard as Prime Minister, this was never going to happen.
  • The rest – as they say – is history. The vote for Australia to become a republic failed, with 55% of people voting against Australia becoming a republic.

(For a more detailed ouline of events, see my recent article on how Abbott is using the same ploy currently with marriage equality.)

Some 16 years later….

Back to 2015, and Joe Hockey is bringing up the republic debate again. Now, to be fair, he has always been in favour of a republic, this is not a change in position from him. But why now?

Certainly, if Hockey is serious about wanting a republic, he must know that it could never get up with Abbott as Prime Minister – John Howard proved that. And Abbott confirmed his willingness to play dirty in order to get his own way recently, by ‘branch stacking’ the party room on the discussion about marriage equality with Nationals.

Is this Hockey’s ‘marriage equality’ – something that he is a known supporter of that the public can get behind? Or does Hockey know that Abbott’s days are numbered – and therefore the time might be ripe now to bring up a key issue that actually could get across the line in the next parliamentary term?

Only time will tell.

Either way – as the French used to say ‘Bring on the Republic’ (Vive la République)!!!

(The flag design shown above  – minus the words – is by John Joseph of Epping, NSW – see http://www.smh.com.au/ftimages/2006/01/26/1138066913216.html)

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