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Australian Constitutional Convention 1998

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Australian Constitutional Convention 1998

Australian Constitutional Convention 1998
Status Defunct
Genre Constitutional Convention
Begins 2 February 1998 (1998-02-02)
Ends 13 February 1998 (1998-02-13)
Venue Old Parliament House
Location(s) Parkes, Canberra
Country Australia
People The Right Honourable Ian Sinclair MP (Co-chair);
The Honourable Barry Jones AO MP (Co-chair)

The Australian Constitutional Convention 1998 was a Constitutional Convention which gathered at the Old Parliament House, Canberra from 2–13 February 1998. It was called by the Howard Government to discuss whether Australia should become a republic. The convention concluded with "in principle support" for an Australian republic (with a dissenting minority voting for a continuation of the Australian constitutional monarchy) and proposed a model involving appointment of the head of state by Parliament.[1] The model was put to a referendum in November 1999 and rejected by the Australian electorate.


  • Background 1
  • Composition 2
    • Prominent advocates 2.1
      • Parliamentarians 2.1.1
      • ARM and ACM 2.1.2
      • Others 2.1.3
  • Debate and conclusions 3
    • Arguments by key advocates 3.1
  • Aftermath 4
  • Delegates 5
    • List of elected delegates 5.1
    • List of appointed delegates 5.2
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Australia remains a constitutional monarchy under the Australian Constitution adopted in 1901, with the duties of the monarch performed by a Governor-General selected by the Australian Government. Australian republicanism has persisted since colonial times, though for much of the 20th century, the monarchy remained popular. In the early 1990s, republicanism became a significant political issue. Australian Labor Party Prime Minister Paul Keating indicated a desire to instigate a republic in time for the Centenary of the Federation of Australia in 2001. The opposition Liberal-National Coalition, led by Alexander Downer, though less supportive of the republic plan, promised to convene a Constitutional Convention to discuss the issue. Under John Howard, the Coalition won the 1996 Federal Election and set the Convention date for February 1998.[2]


The convention took place at Old Parliament House, Canberra.

The convention comprised 152 delegates from all of the states and territories of Australia – half elected by voluntary postal vote and half appointed by the federal government. Of the appointees, 40 were representatives of the commonwealth, state and territory parliaments. Various pro-republican and pro-Monarchy in Australia delegates were elected and various parliamentary and non-parliamentary delegates were appointed including state and territory leaders. The convention was chaired by the Right Honourable Ian Sinclair MP, of the National Party of Australia with the Honourable Barry Jones AO MP of the Australian Labor Party as deputy chairman.[3]

Prominent advocates


Sitting members of the Liberal-National Party Coalition were permitted a free vote on the republican issue, while the Australian Labor Party (ALP) adopted the republican position as a matter of party policy. Senior Liberals split on the issue, with the Prime Minister, John Howard, supporting the status quo and the Treasurer, Peter Costello, supporting a republic.[2] Other representatives of the government at the convention included the Attorney General, Daryl Williams, the Minister for the Environment, Robert Hill, and the Minister for Social Security, Jocelyn Newman, as well as the Deputy Prime Minister, Tim Fischer, and other Members of Parliament. The Leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley, was accompanied by colleagues Gareth Evans, John Faulkner and others, while the Australian Democrats sent Senator Natasha Stott Despoja.

The states all sent three representatives including their premiers and opposition leaders, while the territories were represented by their chief ministers.[3] Premiers Bob Carr (NSW), Jeff Kennett (Victoria), Rob Borbidge (Queenland), Richard Court (Western Australia), John Olsen (South Australia) and Tony Rundle (Tasmania) attended, along with chief ministers Kate Carnell (Australian Capital Territory) and Shane Stone (Northern Territory).


A number of members of the Malcolm Turnbull.[2][4] Prominent delegates at the Convention included media personalities Steve Vizard and Eddie McGuire, businesswoman Janet Holmes à Court and businessman Lindsay Fox.[1]

High Court of Australia and did not participate in the Convention. ACM recruited Tony Abbott as its first full-time executive director, although his membership also ceased following preselection as a Liberal candidate for election to the Federal Parliament in March 1996. Kerry Jones was then appointed executive director of ACM in his place. She and Lloyd Waddy led ACM through the 1998 Constitutional Convention and the 1999 referendum.[2] Don Chipp, founder of the Australian Democrats, was one of ACM's delegates at the Convention.


Smaller republican groupings included "A Just Republic", the "Real Republic" group, the Clem Jones "Queensland Constitutional Republic Team" and the Ted Mack group. Other monarchist groups included the "Constitutional Monarchists" group, the Australian Monarchist League and "Safeguard the People". Other minor Australian political parties with elected representatives included the Shooters Party, the Christian Democrats (Fred Nile Group). A number of individuals were elected under other grouping names, including lawyer Jason Yat-Sen Li ("A Multi-Cultural Voice") and Misha Schubert ("Republic4U – The Youth Ticket").

Six Indigenous delegates participated in the Convention, including magistrate Pat O'Shane, who was vocal in support of a republic and monarchist Neville Bonner, Australia's first Aboriginal parliamentarian, who ended his contribution to the Convention with a Jagera Tribal Sorry Chant in sadness at the low number of Indigenous representatives. The Republican Model, as well as a proposal for a new Constitutional Preamble which would have included the "honouring" of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders.[5]

Lady Florence Bjelke-Petersen represented the group named "Constitutional Monarchists", while prominent Returned and Services League spokesman Bruce Ruxton represented the monarchist "Safeguard the People" group and Brigadier Alf Garland represented the Australian Monarchist League. Ted Mack and Phil Cleary were prominent independent republicans.

Clergy from the major churches were appointed as delegates: the Anglican Church of Australia' s Peter Hollingworth; while republican Tim Costello, a prominent Baptist minister was elected as a representative for Victoria from the "Real Republic Group".

Other appointees included academics, such as historian Geoffrey Blainey and Sydney University chancellor Leonie Kramer; legal and constitutional experts such as law professor Greg Craven retired judge Richard McGarvie and public servant David Smith. Former Vice Regal office holders were also appointed, including former Governor of South Australia Dame Roma Mitchell and former Governor General Bill Hayden. Senior business appointees included Sir Arvi Parbo and Donald McGauchie. Journalist delegates included Mia Handshin and Miranda Devine.

Debate and conclusions

The Convention debated the need for a change to the Constitution of Australia which would remove the monarchy from a role in Australian government and law. According to the final communiqué issued by the Convention, three questions were considered:[6]

Whether or not Australia should become a republic; which republic model should be put to the voters to consider against the current system of government; in what time frame and under what circumstances might any change be considered.

Delegates advocated a range of positions from no-change to minimal change to radical change. According to the final communique:

Three categories of model for a possible Australian republic were before the convention. They were: direct election, parliamentary election by a special majority, and appointment by a special council following prime ministerial nomination.

"In principle" agreement was reached by a majority of delegates for an Australian Republic (though a minority bloc of Monarchists dissented).[1] Following a series of votes, a proposal for a "Bipartisan Appointment of the President Model" for an Australian republic was endorsed by a majority of delegates who voted for or against the motion (monarchists and some radical-change republicans abstained from the vote). According to hansard, the vote for the Bi-Partisan model was: "for" 73, "against" 57 with 22 abstentions.[7]

The final communiqué recommended that Parliament establish a committee responsible for considering the nominations for the position of president and consult widely in the community and compile a shortlist for the Prime Minister. Taking into account the recommendations of the committee, the Prime Minister would then present a single nominee, seconded by the Opposition Leader to a joint sitting of the Australian Parliament which must gain a two-thirds majority in order to be endorsed. The president could be removed at any time by a notice in writing signed by the Prime Minister, however if the House of Representatives failed to ratify this dismissal, the president would be eligible for re-appointment. The powers of the president were to be those of the existing office of Governor General of Australia.[6]

The Convention recommended that state parliaments also examine the issue of the republic, as each state has separate and individual constitutional links to the monarchy. Certain recommendations were made for a new Constitutional preamble which included introductory language along the lines of "we the Australian people", and referencing "Almighty God", custodianship and occupancy of Australia by Indigenous Australians; as well as affirmations of the law, cultural diversity, unique land and environment and democratic political system of Australia.[6]

The new Australian republic was to retain the name Commonwealth of Australia.

The Convention recommended to the Prime Minister and Parliament of Australia that the model, and other related changes to the Constitution, supported by the convention, be put to the people in a constitutional referendum in 1999.[6]

The minimalist McGarvie Model developed by former Governor of Victoria, Richard McGarvie, and originally submitted to the Republic Advisory Committee in 1993, was the second most popular model of the four voted upon. Republican delegates Clem Jones, Ted Mack, Pat O’Shane, Paul Tully and Paddy O’Brien held out for greater change to the Constitution than the more minimalist model ultimately proposed.[8]

Arguments by key advocates

Prime Minister John Howard supported the constitutional monarchy. The Liberal-National Coalition permitted their members a free vote on the issue.
Opposition Leader Kim Beazley supported the republic. His Australian Labor Party adopted the republic as official party policy.

In his address to the opening session of the Convention, Liberal Prime Minister John Howard outlined his support for retaining the status quo on the basis that it has provided a long period of stability and said he believed that the "separation of the ceremonial and executive functions of government" and the presence of a neutral "defender of constitutional integrity" was an advantage in government and that no republican model would be as effective in providing such an outcome as the Australian monarchy:[9]

The Deputy Prime Minister, Tim Fischer, of the National Party said that the Australian Constitution had delivered one of the "oldest continuous federated democracies in the world" and that changing it would be a complex operation:[10]

Opposition Leader Kim Beazley of the Australian Labor Party advocated "minimalist" change. He described transition to a republic as "unfinished business" for Australia and said that foreigners "find it strange and anachronistic, as many Australians now clearly do, that our Head of State is not an Australian". The ALP proposed appointment of a president by two-thirds majority of parliament. In his opening address, Beazley told the Convention:[11]

Liberal Treasurer Peter Costello advocated for a republic. He rejected any suggestion that Australia was not already an independent nation and said that, while the Australian Constitution works "remarkably well", it was the institution of monarchy that was the crux of his argument for change:[12]

Pat O'Shane, a magistrate and indigenous woman expressed a desire for change based on what she perceived as historical injustice and present inadequacies within the Australian Constitution:[13]

Indigenous delegates were divided, however. Former Senator Neville Bonner made an impassioned defence of the constitutional monarchy, describing efforts to change it as "senseless division" and a distraction from the real problems facing Australia:[10]

Kerry Jones, leader of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy defended the Australian Constitution, saying "no republic model will ever offer the protection and safeguards that work so well in our current Constitution". She said her task was to "assess each republican model against the Constitution that has served us so well":[13]

Delegates examined various models for a republic. Independent republican delegate Phil Cleary argued the case for direct-election of a president and questioned the motivations of "conservative" republicans:[13]

Malcolm Turnbull, leader of the Australian Republican Movement, cautioned against mixing the roles of President and Prime Minister in a direct election system, telling the Convention:[12]

The Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, George Pell, supported change, but noted "Without support from most of the front benches of both sides of the parliament, it would be wasteful to go to a referendum." Towards the end of proceedings, he called on conservatives to support change:[14]


Two proposals to amend the Australian Constitution were submitted to the Australian electorate in November 1999. If approved, the referendum would have established a republican system of government in Australia. The referendum held on 6 November 1999 failed to achieve the support of either a majority of voters or a majority of states. The national vote of the electors in favour of Australia becoming a republic was 45.13%, with 54.87% against.[15] Australia remains a constitutional monarchy.[2]

The Gillard Labor Government which took power in a hung parliament following the 2010 Australian Election has indicated an intention not to revisit the issue of a vote for an Australian republic during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. Their minor party ally in the Australian Parliament, the Australian Greens support a change to a republic.[16] The Opposition Liberal-National Coalition was led by former chair of the Australian Republican Movement, Malcolm Turnbull, during 2008–2009, but has been led since late 2009 by Tony Abbott, a former head of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy.[17] Polling of the electorate in April 2011 by the pro-republic The Australian newspaper suggested evenly divided opinion on the republican question, with overall support at 41% (down from a pre-referendum peak of 51%) and overall opposition at 39%. One in five Australians declared "no opinion either way".[18]


Justice High Court of Australia
Liberal Premier of Victoria Jeff Kennett (republican) attended as an appointed delegate along with all the State and Territory leaders and State opposition leaders
Senator Natasha Stott Despoja (republican) represented the Australian Democrats
Trade Unionist Australian Republican Movement delegate
Then Peter Hollingworth (abstained) and Tim Costello (republican)
TV personality Eddie McGuire was an Australian Republican Movement delegate

A total of 152 delegates, from each state and territory and a wide diversity of backgrounds, gathered at Old Parliament House in Canberra. Seventy-six of the delegates were elected by a voluntary postal ballot. The other seventy-six were appointed by the federal government.[3]

List of elected delegates

Order Delegate name Organisation State/Territory
1 Malcolm Turnbull Australian Republican Movement New South Wales
2 Doug Sutherland No Republic – ACM
3 Ted Mack Ted Mack Group
4 Wendy Machin Australian Republican Movement
5 Kerry Jones No Republic – ACM
6 Ed Haber Ted Mack Group
7 The Hon. Neville Wran AC QC Australian Republican Movement
8 Cr Julian Leeser No Republic – ACM
9 Karin Sowada Australian Republican Movement
10 Peter Grogan Australian Republican Movement
11 Jennie George Australian Republican Movement
12 Christine Ferguson No Republic – ACM
13 Alasdair Webster Christian Democratic Party (Fred Nile Group)
14 Glenda Hewitt ungrouped – I Care About Australia's Future
15 Dr Pat O'Shane AM A Just Republic
16 Brigadier Alf Garland AM Australian Monarchist League
17 Andrew Gunter Ethos – Elect the Head of State
18 Hazel Hawke Australian Republican Movement
19 Jason Yat-Sen Li ungrouped – A Multi-Cultural Voice
20 Catherine Moore Greens, Bill of Rights, Indigenous Peoples
21 Eddie McGuire Australian Republican Movement Victoria
22 The Hon. Don Chipp AO No Republic – ACM
23 The Rev. Tim Costello Real Republic
24 Bruce Ruxton OBE MBE Safeguard the People
25 Mary Delahunty Australian Republican Movement
26 Sophie Panopoulos No Republic – ACM
27 Steve Vizard Australian Republican Movement
28 Poppy King Australian Republican Movement
29 Lindsay Fox AO Australian Republican Movement
30 The Hon. Vernon Wilcox CBE QC Safeguard the People
31 Moira Rayner Real Republic
32 Misha Schubert Republic4U – The Youth Ticket
33 The Hon. Jim Ramsay No Republic – ACM
34 Kenneth Gifford QC Australian Monarchist League
35 Phil Cleary ungrouped – Phil Cleary – Independent Australia
36 Eric Bullmore Shooters Party
37 The Hon. KCMG No Republic – ACM Queensland
38 Dr Clem Jones Clem Jones Queensland Constitutional Republic Team
39 The Hon. Michael Lavarch Australian Republican Movement
40 Dr Glen Sheil Constitutional Monarchists
41 Neville Bonner AO No Republic – ACM
42 David Muir Clem Jones Queensland Constitutional Republic Team
43 Sallyanne Atkinson AO Australian Republican Movement
44 Thomas Bradley No Republic – ACM
45 Florence, Lady Bjelke-Petersen Constitutional Monarchists
46 Mary Kelly Women for a Just Republic
47 Sarina Russo Australian Republican Movement
48 Cr Paul Tully Queenslanders for a Republic
49 Cr Ann Bunnell Clem Jones Queensland Constitutional Republic Team
50 Janet Holmes à Court Australian Republican Movement Western Australia
51 The Rt Hon. Reg Withers No Republic – ACM
52 Prof. Peter Tannock Australian Republican Movement
53 Geoff Hourn No Republic – ACM
54 Graham Edwards Australian Republican Movement
55 Clare Thompson Australian Republican Movement
56 Marylyn Rodgers No Republic – ACM
57 Liam Bartlett ungrouped – An Open Mind for the Future
58 Prof. Patrick O'Brien Elect the President
59 Kym Bonython No Republic – ACM South Australia
60 Dr Baden Teague Australian Republican Movement
61 The Rt Rev. John Hepworth No Republic – ACM
62 Linda Kirk Australian Republican Movement
63 Victoria Manetta No Republic – ACM
64 Dr Tony Cocchiaro Australian Republican Movement
65 Fr John Fleming No Republic – ACM)
66 Kirsten Andrews Australian Republican Movement
67 Edward O'Farrell CVO CBE No Republic – ACM Tasmania
68 Julian Green Australian Republican Movement
69 Michael Castle No Republic – ACM
70 Marguerite Scott Australian Republican Movement
71 Dr David Mitchell The Australian Monarchist League
72 Eric Lockett ungrouped – Voice of Ordinary, Fair-Minded, Thinking Citizens
73 Anne Witheford Australian Republican Movement Australian Capital Territory
74 Frank Cassidy Australian Republican Movement
75 David Curtis A Just Republic Northern Territory
76 Michael Kilgariff ungrouped – Territory Republican

List of appointed delegates

Order Delegate name State/Territory Category
1 Andrea Ang Western Australia Non-parliamentary
2 Stella Axarlis Victoria
3 Dannalee Bell Victoria
4 Julie Bishop Western Australia
5 Geoffrey Blainey AO Victoria
6 Greg Craven Western Australia
7 Miranda Devine New South Wales
8 Gatjil Djerrkura OAM Northern Territory
9 Mia Handshin South Australia
10 The Hon. Bill Hayden AC Queensland
11 The Most Revd Peter Hollingworth AO OBE Queensland
12 Mary Imlach Tasmania
13 Major General William James AO MBE MC Queensland
14 Adam Johnston New South Wales
15 Annette Knight AM Western Australia
16 Dame Leonie Kramer AC New South Wales
17 Helen Lynch AM New South Wales
18 The Hon. Richard McGarvie AC Victoria
19 Donald McGauchie AC Victoria
20 The Hon. Dame Roma Mitchell AC South Australia
21 Carl Möller Tasmania
22 Cr Joan Moloney Queensland
23 AM MBE Queensland / TSI
24 Ben Myers Queensland
25 Moira O'Brien Northern Territory
26 Lois O'Donoghue CBE AM South Australia
27 Sir Arvi Parbo AC Victoria
28 The Most Revd George Pell Victoria
29 Nova Peris-Kneebone Western Australia / Northern Territory
30 Peter Sams New South Wales
31 Judith Sloan South Australia
32 Sir David Smith  AM Australian Capital Territory
33 Trang Thomas AM Victoria
34 Lloyd Waddy RFD QC New South Wales
35 George Winterton New South Wales
36 Heidi Zwar Australian Capital Territory
Order Delegate name Office Category
37 The Hon. John Howard MP Prime Minister Parliamentary
38 The Hon. Peter Costello MP Treasurer
39 The Hon. Daryl Williams AM QC MP Attorney-General
40 Senator the Hon. Robert Hill Minister for the Environment
41 Senator the Hon. Jocelyn Newman Minister for Social Security
42 Neil Andrew MP Chief Government Whip
43 Chris Gallus MP
44 Kevin Andrews MP
45 Senator Alan Ferguson
46 The Hon. Tim Fischer MP Deputy Prime Minister
47 The Hon. John Anderson MP Minister for Primary Industries and Energy
48 Senator Ron Boswell Leader of the National Party of Australia in the Senate
49 The Hon. Kim Beazley MP Leader of the Opposition
50 The Hon. Gareth Evans QC MP Deputy Leader of the Opposition
51 Senator the Hon. John Faulkner Leader of the Opposition in the Senate
52 Senator Sue West Deputy President of the Senate
53 Senator the Hon. Nick Bolkus Shadow Attorney-General
54 Senator Kate Lundy
55 Senator Natasha Stott Despoja Deputy Leader of the Democrats
56 Allan Rocher MP
57 The Hon. Bob Carr MP Premier of New South Wales
58 The Hon. Peter Collins QC MP Leader of the Opposition
59 The Hon. Jeff Shaw QC  Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations
60 The Hon. Jeff Kennett MLA Premier of Victoria
61 John Brumby MLA Leader of the Opposition
62 The Hon. Pat McNamara MLA Deputy Premier and Minister for Agriculture
63 The Hon. Rob Borbidge MLA Premier of Queensland
64 Peter Beattie MLA Leader of the Opposition
65 The Hon. Denver Beanland MLA Attorney-General and Minister for Justice
66 The Hon. Richard Court MLA Premier of Western Australia
67 Geoff Gallop MLA Leader of the Opposition
68 The Hon. Hendy Cowan MLA Deputy Premier of Western Australia
69 The Hon. John Olsen FNIA MP Premier of South Australia
70 The Hon. Mike Rann MP Leader of the Opposition
71 The Hon. Mike Elliott MLC Leader of the Australian Democrats
72 The Hon. Tony Rundle MHA Premier of Tasmania
73 Jim Bacon MHA Leader of the Opposition
74 Christine Milne MHA Leader of the Tasmanian Greens
75 Kate Carnell MLA Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory
76 The Hon. Shane Stone MLA Chief Minister of the Northern Territory

See also


  1. ^ a b c Vizard, Steve, Two Weeks in Lilliput: Bear Baiting and Backbiting At the Constitutional Convention (Penguin, 1998, ISBN 0-14-027983-0)
  2. ^ a b c d e "Law and Justice Foundation – The Australian Republican Referendum 1999 – Ten Lessons". Archived from the original on 26 May 2011. Retrieved 2011-06-02. 
  3. ^ a b c "National Library of Australia Pandora Archive". 2006-08-23. Retrieved 2011-06-02. 
  4. ^ "Parliament of Australia: House of Representatives – Members". 1954-10-24. Retrieved 2011-06-02. 
  5. ^ "First Words: A Brief History of Public Debate on a New Preamble to the Australian Constitution 1991–99 (Research Paper 16 1999–2000)". Retrieved 12 Oct 2009. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Pandora Archive". 2006-08-23. Retrieved 2011-06-02. 
  7. ^ "Constitutional Convention Hansard, 13 February".  
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ "Pandora Archive". 2006-08-23. Retrieved 2011-06-02. 
  10. ^ a b [2]
  11. ^ "Pandora Archive". 2006-08-23. Retrieved 2011-06-02. 
  12. ^ a b "Pandora Archive". 2006-08-23. Retrieved 2011-06-02. 
  13. ^ a b c [3]
  14. ^ [4]
  15. ^ "Lessons From the Republic Referendum in Australia" (PDF). Retrieved 28 July 2012. 
  16. ^ "Constitutional Reform and Democracy | Australian Greens".  
  17. ^ "Gillard handed a royal audience". 30 April 2011. Retrieved 2 June 2011. 
  18. ^ Packham, Ben; Franklin, Matthew (25 April 2011). "Republic support lowest in 17 years".  

External links

  • Proceedings of the 1998 Convention
  • The Australian Broadcasting Commission's 1998 Convention website
  • National Library of Australia
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