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ACM Home arrow Convenor's Column arrow Once more unto the breach

Once more unto the breach Print E-mail
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Saturday, 03 January 2009

The recent republic poll commissioned by the Labor Party (referred to here on 30 December) is available on the website of a reputable opinion research company, UMR.  The detailed conclusions differ from most other polling, sometimes remarkably so. Nor is the poll  as good for republicans as has been suggested.

While it differs significantly from most other polls, it still indicates that a referendum would be defeated and a plebiscite by the spin doctors doubtful. And it contains information useful to constitutional monarchists as they prepare for battle.


I am indebted to Liam Wells for pointing this out, and also for his comment on some of the reasons advanced for changing to a politicians republic, which I shall return to below.

If the report were published prior to the newspaper story then it was not a leak. If so I must withdraw that and apologise.

 As is the current practice, those in power would have decided that once it had been decided to make the poll public, a journalist or journalists should be briefed on the poll result. So I find it surprising that more details were not immediately published, including the fact that it was public.

...poll indicates another referendum loss...

 That said, I remain firmly of the view that this poll indicates a referendum would be lost.  On past experience we can assume two things. First the undecided will overwhelmingly vote no. A principal reason is that, for good reason, they are wary of telling a stranger they are monarchists.    

Second, the number of those supporting the proposal s will fall once the debate becomes more vigorous, as it must, immediately prior to the actual vote.

 This is so even if the media campaign strongly for a Yes vote as in 1999, and limit the exposure of the no campaign.

I think these figures, if they do reflect current opinion, also make success in a plebiscite doubtful, even if the No case is disadvantaged by the government. After the gerrymander at the 2020 Summit and the way the Summit decisions were changed, it would not be surprising if the government were to take action to disadvantage the No case.  Rigging the selection for the Summit to get an impossible indeed ludicrous result of 98:1 is indicative of certain arrogance.

In our previous column, I had asked for the report to be released as it would be so helpful in our campaigning.   

What is interesting are the reasons given for support for a politicians’ republic and for the present constitutional system.

This reminded me that among the many books published by ACM over the years were two, one by Justice Lloyd Waddy, as he now is, and Mrs. Kerry Jones. Both are excellent resources on the arguments used in this debate. They are still highly relevant and will be mad e available soon in preparation for any plebiscite or referendum.

...the UMR poll compared...


One thing I immediately noticed about the poll is that the interviews were conducted online. Clearly attempts were made to ensure this was a nationally representative sample - weighting the data and matching this with ABS census data.

 An attempt was made to neutralise self selection by inviting participation. Self selection of course mars not only most open online telephone and newspaper polls, but also I suspect deliberative polls.

But even when an invitation stage is introduced, is there not a degree of self selection if the pool from which the invitees are chosen is self selected?

The maximum margin of error in this poll (at a 95% confidence level) plus or minus 2.2% on this sample of 2000 interviewed from 14 to 26 November, 2008. 

This is compared with a sample of 1000 in May. Support for a politicians’ republic fell marginally  from 52% to 48%, and for the constitutional monarchy from 31% to 28%.

It is interesting to compare the UMR poll with other leading polls. A lot of course depends on the question. One which asks about, say, replacing The Queen as Head of State, is hardly reliable.

It is crucial to check whether the poll is about support for a vague politicians’ republic, or whether it is about a specific model. The reason is that the Founding Fathers insisted that before the people vote the details of any proposed change have to be on the table. So a referendum has to be on a specific model.

The result is different from the latest Newspoll in January 2007; 27% strongly in favour and 18% partly in favour of a politicians’ republic, total 45%.

It is interesting to recall the Newspoll just before the referendum taken on 4 November, 1999.  It found 47% in favour of the referendum model, 50% against and 4% undecided.  (Support for the model had been fluctuating from 41% to 49%)

Newspoll was close, assuming as I do, that the undecided would tend to vote No.

The actual result on 6 November, 1999 was No, 55%, Yes, 45%.

Until 2007, Newspoll used to publish  polls on support for a vague politicians’ republic at least annually. The trend had been down; it is unlikely there has been a rise since.

The May 2008 Morgan poll was on the most popular model that is where the president is directly elected. The UMR poll shows that should Australia become a republic, 80% believe the president should be elected by the people, and only 12% wanting parliament to do this.

The spin reported in the Herald article was that after the first vote, monarchists and republicans will all agree on the direct elect model. This is of course wrong- the plebiscite will not make Australia a republic. If it passes it will do nothing except create a period of constitutional instability.

Incidentally the Morgan poll says it was the most accurate in measuring opinion in the 2007 Federal election both as regards the primary vote and the two part preferred vote.

It is interesting to look at the polling before the referendum.

The last Morgan Poll before the 1999 referendum was taken on 30 and 31 October, four days before Newspoll.

This found 41.5% support for the republican model with 47% intended to vote no and 11.5% undecided. If the undecided voted No, then it too was close.

Morgan polls had found the  Yes vote in the last three or so months had fallen from 46.5%,  a trend which I expect to be followed in any further referendum.

There is a difference between these three  polls which I think is crucial.

Newspoll is taken over the telephone, Morgan in person and UMR by online interviews. Having no expertise in such matters, my suspicion is that different forms of communication will produce different results. 

I am inclined to think face to face polling is preferable, with the rider that support for the existing constitutional system will still be stronger than shown.

This is because the political media establishment has made support for the existing constitutional system politically incorrect.

The findings in the UMR poll differ from most polls in a surprising number of respects,  sufficient to set the alarm bells ringing.  

UMR finds support for a republic to be stronger in all age groups, all states, all income groups, in the cities and the country, and among Labor and Coalition voters.

 A bell curve appears in almost every poll which shows support for a politicians’ republic among different age groups.

This  shows that support for a politicians’ republic is strongest among the middle aged.

But this hardly appears in the UMR poll.  Support among those under 30 is 49% to 18%, only marginally below the middle aged. Support for a republic falls but still prevails among those over 70, 44% to 40%.


..Key findings...

• Half of all Australians support Australia becoming a republic, while 28% oppose this. Men and Labor voters are more in favour as are those earning higher incomes.

• Overall, there are four broad themes why Australians support a republic: They think that

– It’s time to cut old ties to Great Britain

– Monarchy is an outdated concept

– There are little benefits to Australia from the current system

– Australia is strong and can stand alone in the world

– Indigenous Australians have been here before Britain

• Reasons for opposing a republic are more diverse:

– The current system is working, why should it be changed

– The change would be too expensive, and there are other things that should be fixed first

– The current system of parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy is the better system

– Unwanted consequences that a republic might have, mainly due to less control

– The ties with Great Britain and the Commonwealth carry advantages for Australia that it would lose

– Heritage and tradition

• If Australia became a republic with a president as head of state, 4 in 5 want the president to be elected by the people, only 12% say he should be appointed by parliament.

...reasons for supporting a politicians’ republic...

Liam Wells comment is interesting:  “ A cursory glance at the arguments for becoming a republic vexed me - people seemed to allow themselves to be deluded into making mistakes regarding the Constitution.

“ I admit not having read it myself, but as I see it, the rewriting of the Constitution in order to facilitate a directly-elected President would blur the lines between Executive and Legislature (in much the same way as a Bill of Rights would blur the Legislature and Judiciary), and would do so in a way that would be detrimental to the efficient government of the Commonwealth.


“But there was one point in favour of retaining the monarchy I found quite amusing - How many republics have NOT had civil wars? (emphasis theirs).




The reasons for and against a republic set our in the UMR poll ( follow link "Read more" below)

Reasons for a republic   1. It’s time to cut old ties 

• Finally become an independent country not reliant on an inherited structure from England.

• Australia needs to further develop its identity as an independent nation looking to the future, not the past. We have progressed as a people to become very different from our Anglo-Saxon origins, and this should be reflected in our becoming completely independent from Britain.

• I don't think becoming a republic will change our history but I think it is time to sever ties with England. We are a multi-cultural country now whose citizens come from all over the world and these people have something to offer as well.

• Why does the Queen actually have a say in what we do! Let’s just get independent and become a nation where both indigenous and others can be more united without the head coming from another country.

• Because we are well able to stand by ourselves without the British influence now.

2.Monarchy is outdated


• Being under the monarchy in technical terms is outdated. We need to move into the future, stop living in the past.

• The British Monarch, in her role as the Australian Head of State, fails to represent the majority of Australians who are not of British descent and who have no significant historical ties with Britain (not to mention those who actively resent the monarchy). There is no good reason to maintain an antiquated system which serves no useful purpose and which we ignore in practice anyway, namely by appointing a Governor General.

• Ties to English monarchy are outdated and roles of State Governors and the Governor General are superfluous. Their roles, apart from that of representing the Sovereign, could be fulfilled by other public officers.

• Makes sense, monarchy is outdated and irrelevant, and family heritage and birth should not bestow power over nations.

• We have no real cultural, economic or political connection to the royal family so why should we pay them lip service for having come and destroyed the way of life of the Aboriginal people that had existed for many thousands of years, and claimed sovereignty over land that did not belong to it, then badly mistreated the inhabitants. Australia has many citizens who have no heritage that traces to colonial times, so the whole concept is outdated and irrelevant to a large proportion of Australians.

 3.Little benefit from monarchy


• We derive little to no benefit from being a part of the

Commonwealth and the association bears little relevance with the growth and future of Australia.

• We don't have the right to live in the UK on our Aussie passport, and move freely throughout the Commonwealth like Europeans do in the EU, so what's the point.

• The monarchy serves no purpose within Australia or the Australian way of life. The monarchy is an irrelevant extravagance.

• Because the Queen is only for show nowadays and we should become our own country without these old irrelevant ties.

• We have no benefits to remaining a part of the monarchy and have been capable of being a republic for a long time now.

• Our present Head of State, QE2, has very limited constitutional powers and yet Australia has a large financial commitment to maintain that status quo. Australia, by accepting this change, stands to lose little benefit yet gain a huge advantage.

4.Australia as Australia as part of the world

Australia is a strong country and can stand alone amongst equals 

• We are a country which has proven it can stand alone and compete with other nations on an equal footing. We should have our own head of state, whatever theymay be called, and therefore beholden to our own virtues, laws etc. without having to answer to the Queen and the outdated Westminster system in its entirety.

• We as a country must move to mature and develop as a world leader standing strong among the flagging big nations.

• Australia has earned her right to stand alone as a democracy. We have our own identity within the global context/market place.

• We are a small (in population), young country with our own potential to stand in this world without being tied to the trappings of old Mother England. We are an Asian country geographically and our independence is important to standing tall in this part of the world.

It would improve Australia’s image in the world

• Would raise Australia's status as a nation seen by the rest of the world to be independent.

• I think it’s time to stand up to the world and say proudly we are Australian, and stop being a laughing stock of the world.

• Whilst the monarchy provides us with political stability, this may be achieved in other political models, and we would then be taken more seriously by the world.


• Because I am an Aboriginal Australian and detest having the Monarchy thrust upon me! I feel no allegiance to the English monarchy whatsoever!

• The monarchy is an outdated institution and a reminder of Indigenous oppression.

• England were not the original owner of Australia so out of respect to the Indigenous people of Australia we should become a republic an we may have an Indigenous leader, wouldn't that be great and this can happen under Labor.

• I feel like Australia has come a long way since being 'initiated' by the Queen’s Country. I don't feel like we as Australians identify with the United Kingdom anymore, we have developed our own way of life and things work differently for us. We should celebrate andidentify ourselves as a separate entity. Also taking in mind that I do not believe the UK has any right to this land, considering it really belongs to the Aboriginals.

• We should allow ourselves to grow up - and let our Indigenous people mature as well and preserve the oldest surviving culture in the world!

 Reasons for Reasons for opposing Australia becoming a republic

 1.It’s not broken – why fix it?

• We have a very good constitution and governmental system already. Australia is a recognizable country as it stands, we have very sound decision-making processes, albeit some not very good decisions by some political parties and management teams, but overall a fair system of government.

• We have a beautiful country with a system of rule that has worked for over 100 years. If we become a republic, everything from flag to elections, to postage stamps will be need to be changed.

• Why change something that has worked well for years? Other countries have shown that republics are not always a good option in running a country.

• After all the Queen has little to do with any form of government or rules and regulations in this country, why change the ingredients if the meal is satisfactory as it is.

• The country functions very well as a constitutional monarchy. What difference will a republic make to: our economy, our educational problems, our health problems?

• Our roots are British and a Christian country. I cannot see any valid reason to change this.

• We already have a very good and efficient style of Government. Most republics around the world are in some sort of political trouble.

• We have done very well over the past couple of hundred years and I do not see any reason to change. The Queen or King don't interfere with the running of our country, and the USA would love to be in our position and have a monarch to be proud of, so why should we give up what we have to please a few radicals.

2.Too expensive


• I strongly oppose the costs associated with change so that a few people can say ’oh we have a president’. The costs are further reaching than expressed by republican lobbyists.

• The cost of transferring every representation of Australia being a monarchy. I don't care about whether we have a president or a prime minister, but the cost isprohibitive and with the current financial crisis is just a red-herring.

• Becoming a republic will mean many changes not just getting rid of the Royal Family as many people think - the cost and upheaval of our current system will beenormous.

• Who pays for the change? Rewriting a new constitution, reprinting all correspondence, all new letterheads, plus other associated mass changes.

• I do not believe that the benefit is worth the cost.

• Enormous cost for nothing gained (politically, economically or socially). I have not yet seen any compelling facts that prove without any doubt that the move to a republic will benefit the country in any way.

• I do not see any significant advances in being a republic. To change from the Westminster system of government would be costly - will it significantly increase jobs, security, health etc.?

• I am in no way a royalist but I feel that the monarchy has very little to do with the running of our country or our national identity. It would be a huge waste of money to hold referendums/elections for a republic or president - money that could be much better spent on the disastrous public health & education systems.

 3.The current system  is better

• Take note of the instability of many other countries around the world who change their Head of State frequently. The present system is not causing any angst at the moment, other than those who have a need in their life to rebel against many things without just cause.

• We have the best political system in the world and I think changing it would not necessarily be good for the country.

• I believe the Westminster parliamentary system we currently have, is the best system of governance currently in existence and miles better/safer than a republic.

• I believe we currently have the best of all worlds - and many are too blind to see. The queen does not in any way interfere in the governing and laws of the country and we do not have the added cost of the whole presidential set-up.

• I look at all the republics around the world and they are in a mess or under constant pressure from would-be presidents. At least with a monarchy we have tradition, culture, a proud history and a Head of State who has spent a lifetime working for the people and who is still answerable to a parliament.

3. Republic can have unwanted consequences

• Because the sovereignty of God will be removed from our constitution and so our country will fall into total disarray.

• How many republic countries in the world have NOT had a civil war.

• Too many countries who have become independent, have seen their economies and living standards go down the drain, and inflation through the roof.

• Look at other countries who have became republics and judge for yourself not to many are happy countries, wars, takeovers, total unrest, not too happy people.

• I oppose simply because the present system works because of the checks and balances in place with the constitution. This would need to be changed and there could be the high probability the amended constitution would allow the election of a dictator based on other countries that have changed to a presidency.

• The majority of republics end up as dictatorships. The monarchy has very little say in the running of the country but can, when necessary, give the people an ’extra mental boost’ when tragedy or other calamities occur.

• Because our political system is too open to abuse and very few republics of small populations can withstand the interference of other predatory nations.

• Around the globe, the few remaining monarchies are generally stable and/or prosperous, while the most inept and corrupt regimes are republics.

4. Advantages  through ties with Commonwealth

• By world standards we are a small nation and although we think we are a big player in the world we really are not and by remaining in the Commonwealth we would continue to have the support of larger countries.

• The Commonwealth is a group of over 50 countries working somewhat together, it would be stupid to step out of such an important group. Also, we should not cut our ties with Europe completely, too many Aussies have roots there.

• This country doesn't have a big enough population to protect it from possible invaders and needs the support of the Commonwealth if necessary.

• I like the ties we have to the Commonwealth. I feel safer knowing we have those allies and that they are Christian countries.

• We can not afford to let Islam get any more of a hold on our country than it already has and if we loose our ties with the

Commonwealth, I fear we will lose Australia and our beliefs and customs (more than we have already had them taken away from us).

• Our roots are with the British monarchy, we don't need to change for changes sake. What would we do without the Commonwealth Games to lift our nations spirits between Olympics?

5.Heritage and tradition

• Because I support our flag and European heritage and believe our connection with the Monarchy is the only true way to hold on to our roots.

• Because our roots are in our heritage and there is no reason to forget that. We clearly have our own identity and are all but self-governing yet we can still retain our origins.

• Our heritage is entwined with the throne.

• It's our heritage. The biggest thing that concerns me, is the flag changing.

• Because Australia was settled by convicts from England. Why should we lose that heritage.

• No need to change a good stable democratic system recognizing British heritage.

• We have a great background from England and we should try and keep up a

tradition handed down to us by the convicts, who knows maybe one of mine, we'll never know.

• Fought for the Crown as have other predecessors before me. Retention of tradition maintains civilization and law and order.

• Change for change sake is wrong, this country was made great under the flag we now salute and should remain so.

• Because as a returned ex serviceman I served the Queen and believe that she is the rightful head of state in this country.

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