POLLS-IT'S ALL IN THE QUESTION
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Sunday, 25 January 2004

An opinion poll has been described as a summary of the answers people are prepared to give to a question which is uninvited and on which they have no time to consider. Of course it all depends on the question. The Newspoll published in the Sunday Telegraph on 25 January 2004 is a case in point. It asked 1200 Australians this question, with these responses: "Which one of the following would you prefer as our Head of State? An Australian to be Australia's Head of State 64% The Queen to remain Australia's Head of State... 30% Uncommitted 6%" As with many polls-and the same would apply to a plebiscite-the answer depends on the question. In this case the question contains a fundamental error. The Australian Constitution does not use the term Head of State. Why? Because it is a term used in international law and in diplomacy. There is no doubt whatsoever that for the purposes of diplomacy and international law, the Governor General is our Head of State. The Keating government declared him to be this. So we have an Australian Head of State who can exercise, for example, the reserve powers of the Crown under the Constitution, as we saw in 1975. The Queen, who remains the Sovereign, cannot change the Governor-General 's decisions under these powers. So if you ask a wrong question, you get wrong answer. That is why lawyers are not allowed to ask trick questions, for example" When did you stop beating your wife? "In the unlikely event that ACM was asked what the question should be, we could mischievously suggest: "Should many more millions of dollars be diverted from schools and hospitals , in again trying to turn Australia into a republic? A proper question could be :"Do you think Australia should become a republic?".

 

Australia's highest circulating newspaper recently asked its readers a question along these lines in a detailed questionnaire, one in which they had time to think. Twenty eight thousand responded! Some sample! An independent survey company moderated the results. The response was clear-55% did not want a republic. And this in the very state where republicans polled best in 1999! (They still lost!) And the vote was even stronger among the young. On all counts this is a surely a much more persuasive poll.