The Guardian October 27, 1999


REFERENDUM:
Republic YES Preamble NO

The overwhelming majority of the Australian people want Australia to 
become a republic. The monarchy is a relic of the past and is irrelevant to 
most Australians. Yet the pro-republic forces have been divided creating 
the possibility that the proposition for Australia to become a republic 
could be defeated at the referendum on Saturday November 7.

The campaign has become extremely dirty and dishonest on the part of those 
advocating a NO vote. Key issues are being buried in a barrage of emotive 
propaganda. Hackers, using the title "Underground Empire Loyalists" brought 
down the Australian Republican Movement's website on the internet.

Another website, using the address "aec.referendum.com.au", appears to be 
passing itself off as the official Electoral Commission's website which is 
"referendum.aec.gov.au".

The Australian Electoral Commission has referred the matter to the 
Australian Consumer and Competition Commission.

One No Committee advertisement using the words, "Let the people keep their 
say" was found by the Commercials Advice Pty Ltd (CAD)* to involve a 
factual claim that could not be substantiated.

The implication is that we, the people, do have a say now in selecting our 
head of state. This is a big lie. The Queen is Queen by birth, and the 
Prime Minister chooses the Governor-General.

There was a similar misleading implication in another commercial, "If you 
want to vote for the President, vote `NO' to the Politician's Republic".

The implication is that a "NO" vote will deliver a directly elected 
President. It won't. It ensures that Australia's head of state remains an 
unelected, foreign monarch.

A "NO" vote will prevent Australia becoming a republic for possibly many 
years to come and this is exactly what the monarchists want.

To achieve their aim, they have hijacked the arguments of those republicans 
who do not accept the model of a republic which will be voted on in the 
coming referendum.

The monarchists know that the great majority of the Australian people do 
not want an unelected Queen Elizabeth, or the future King Charles III, as 
head of state with an Australian deputy (Governor-General) selected solely 
by the Prime Minister.

The debate has been diverted from the key question of whether or not 
Australia becomes a republic in the year 2001.

Differences over the method of election of the President are being fostered 
and played up to defeat the pro-republican vote and maintain the monarchy 
as head of state.

The facts

A "YES" vote means Australia becomes a republic with an Australian head of 
state appointed by Parliament.

A "NO" vote means Australia does not become a republic, and the head of 
state remains an unelected foreign monarch with a Governor-General chosen 
by the Prime Minister.

If the "NO" vote is successful, then the next constitutional convention 
will again be about the same issue  whether or not Australia is to become 
a republic. And it may be some years away.

The "NO" voters say: "A puppet for President!  Vote NO", that the 
President will be the Prime Minister's puppet.

But will it? The appointment of a President with the agreement of the 
leader of the Opposition as well as a two-thirds majority of both Houses of 
Parliament is hardly likely to be the Prime Minister's puppet or a party 
politician.

But a the person directly elected as President would more likely be party 
political. The major political parties would have their candidates backed 
by massive amounts of money.

Genuine independent candidates would have neither the financial backing nor 
receive the media coverage of candidates backed by major parties.

Playing on the fear of change and on ignorance, the "NO" voters use the 
slogan: "When in doubt, throw it out. Vote `NO'".  

The Communist Party of Australia (CPA) recognises that the minimal changes 
being put forward in the referendum do not go far enough.

But a YES vote for a republic is an important, first step forward in the 
struggle towards Australia becoming an economically and politically 
independent and democratic republic  which should be the subject of the 
next constitutional convention.

There are a number of ways in which the constitution could be strengthened 
for the benefit of the people of Australia:

* the inclusion of a Bill of Rights based on the United Nations Declaration 
of Human Rights;

* recognition of the rights (including land rights) of the Aboriginal and 
Torres Strait Islander people;

* inclusion of environmental protection;

* reform of the electoral system including proportional representation;

* provisions for Australia's economic independence.

Preamble fails

The proposed preamble does little to improve the Constitution. It is both 
inadequate and in parts inappropriate.

It starts with "With hope in God". Given that 20 percent of Australians are 
non-believers and the long acceptance of separation of church and state, a 
secular preamble, with no reference to God, would be more appropriate.

The proposed preamble honours Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, "the 
nation's first people, for their kinship with their lands...".

The CPA believes that "kinship" is an inadequate term to describe  the 
prior ownership and occupation traditional relationship of the indigenous 
communities with their lands.

It eliminates any concept of land rights. It serves the interests of the 
pastoralists and mining corporations but denies history and justice.

The Northern Land Council (NLC) has recommended that the Top End's 28,000 
Aboriginal people vote "YES" for the republic and "NO" to the preamble.

"We are saying YES only on the basis that the federal parliament honour the 
recommendation to re-establish the Constitutional Convention to make real 
and positive changes in the Constitution and that it includes adequate 
Indigenous representation", said NLC Chairman Galarrwuy Yunupingu.

The NLC unanimously rejected the preamble because it does not recognise 
Aboriginal people as landowners and diminishes the rights and status of 
Aboriginal people.

"These changes must go beyond reconciliation and include recognition of 
Aboriginal law and protection of Aboriginal rights."

"It is just not good enough. It denies us our identity", said Mr Yunupingu.

The CPA recommends a "NO" vote on the question of a preamble to the 
Constitution.

*CAD is the body to which advertisements on commercial free-to-air 
television are submitted for approval. CAD advises on their compliance with 
laws and voluntary codes and guidelines.

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