This time twenty years ago, I was absolutely nowhere near old enough to vote, but people who were were gearing up for the 1999 Australian republic referendum. It was the closest Australians had gotten to booting out the Queen as our head of state, and becoming a republic of our own.
Ultimately the push to become a referendum was shot down, and the Queen stayed in charge of the country. The vote needed a majority of people in a majority of states to pass, but only 45% of people voted for change. In yet another example of Canberra pushing for things like same sex marriage and weed well before the rest of the country, the ACT was the only state that actually favoured a republic. Start as you mean to go on, I guess.
The Prime Minister at the time was John Howard, a man who was almost our most Queen-loving, anti-republic PM in recent history. I say almost, only because Tony Abbott exists, a dude who genuinely wanted to bring back knights and dames. And then did just that. What a time to be alive.
The result isn’t entirely surprising. It’s notoriously hard to pass a referendum, only 8 out of the 44 Australia has had since 1901 have passed, and when you add a Prime Minister who is vocal against changing the current system, the chances of one passing go down even more.
Back in 2019, the chances that we’re going to see a new republic referendum any time soon aren’t easy to guess at. On the one hand, we had a referendum 20 years ago, and it’s easy to say we decided then and we shouldn’t waste time and money on another vote.
On the other hand, do we really want to be ruled by a country that’s managed to get itself into a mess like Brexit?
There seems to be a mostly unspoken agreement to wait until the Queen dies, which is grim af, but Liz is 93 years old and nobody is immortal.
If we’re going to put our energy into a new referendum though, I think constitutional recognition for Indigenous people is probably a bit more urgent.