It has often been said that, for republicans, it’s not a matter of whether Australia will become a republic, but a matter of when. The 1999 referendum was a serious setback, but there is cause for hope amongst the wreckage: after all, it wasn’t so much a referendum on whether we should be republic as much as a referendum on what form that republic should take. Some pretty cynical politicians split the vote via classic wedge politics. Disappointing, but there’s hope – support for the republic at that time was as high as 60%.
However, there are some issues that republicans need to be very wary about. Firstly, there is no guarantee that young people support the republic in contrast to older people. In fact, according to David Morris and the ARM’s polling, support for the republic amongst younger people is low – and possibly linked to some very scary statistics about the value of democracy to young people. I’ve got my own thoughts about why this might be the case, but I’m not sure this is the place for it.
In fact, David Morris suggested that our highest supporters are amongst the baby boomers – people who see the republic as the next step in the natural progression Australia has followed since becoming an independent country.
I think there is an important role to be played by education, too. The 1999 referendum came on the back of a very high profile and well funding education campaign – that took place both in schools and in the public arena. Perhaps something similar is needed – after all, the people in primary school and high school are going to be the ones who are close to voting by the time the referendum might come around, in 2020, as some people have suggested.
And then there is the challenge of overcoming the innate resistance of Australians to change. We’re a pretty conversative bunch – few referenda are successful – and there are pretty few referenda full stop. I can’t imagine us, as much as I might want to, ever getting up to tinkering with our constitution like the Icelanders did a while go.
So, some pretty big hurdles to overcome.