The current republican campaign is the fourth significant attempt to remove the Crown from the Australian constitutional system. But the Crown has been with us from the beginning, and remained with us even in the darkest days of the Second World War. As Australian as our language, it remains a crucial check and balance in our constitutional system.
The first significant republican movement was in the nineteenth century. Its aim was to establish a white racist republic free of the immigration policy of the British Empire. This faded away with the movement to Federation, with the Commonwealth of Australia being endowed with an express power to establish a national immigration policy.
The second, and longest campaign, was to create a communist state similar to the East European Peoples’ Republics established after the Second World War. Its proponents never made the slightest impact in Australia electorally, notwithstanding their control of several key strategic unions.
The third was initiated by the Australian Republican Movement and promoted by Paul Keating when he was Prime Minister. Its object was to graft onto the constitution a republic, but initially only at the federal level. In this republic, the president would be appointed by parliament. Although a string of implausible reasons for the change were advanced by senior republican figures, ranging from reducing unemployment and the brain drain to stopping Australian expatriates being taken for Britons, the raison d’être of their campaign was that only a republic could provide an Australian Head of State.
Their formidable political and media campaign culminated in the 1999 referendum, which was defeated nationally and in all states.The republican movement said that whatever the result in 1999, it would close down. However it has mounted the present and fourth campaign for an Australian republic.
The significant differences now are first, the movement is unwilling or unable to specify model or any details of the change it wants. Secondly, the movement is calling for the holding of a plebiscite or, according to one faction, two plebiscites.