A brief history of the Australian Republican Movement

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The chair of the Australian Republican Movement, Major General Michael Keating AO, provides a very short history of the Movement, which turned 20 last week.

The Australian Republican Movement was founded on 7 July, 1991.

The Foundation Members were Tom Keneally, the late Geoffrey Dutton, the late Professor Donald Horne, Jenny Kee, the late Franco Belgiorno-Nettis, Franca Arena, Faith Bandler, Mark Day, Geraldine Doogue, Colin Lanceley, the late Harry Seidler, Malcolm Turnbull, David Williamson and The Hon Neville Wran. Tom Keneally was the first Chairman and he was succeeded by Malcolm Turnbull in November 1993.

Originally, the ARM was intended to be a “ginger group” to prod political organisations to pick up the republican ball and run with it. Eventually, it was recognised that a national organisation was required to meet the challenges involved. Funding and office support was largely provided by Malcolm Turnbull and Neville Wran.

In 1993, PM Keating set up the Republic Advisory Committee. Its members were Nick Greiner, John Hirst, Mary Kostakidis, Lowitja O’Donoghue, Susan Ryan, George Winterton, Namoi Dougall, Glyn Davis and Malcolm Turnbull as Chair. The committee travelled all over Australia and submitted a two volume report in November 1993.

The ARM played a major role in the Constitutional Convention of 1998 .There were 609 candidates for the 76 elected positions of the total 152 delegates at the Convention and the ARM won 27 of that 76. The ARM team at the Convention was:

NSW: Malcolm Turnbull, Wendy Machin, Neville Wran, Karin Sowada, Peter Grogan, Jennie George and Hazel Hawke; Victoria: Eddie McGuire, Mary Delahunty, Steve Vizard, Poppy King and Lindsay Fox; SA: Baden Teague, Linda Kirk, Tony Cocchiaro, and Kirsten Andrews; QLD: Michael Lavarch, Sallyanne Atkinson and Sarina Russo; WA: Janet Holmes a Court, Peter Tannock, Graham Edwards and Clare Thompson; Tas: Julian Green and Marguerite Scott; and ACT: Anne Witheford and Frank Cassidy.

In preparation for the republic referendum the Howard Government appointed and funded a Yes committee and a No committee. The Yes Committee comprised Malcolm Turnbull, Neville Wran, Karin Sowada, Andrew Robb and Peter Barron. Greg Barns was the national campaign director. The referendum was held in November 1999 and the people voted not so much to retain the monarchy but against the model of republic that had emerged from the Convention.

After the 1999 referendum the ARM was restructured as a public company limited by guarantee. The first National Committee under this format  comprised Malcolm Turnbull, Greg Barns, Wayne Burns, Brendan Jones, Wendy Machin and James Terrie. The first National Committee elected by the members comprised Natasha Stott Despoja, Louise Sullivan, Anne Witheford, Dorothy McCrae-McMahon, Gilbert Astorga, Frank McGuire, Peter Collins, Greg Barns, Malcolm Turnbull, Tim Costello, Matthew Harrison, Susan Ryan, Jason Yat Sen Li, Christopher Schacht, Geoffrey Britton and Rodney Kendall, and took office on 20 September 2000. Greg Barns was elected Chair and has been succeeded in that position by John Warhurst, Ted O’Brien and the current Chair Mike Keating.

In 2004, the ARM contributed to the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee Inquiry into the republic question. The committee published a report entitled “The road to a republic”.

The ARM moved its office from Sydney to Canberra in 2006 to better reflect the national role of the organisation.

In 2008, the ARM contributed to the Government’s  2020 Summit. The Government recognised the priority placed on constitutional reform by the community and stated that it would draw on the input of the Summit in thinking about future possible proposals for constitutional change.

The ARM also contributed to the Senate Committee hearings on Senator Brown’s 2010 bill to hold a plebiscite on the threshold question of becoming a republic.

Now, in 2011, the ARM has members in every State and Territory and maintains an office in Canberra. It has a National Committee elected by all ARM members and Branch Councils in each State and the ACT elected by ARM members in that State or Territory. Funding is largely provided by members’ subscriptions.

An Australian republic still eludes us.

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