Despite rumours to the contrary, Australia will continue to be a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and compete in the Commonwealth Games after becoming a Republic. David Donovan sets the record straight.
THE COMMONWEALTH GAMES is a great spectacle and many of us enjoy watching Australia win so many events and dominate the medal tally every four years.
Unfortunately, during the lead up to the 1999 referendum on the Australian Republic, monarchists established a particular myth firmly in many Australian’s minds. This myth pretends that, as a Republic, Australia would be somehow kicked out of the Commonwealth of Nations and therefore be unable to compete in future Commonwealth Games.
There is not a shred of truth in that assertion, but still it was effective in scaring many people away from voting for Australia to become a Republic at that time. Indeed, you still frequently hear people use it as a reason to maintain the status quo.
Now, for the facts.
The majority of Commonwealth nations are, in fact, Republics. In the last Commonwealth Games in India, there were 32 Republics competing out of 53 nations as a whole. Commonwealth Republics include such nations as India, South Africa, Singapore, Pakistan, Cyprus and Malta. Upon becoming Republics, all these countries applied for and were immediately readmitted to the Commonwealth. If Australia had become a Republic before 2007, exactly the same process would have occurred – Australia would have reapplied and been immediately readmitted. Since the 2007 Kampala Declaration, of course, Australia wouldn't even need to reapply — it would simply continue as a Commonwealth nation even after becoming a Republic.
The monarchist misinformation campaign about Commonwealth membership began before the 1999 referendum, leading the then chair of the ARM, Malcolm Turnbull, to send a letter to the Commonwealth Secretariat asking for clarification on the issue.
In a statement issued on 3 November 1999, the Commonwealth Secretary-General at the time Chief Emeka Anyaoku said [emphasis added]:
In the lead up to the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, monarchists launched another scare campaign on this non-issue. The ARM duly approached the most recent former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Sir Don McKinnon, to again confirm the precise situation of republics within the Commonwealth. His letter of 9 November 2005 confirmed the situation:
“Let me make it absolutely clear that, whatever the outcome of the referendum, there is no question of Australia’s membership of the Commonwealth being in doubt.”
To further confirm the true state of affairs, at the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, the issue of membership was considered in response to an application by Rwanda – a country that had never even been a British colony – to join the Commonwealth. The committee issued a statement saying changes to constitutional status would not change Commonwealth membership, meaning Australia would not even need to reapply after becoming a Republic.
“Let me confirm that a country’s position as a member of the Commonwealth is unaffected by a constitutional change in its status to become a republic – ever since the London Agreement of 1949, republican forms of government have been entirely compatible with Commonwealth membership – any constitutional change in Australia to become a republic would not affect its membership in the Commonwealth.”
The ‘Kampala communiqué’, as it was called, was issued on 25 November 2007, and stated:
So, to repeat the truth — as a Republic, Australia would continue to be a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. And, as a Republic, Australia would continue to participate in the Commonwealth Games and thereby be able to continue to dominate the English and the other Commonwealth teams into the future.
“88. Heads of Government also agreed that, where an existing member changes its formal constitutional status, it should not have to reapply for Commonwealth membership provided that it continues to meet all the criteria for membership.”