Australia poised to say no to republican dream

THEIR DREAMS of a republic about to disappear in a puff of smoke, campaigners for a "yes" vote in today's historic referendum made a last appeal to Australians yesterday to follow their hearts and enter the new millennium free of the final vestiges of colonialism.

Malcolm Turnbull, chairman of the Australian Republican Movement (ARM), was up at the crack of dawn, handing out leaflets to office workers stepping off ferries at Sydney's Circular Quay. But even as he joked with commuters, he was digesting yet another opinion poll showing that the electorate is poised to give a decisive thumbs down to his vision of a truly independent Australia.

After a long and profoundly divisive campaign, the country's 12 million voters will be asked today whether they want to replace their head of state, the Queen, and her representative in Australia, the Governor-General, with an Australian president nominated by the public and appointed by two-thirds of parliament.

Yesterday's opinion poll, in the Sydney Morning Herald, put the republicans at 41 per cent and their opponents at 47 per cent. The gap was smaller than in other surveys but, ominously, the number of undecided voters has fallen sharply.

Within a few hours of the polls closing at 6pm (7am today GMT), the nation will learn whether it has, as predicted, stepped back from the brink. The great irony of the sequence of events likely to unfold today is that two-thirds of Australians actually want a republic. It is the type of republic on offer, not the principle, that is destined to sink the referendum.

The dispute is about the method of choosing a president; many republicans believe that the head of state should be directly elected by the people, and substantial numbers of them plan to join forces with the monarchists to vote "no".

The other irony is that the ill-fated "yes" camp has achieved the singular feat of uniting an extraordinary mix of Australians behind the proposed republic. They are not just the celebrities who lend their names to such campaigns, although there are plenty of actors, authors and sports stars urging their compatriots to vote "yes". They include people such as Sir Anthony Mason and Sir Gerard Brennan, former High Court chief justices, and Sir Zelman Cowen, a former governor-general.

The debate has transcended ideological rivalries. The Australian Attorney- General, Daryl Williams, and his opposition counterpart, Robert McClelland, have appeared in public together to endorse the move to a republic. Most of the Labor Party supports it, but so do many Coalition (conservative) politicians, most notably Peter Costello, the Treasurer. The premiers and opposition leaders in all six Australian states are of similar mind, with just one exception.

But the most remarkable display of unity has been that of Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser, key players in a constitutional crisis that has great resonance today as Australia ponders whether to cut the umbilical cord with the mother country.

Mr Whitlam, who had been the first Labor prime minister in more than 20 years, was dismissed by the then Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, in 1975 after the Senate, the upper house, refused him the funds to govern. Mr Fraser, the Liberal leader, was installed as caretaker prime minister and confirmed in office at a subsequent general election.

These two sworn enemies, now elderly men, have put aside their differences and this week appeared in a television commercial for the ARM, sitting on a settee and chatting like old friends. They also shared a platform at the ARM's final campaign rally in Melbourne on Thursday.

Most of the business community wants a republic, according to a recent survey by the Australian Financial Review, a respected daily newspaper. So does the media; the majority of the country's newspapers, including those owned by Rupert Murdoch, have campaigned vigorously for change.

High-profile supporters of the "no" camp are less numerous and more disparate. There is Bill Hayden, a former governor-general who is a "direct election" republican; Professor David Flint, the chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Authority; Dame Leonie Kramer, the chancellor of Sydney University; and several cabinet ministers.

But the monarchists have a trump card that the republicans cannot match: the Prime Minister, John Howard.

With Australians traditionally cautious about constitutional reform, having approved only eight out of 42 referendums this century, Mr Howard's intervention last week in support of "the devil you know" will have been crucial in swinging undecided voters.

The Prime Minister has acknowledged that the move to a republic is inevitable, but he wants that day to be put off for as long as possible.

FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam