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The Republic debate is back: Is this Hockey’s ‘Marriage Equality’?

Joe Hockey – along with Peter FitzSimons (head of the Australian Republican Movement) and Labor Senator Katy Gallagher – announced today that they are putting the Republic back on the table for discussion. At a time when Hockey is struggling for popularity, and when even dangling tax cuts before people isn’t winning him any votes, a cynical person might wonder if this is Hockey’s attempt to get back behind a barrow that others will be happy to push along with him.

Don’t get me wrong – as I wrote recently, I’m as staunchly pro-republic as Abbott is a monarchist. And if Hockey is fair-dinkum about this, then more power to him. But just as I believe Marriage Equality has little chance of getting up while Abbott is prime minister, the same is true of a republic.

Let’s revisit what happened in the 90s

By way of context, here’s a quick summary of the key events around the vote for Australia to become a republic in the 1990s:

  • Support for Australia becoming a republic was strong in the 90s – as shown in the graph below. The green line represents the percentage of people who were for Australia becoming a republic, and the red line is people who were against it. Right up to the referendum, there was consistently a significant margin between those who were pro-republic and those who were against it.


So how did the republican movement fail – I hear you ask? Good question …

  • In 1993, Paul Keating created a ‘Republic Advisory Committee’ – which was chaired by then banker and lawyer, one Mr Malcolm Turnbull – to determine what changes would be needed to the constitution for Australia to become a republic. Which they did. Before they could start putting more detail behind these changes so that they could be put to a referendum however….
  • In 1996, John Howard – a confirmed monarchist – was elected Prime Minister on a reluctant platform of putting Australia becoming a republic to a referendum late in his first term.
  • In 1999 Howard successfully put the question of Australia becoming a republic to bed, for what turns out to be a good 16 years. He did this by tying Australia becoming a republic with a model which he knew was not popular with the Australian people. The republican model Howard put forward to be voted on would have replaced the Governor General with a President elected by politicians. (The more popular model – which had over 70% support – had the Australian public electing the President.)By doing this, Howard cleverly split the pro-republic movement so that those who favoured the more popular model actually told people to vote ‘no’ in the republic referendum, some mistakenly believing they would get a second go at a vote with their preferred model. But with Howard as Prime Minister, this was never going to happen.
  • The rest – as they say – is history. The vote for Australia to become a republic failed, with 55% of people voting against Australia becoming a republic.

(For a more detailed ouline of events, see my recent article on how Abbott is using the same ploy currently with marriage equality.)

Some 16 years later …

Back to 2015, and Joe Hockey is bringing up the republic debate again. Now, to be fair, he has always been in favour of a republic, this is not a change in position from him. But why now?

Certainly, if Hockey is serious about wanting a republic, he must know that it could never get up with Abbott as Prime Minister – John Howard proved that. And Abbott confirmed his willingness to play dirty in order to get his own way recently, by ‘branch stacking’ the party room on the discussion about marriage equality with Nationals.

Is this Hockey’s ‘marriage equality’ – something that he is a known supporter of that the public can get behind? Or does Hockey know that Abbott’s days are numbered – and therefore the time might be ripe now to bring up a key issue that actually could get across the line in the next parliamentary term?

Only time will tell.

Either way – as the French used to say ‘Bring on the Republic’ (Vive la République)!!!

(The flag design above – minus the words – was by John Joseph of Epping, NSW – see

This article was first published on Progressive Conversation.


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  1. Carol Taylor

    It does seem odd timing, there is the economy, the Royal Commission’s decision delayed “again”, Abbott’s grovel promise to Obama to “help” in Syria, Hockey being blasted for his non-costed promises of taxcuts for..basically everyone. Seems like a good time to bring up a subject that is way, way down on today’s priority list..a republic.

  2. Kate M

    I know. It is odd. Particularly because there’s been very little rumblings on the topic at all.

  3. Loz

    Me thinks he knows Abbott’s days are numbered.

  4. Mark Needham

    Something evil is happening.
    He’s from Mars, can’t be good, Hey!
    Mark Needham

  5. Matters Not

    Seems to me that Abbott has no choice. He must sack the ‘Avuncular one’.

    This is ‘insurrection’ writ large (and from a rather large person, devoid of medical intervention).

    This is a clear attempt to challenge Abbott’s authority. Possibly reason enough to stop insulting the TI locals and return home.

    But a ‘tin ear’ is a ‘tin ear’ and I suspect he won’t.

  6. stephentardrew

    It’s obvious it is a deflection from the mess the economy is in and if you cannot drive terrorism successfully then go for patriotism.

    They follow the US right to a tee.

    Abbot knows how Howard deflected a republican vote and you can be rest assured Credlin, Abbott and Hockey are as thick as thieves while giving the appearance of division.

    They would only pursue it do deflect from other problems to cover their lack of negotiation and mediation skills so if the seem flexible on the Republic issue they can look more bipartisan when they are not.

    Watch where it goes post election if they win which they will not.

  7. Kaye Lee


    Are we going to have a federal election, a referendum on constitutional recognition for Indigenous people, a plebiscite on marriage equality, a referendum on becoming a republic, mixed in with state and local government elections, all in the next few years? They better work out how to do online voting or this is going to cost us a fortune.

    And what does “putting it on the table” actually mean? That table is getting very cluttered – the piles are getting higher but the outbox remains empty.

    Of course this is just a distraction. I am so tired of this obvious manipulation – it is insulting.

  8. Möbius Ecko

    It’s all the more suspicious because in the past whenever the Republic was raised by anyone other than the Liberals it was always eschewed by the Liberals as a low priority and something the people didn’t want.

    You can add to the growing pile of the undone, underdone, redone and misdone stuff by this government their changes to PPL to stop supposed double dipping. It looks like it will not just stop double dipping but cause many parents to miss out..

    This has to be the most cocked up government since Howard, and that’s saying something as Howard screwed up much of his legislation.

  9. Kate M

    OK. At the risk of being howled down – because I know there is much support for the perspective that this is a manufactured LNP distraction on both FaceBook and on the twits, as well as in an article on the ABC website this morning and here in the comments. And it could very well be true. Certainly, as I’ve written many times before, this is a government who loves using distractions to divert us away from the real issues.

    But here’s some reasons why I think this announcement may not have been intended by the broader LNP as a distraction. By Joe Hockey sure – that was one of my arguments after all – but by the broader LNP, I’m not entirely convinced. And here’s why…….

    1) Eric Abetz came out and said it was a distraction. So did other right-wing monarchists in the LNP.

    I could really stop my argument there – it is Eric Abetz after all. But acknowledging that Abetz is a part of the LNP cabinet, and could be a part of a broader conspiracy to distract – which is something this government loves to do, let’s go on……

    2) Abbott is soooooo pro the monarchy that he probably has “I love the monarchy” secretly monogrammed on the inside of every article of clothing he wears. He was instrumental in killing of the republic last time – being a key part of Howard’s team who proudly buried the issue in the late 90s and then presumably sung “God save the Queen” by its grave. I just cannot see him being overjoyed at its revival, or wanting ‘his’ cabinet to send any message to the Queen that she is anything but worshiped by him and ‘his’ cabinet.

    3) Abbott is busily trying to distract us with Syria and Terrorism right now. I can’t see him wanting to distract us from HIS distractions – particularly since the republic is typically considered to be more popular with those who swing left, and Abbott does like playing to his very right-wing loyal base.

    4) The government has typically picked distraction issues that speak to their manufactured narrative that they are strong on the economy or strong on security. This issue doesn’t play to either.

    5) This is a bipartisan announcement. It was announced with a Labor senator and Shorten came out and supported it.

    None of these reasons – on their own – is enough to convince me that it’s not an LNP distraction. BUT – looked at together, I’m a little more circumspect about its source.

  10. Kaye Lee

    I meant a Hockey distraction. I agree Tony wouldn’t like it. But Hockey is desperate for anything to deflect from examining his performance. The Reform conference yesterday was not complimentary to politicians, particularly Joe.

  11. Kate M

    Agreed Kaye.

  12. king1394

    Perhaps one consideration engaging some republican supporters’ minds is that the ideal change-over was going to be at the death of our current monarch. While she looks hale and hearty, she is not as young as she used to be. The accession of Charles to the throne will not be popular with many monarchists, who seem to be a sentimental lot in general with no real understanding of primogeniture. Charles is likely to have a fairly short reign, and also likely to morph into ‘good King Charles’ – then the popular William will takeover. Republicanism needs to move back into contention right now, or wait 100 years – or more if baby George continues to be long-lived and photogenic

  13. Faye Cox

    I think it really is a manufactured distraction, so that the Voters, hopefully,from a Liberal point of view, forget that this Government has achieved absolutely nothing apart from the mantra “we removed the Carbon/Mining Taxes”. Two Budgets have been presented, both have, really, failed.
    So tell me what the Abbott Government has done ? Anyone ?

  14. susan

    My initial reaction to Hockey being one of the faces of an Australian Republic was horror at the thought of agreeing with anything Hockey said. Then I thought back to the main players of the 90s push and my total aversion to Malcolm Turnbull and the discussed model where in the future it would be very likely that the politicians would elect Howard as President. Today, as rationality returns to my brain, I look forward to Abbott’s utter desolation as Australia becomes a Republic.

  15. eli nes

    at first i thought pure dumb distraction – now moderating thoughts: hockey has picked a turnbull failure whilst putting his face forward as a replacement for the rabbutt(funnier things have happened, remember downer? or the drip nelson? or the rabbutt himself, the party is malleable)

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