Women Say...on the Republic

Women Say...on the Republic

The People's Conference at Corowa December 1 and 2, 2001

Report by Anne Barber

The Conference was funded by the Victorian Centenary of Federation Council and the Corowa Council. The purpose of the Conference was to consider a number of proposals for processes to determine the Republic and "Head of State" issues that had been raised at the referendum in 1999.

Corowa was chosen as a location for the Conference because of its association with a similar conference in 1893 which had resulted in the Federation of the Australian States.

Corowa did the Conference proud and laid on pomp and circumstance for the delegates, including marching from the Oddfellows' Hall to the Corowa RSL for the start of the Conference at 7.30am. Despite grumblings from some of the delegates about the early start, a surprising number duly turned up on time. On arrival all the RSL all the delegates crowded into the designated area at the front of the RSL for the group photograph (photographer was perched on a cherry picker).

There were five proposals to be considered by the Conference, which had been whittled down from the 19 submitted to the organisers. Debate on the proposals was formal and delegates had to register by Friday evening if they wished to speak for or against any of the proposals. The proposals had to outline a process (1) by which the debate concerning Australia becoming a Republic and (2) how the Head of State would be selected should be conducted.

It was the hope of the organisers that the outcome of the Conference would be a proposal that the majority of delegates would be able to support. The proposal that was eventually approved was the joint proposal from: Bill Peach A.M., Prof. George Winterton, Dr. Walter Phillips and Dr. Bede Harris (who called themselves the Corowa Four). The proposal was referred to as "The Royal Hotel Resolution" because it was at the Royal Hotel in Corowa (which had been made the headquarters of the Australian Republican Movement - with some delight!!) where the joint proposal had been forged.

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The Royal Hotel Resolution reads:

"This Conference resolves that:

1. A multi-party commonwealth Parliament Joint Committee should be established to consult the community and constitutional experts in order to prepare a plebiscite asking the following key questions simultaneously:

2. (i) Should we become a republic with an Australian Head of State?

(ii) Should the Head of State of the Australian Commonwealth be called: A. The President B. The Governor-General?

(iii) Should an Australian Head of State be:

A: Selected by the Prime Minister

B: Selected by a 2/3 majority of the Parliament

C: Nominated by an Electoral College

D: Elected by popular vote, with codified powers?

3. A Commonwealth Parliament Joint Committee shall outline the core features of the models in 2(iii) and prepare neutral information for the plebiscite.

4. An elected Constitutional Convention be convened to draft a constitutional amendment reflecting the will of the people as expressed in the plebiscite.

5. A referendum be held under s 128 of the Constitution to give effect to the amendment proposed by the Constitutional Convention.

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Sarah Brasch, Judith Brookes and myself had earlier approached the Conference organisers to flag our concern that women may not be given an equal opportunity to speak, in view of the fact that of the 412 people listed, 128 were women. The representative of the organisers said that there would be random selection (from the hat) for people to speak for or against a motion. The inadequacy of this method was very quickly revealed when, at one point, all the names chosen from "the hat" all wished to speak AGAINST one of the proposals. The organisers retired in confusion to review their selection.

For me, the highlight of the Conference came when Barry Jones stood down from the Chair in favour of the Deputy Chair Ms Sarah Henderson, after being challenged by a woman from the floor about selecting "his mates" to speak. This challenge had a lot of support. From then on the selection went from men to women equally - and it was brilliant. It was a shame that it didn't happen earlier, or the organisers did not have a more equitable method of selecting speakers.

A committee was formed (10 men and Ms Sarah Henderson) to take the proposal forward. This proposal is open for the debate to be by men for men because it includes devices such as "Commonwealth Parliament Joint Committee" and "elected Constitutional Convention"

I would like to encourage many women to be involved to make sure that our voice is heard and we are not forced once more to hold a Women's Constitutional Convention.

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Last modified: 15 June, 2002