Women for an Australian Republic


30 July 2004

Mr Phillip Bailey


Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee

Parliament House


Dear Mr Bailey

Thank you for making arrangements for our group to appear before the Committee’s Inquiry on the Republic in Canberra on 29 July 2004.

The discussion that I had with the Senators was very interesting and lent itself to some further research about the system of voluntary voting used for the 1998 Constitutional Convention and women’s participation in that process. So, I thought that it might be useful to share the results. I realise that the Committee Secretariat must now very close to the finalising the Committee’s report but it may be useful to have this material on the record anyway.

Senator Stott Despoja asked WfaAR about the number of women at ConCon. I found a table prepared by the Parliamentary Library in January 1998 which provided this information (source: Research Note 21 1997-98 by Dr Jennifer Curtin at www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/rn/1997-98/98rn21.htm). This is reproduced below.




Women as % of total

Federal Parliamentary Delegates




State/Territory Delegates




Appointed Delegates




Sub Total




Elected Delegates








For ConCon, the number of males nominating for election was 426 (70.4%) and females: 179 (29.6%) [percentages calculated on 605 nominations for election out of a total of 609 candidates: four nominations were unspecified for gender] – so a greater proportion of women were elected than nominated.

 The number of women elected by State/Territory were:


Number of Elected Delegates

Number of Women Elected

Women as % of total





































Senator Kirk asked if I thought that the voting system for future ConCons should remain the same. I was unable to recall at the hearing exactly what system had been used in 1997 but in the AEC report on the ConCon election, voting for the "non-compulsory postal ballot" is described as "modified Senate system" so it is modified proportional representation. Yes, I think that that should remain the same system, with the number of (elected) delegates being proportional to the number of voters in each State/Territory. Speaking as a Canberran, I would have to say that the ACT should have more delegates as compared with Tasmania which has around the same number of enrolled voters as does the ACT (similarly for the NT) so some rejigging would desirably take place when settling the voting system for future ConCons.

Senator Stott Despoja also engaged me about whether women would be likely to vote voluntarily – her view was that neither theirs nor the vote of disadvantaged people might be well protected by a change to voluntary voting for the head of state as proposed by WfaAR.

I found the following data on male/female voting participation rates on the AEC website (www.aec.gov.au) in the report on the ConCon election:

Total Number of Postal Ballots

Number Issued November 1997: 11.9m

Number Returned December 1997: 5.62m (47%)

Participation rate (%): 46.21 (men) [2.67m votes]

47.59 (women) [2.95m votes]

ie no significant difference.

A 47% return rate seems high to me especially as I can find no reference on the AEC website to reminders being issued to voters to vote through advertising etc (there may well have been some but I cannot recall any). It would be reasonable to assume when more modern technology is employed for voting in the future, voting times will be extended (rather than all voters having to attend a polling place on a specified date) and AEC will be able to SMS or email reminders to voters to vote - even for a voluntary vote. It might be noted that women are highly likely to have mobile phones having been the greater users of telephones for communication since they were invented. They would find that medium for voting convenient and efficient even if the user has to pay (may be less expensive than getting to a polling place and less disruptive).

Only 2.2% of the ConCon vote was "informal" in 1997 compared with around 3.5% at the 1996 federal election.

The cost of the voluntary vote for ConCon was $24m, including $1.37m on public information materials and support and $12m on postage.

Senator Kirk asked if I was aware of the gender difference in the votes returned for ConCon. I was able to find the following data, also in the AEC report on the ConCon election (www.aec.gov.au)

Participation by Gender by State/Territory

  Participation as % of Total Enrolled Participation as % of Total Enrolled


Participation as % of Total Enrolled


National 46.92 46.21 47.59
NSW 44.91 41.24 45.57
Vic 51.75 51.08 52.36
Qld 45.15 44.25 46.00
WA 43.77 43.36 44.17
SA 46.71 46.07 47.31
Tas 48.81 47.73 49.81
ACT 52.31 51.95 52.65
NT 39.97 38.88 41.09

It is noted that in all cases, votes cast by women voters exceeded the percentage of votes returned by men but the differences are marginal except for NSW and the NT. The participation rates seem to me to be high (and higher than I recalled or expected in hindsight) considering that no reminders appear to have been issued although there was considerable public interest in the ConCon at the time and very regular media coverage. This is encouraging for WfaAR’s proposed voluntary vote for the head of state.

Also on the subject of voting, Senator Payne specifically discussed WfaAR’s voluntary voting proposal for the head of state. I can recall saying that people were used to voting eg to vote people off reality TV shows and also for Classic Catches etc. I could have also added that there is a coming confluence of reality TV and voting later in the year when ‘Vote for Me’ is screened by Channel 7 on Sunrise. The idea of this program is that viewers will be able to select a number of Senate candidates for the next election from a group of aspiring politicians. Each winner will be given $10,000 for their campaign plus a large amount of pre-poll publicity on the program. My expectation would be that at least some of the successful "candidates" will end up being elected – this will be a very interesting process indeed (based also on my experience of ACT elections where known candidates often have a much greater chance of success than genuine independents). So, it appears that having a community profile before nominating for public office is becoming increasingly important and more important, in some cases, than party affiliation. This would seem to have some bearing on the direct election option for selecting a head of state.

Finally, Senator Payne explored WfaAR’s view that the direct election option should be given "proper prominence" on the plebiscite voting paper. My recall is I did not adequately explain in my response why we thought this – but it is: because the "direct election" option is always put last in any list of head of state selection options. It thus has all the appearances of being the last and least thought of. This seems to WfaAR to be undesirable: what could be wrong with putting it first? - other than having the donkey position as may be feared by some republicans and politicians, or simply just too easy to find. Our experience since 1999 bears this out including the Six Models paper which was issued by ARM, still clearly favouring the 2/3 bipartisan model. Although ARM now says that it has no preferred model, this organisation still a subtle tendency to favour that (its own) model above the others, with direct election continuing to languish at the bottom of the selection system options list ie making up the numbers but in the hope that it will not really be noticed, let alone, preferred.

All the above data is sourced from the AEC website unless indicated. We found it both interesting and illuminating to undertake this further research and are pleased to make additional supporting material available to the Inquiry.

I now look forward to receiving the transcript of my evidence from 29 July for checking. I understand that I will not be able to amend it to add content which is why I have set out above my further thinking on some of the issues that were raised with me at the hearing. Like preparing our submission, being a witness was also a very educative process. We appreciated the invitation to appear and the opportunity it has provided to broaden our thinking on and increase our knowledge about the Republic.

 Yours sincerely

 [signed for electronic release]

 Sarah Brasch

National Convenor

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Last modified:
04 September, 2004