By: Stephen O’Doherty | Open House

Can political history teach us anything about the Marriage Postal Survey?

As the turn of the millennium approached, Australia was gripped with argument about whether we should become a republic.

What happened in 1999?

Electors were first asked to vote on representatives to a Constitutional Convention, to decide the model for a republic that was then put to a referendum in 1999. If it was successful Australia would ditch the monarchy on the centenary of Federation, 1 January 2001.

Referenda need a ‘double majority’ to succeed – a majority of voters in a majority of states. The referendum to become a republic failed to achieve a majority of voters and was lost.

The yes and no campaigns at that time bear some remarkable tactical similarities to the 2017 campaigns on marriage law.

Ironically, leading the 1998/99 case for a republic was Malcolm Turnbull, while a leader in the no case was Tony Abbott.

Also heavily involved in the yes case was John Warhurst, a leader in the republican movement, and these days Emeritus Professor in the School of Politics and International Relations at the Australian National University.

Dr Warhurst is also a frequent contributor to Eureka Street, an online issues journal published by the Jesuit movement, and a regular guest on Open House.

Open House discussed with John Warhurst the similarities between the campaign strategies of the yes and no case in 1999 and in the 2017 Marriage Survey.

Listen: Emeritus Professor John Warhurst in conversation with Stephen O’Doherty

Article supplied with thanks to Open House.

About the Author: Stephen O’Doherty is a broadcaster, journalist, former member of parliament, and the Host of Open House – a weekly three-hour live talk-back radio show exploring life, faith and hope from a Christian perspective.