The Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984

Last year the Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs of the House of Representatives completed an inquiry into the way that referenda are conducted in Australia. One of the main topics was to review the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 and take submissions on how this could be modernised.

The website for the inquiry is here:

The report looks into three main topics:

Chapter 2: Public awareness and education about the Constitution

Chapter 3: Mechanisms to review the Constitution

Chapter 4: Arrangements for the conduct of referendums

I broadly agree with the recommendations. I like the idea of having regular constitutional conventions or similar processes to help educate and engage citizens about the constitution, civics, and how government works.

I also welcome the recommendation to reverse a change made for a previous attempt for a referendum in 2013 where the Yes/No pamphlet was to be mailed out to households only, instead of being mailed directly to every voter. I agree that a hardcopy of the Yes/No pamphlet should be printed and mailed directly to the address of every voter on the electoral roll. I also agree that it would be good to include a neutral section stating what the proposed change is about and that the document also can include images and diagrams. I insist that the document must include the full text of any proposed changes to the constitution in full.

There were some comments and suggestions in the report that I do not agree with, but these were not included in the recommendations.

In particular I do not agree with the idea to issue penalties for what the authorities consider promoting misinformation, in any form of media including social media. My main criticism of the 1999 proposal for a republic and the 2022 Choice model for a republic are that the proposals are THEMSELVES not based on the reality of the divisible Crown of Australia as it is today. The ARM models pretend that we can replace the Queen and Governor-General with an Australia head of state, and that this will adequately replace the monarch as the King/Queen of Australia. That claim built into the 1999 referendum is itself a significant misrepresentation of the truth. The King/Queen as head of state for Australia is simultaneously head of state for the Commonwealth and all six States. The ARM proposal could not in any way achieve the basic aim of converting Australia into a republic because it left out all the states. It was poorly designed. That is a fact. The poor design manifested in the division of the republican camp into those who supported an appointed head of state and those that wanted an elected head of state. The root cause was the inadequate design of the model, based as it was on a misrepresentation of the truth of the Crown in Australia since 1986. If there were fines for “promoting misinformation” the fines would have been issued to prop up a blatant lie and mistruth at root of the problems with the ARM models.

So the question is – what is the Government planning to do with the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act to create a greater awareness in the community about constitutional issues?

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