The republic referendum in Australia: a view from the left
The modest republican constitutional change proposed in the November 6, 1999, referendum was hardly the most significant political question facing Australians in recent times. Nevertheless the results provide a very useful snapshot of a changing Australia.
The results were actually much better for the republic than most of the media would admit. A 46.5 per cent Yes vote for a republic, first time up, is a very good result when you consider that British-Australia was still celebrating Empire Day about 30 years ago, and when you remember the enormous grip all the hype about the British royal family still had in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. p> Most older Australians can remember being bussed as schoolchildren to showgrounds during royal visits to stand in the hot sun waiting for the Queen to pass by. For most of the period since white settlement, the Australian establishment has energetically promoted the monarchical British connection as an invaluable support for the hegemony of the ruling class in Australia.
To better understand the results, I have studied the detailed figures, booth by booth, for all the seats in NSW, and the national results for five categories of votes. The following analysis is based on my examination of these results, supplemented by some useful figures supplied by Mick Armstrong in the magazine, Socialist Alternative < , published by the group of the same name, which was one of the socialist groups with sufficient understanding of the class forces at work in the referendum to very sensibly advocate a Yes vote. Mick Armstrong's article is very useful and a lengthy quote from it is worthwhile here:
Indeed it has much in common with the Hanson phenomenon. Significantly, the No vote in the referendum was highest in those rural areas where One Nation polled well in the last federal elections. The three seats with the highest No vote were the seats with the highest Hanson vote in the last Federal election - the Queensland rural seats of Maranoa (No: 77 per cent, Hanson: 22 per cent), Hanson's own seat of Blair (No: 75 per cent, Hanson: 36 per cent) and Wide Bay (No: 75 per cent, Hanson: 26 per cent). This pattern was replicated outside Queensland.
In NSW, Victoria and Western Australia the seat that topped the state No vote also had the top One Nation vote: Gwydir, NSW (No: 75 per cent, Hanson: 21 per cent), Mallee, Vic (No: 72 per cent, Hanson: 13 per cent), O'Connor, WA (No: 72 per cent, Hanson: 14 per cent). p> Similarly, the outer suburban areas with the highest No votes had above-average support for Hanson: Canning in Perth (No: 68 per cent, Hanson: 14 per cent), Bonython in Adelaide (No: 67 per cent, Hanson 15 per cent), Oxley in Brisbane (No: 66 per cent, Hanson: 18 per cent), Werriwa in Sydney (No: 58 per cent, Hanson: 12 per cent). p> By contrast the Yes vote was strongest in areas most resistant to the appeal of Hansonism: the core working class suburbs of Melbourne and the inner suburbs of Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra. p> One misconception propagated by the media is that the Yes vote was strongest in better-off Liberal electorates. It is true that Sydney's wealthy North Shore voted Yes and that the republic was narrowly defeated in some Labor seats in Sydney's outer west. However, in NSW two-thirds of the seats that voted Yes were in the working class areas of Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong. p> Nationally, the five seats with an overwhelming Yes vote were safe Labor seats, headed by Melbourne with 71.5 per cent, Sydney 68 per cent, Melbourne Ports 66 per cent, Fraser (ACT) 65 per cent and Grayndler in Sydney 65 per cent. And the Yes vote in these seats was well above that in super rich Toorak. p> Nearly two-thirds of the 30 seats with the highest Yes vote were Labor seats. These were not simply inner-city "chardonnay socialist "areas but included the core working class areas in Melbourne's western and northern suburbs.
The working class Yes vote was strongest amongst non-English-speaking migrants and slightly better-off workers but lower in the poorest, most depressed sections of the Anglo working class. In Melbourne it tended to be the marginal outer suburban seats with fewer non-English-speaking migrants and a larger churchgoing Protestant middle class that voted No. So while there was not a totally clear-cut working class Yes vote, the No vote was concentrated amongst the sections of the population most easily swayed by populist appeals: the rural population, the outer-suburban middle class, the less unionised and class conscious workers, older people and traditional Anglo-Australians. p> In addition to the points that emerge from Mick Armstrong's analysis, a number of other points emerge from my own investigations. The Australian Elect...