The republic referendum in Australia

There were some striking but significant local idiosyncracies. Often distinctively individual, slightly isolated communities, with a strong local identity and

The republic referendum in Australia



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nterests were not directly affected.

Consequently, the overall result in these two categories can be taken as a reasonable indicator of the viewpoint of these categories of voters on the referendum questions. The votes in these five categories, examined above, total about 1.8 million votes nationally, or about a fifth of the votes cast in the referendum, so the variations revealed are quite significant.

The variations in the voting pattern between the five special categories are of considerable interest. Among other things they clearly highlight the age factor in the results. An even more fascinating inference is what one might call the mobility factor. Greater republican inclination appears to be associated with greater mobility.

The absentee voters, many of whom voted in electorates quite close to their own electorate, show a higher Yes vote than the vote in their electorate. Voters who are even further away on voting day, visiting the state capital, show the highest Yes vote of the lot. (Possibly people who work outside their own electorate on Saturdays, and therefore vote absentee, also have a greater republican bias.) So, on the face of it, the further you travel, the more likely you are to vote for a republic, which is a new and rather novel concept in political science.


The Yes vote, migrants and ethnicity


There is no question that there was a strong Yes vote from most non-British migrant communities, including most second and third generation people of migrant background. In Sydney this was particularly apparent, with all the Labor seats having a large ethnic component, even seats like Lowe and St George, where the ethnic component is mainly older, more established and affluent people of second and third generation Italian and Greek background, voting solidly Yes.

This is also one of the major explanations for the extraordinarily high Yes vote in metropolitan Melbourne, where recent migrants and second-generation ethnics are fairly evenly distributed in almost all areas and are not concentrated so strongly in particular regions as they are in Sydney.

There is also a very high component of first, second and third generation Greek and Italian Australians scattered all over Melbourne, which has a very high proportion of migrants. Of the 20 Melbourne electorates, 17 voted comfortably Yes, with very high Yes votes in working class areas. The only three Melbourne electorates that voted No were outer-suburban electorates with fewer migrants and ethnic Australians.

All of this suggests that the widely distributed cultural weight of migrant ethnicity was a major factor in the very strong Melbourne Yes vote.

In NSW the contrast in the results between the Newcastle and the Illawarra-Wollongong areas was very informative. Newcastle, a working-class area, with a number of Labor seats but proportionately a much lower number of migrants and people of migrant background, showed a very bad result for Yes. The only electorate that voted Yes in this region was the Newcastle electorate itself, by a very narrow margin.

Newcastle is the Hunter Valley electorate in which tertiary educated people are most heavily concentrated.

On the other hand, the story was dramatically different in the Illawarra region, an area where there is a very high migrant and ethnic population, perhaps the highest proportionally in the whole of Australia. The electorate of Cunningham, the main Illawarra electorate, showed an overwhelming Yes vote, both in the more affluent suburbs north of Wollongong, where there are more tertiary educated people, and in the strongly ethnic working-class suburbs south of Wollongong.

In Cunningham, it is clear, both major social layers: blue-collar workers of whom, these days, a very high proportion are migrant workers; and tertiary educated people, voted Yes. In the next electorate south, Throsby, there was a No majority, but it was derived mainly from a strong No vote in the Southern Highlands area, where there are few migrants, and where a generally affluent Anglo middle-class and rural mood prevails.

A number of the booths in the northern part of Throsby, which are in outer-suburban working class suburbs of Wollongong, with a large migrant component, voted Yes. The different and contrasting results in Newcastle and the Illawarra underline the significance of migrant ethnicity in the results.

Even in metropolitan Brisbane, the capital of conservative Queensland, there was a strong Yes vote, and here again there is a clear association between a Yes vote and two elements: firstly, migrant ethnicity, and secondly, tertiary education. At this point it is worth saying that by my reading of the results, there was a majority Yes vote in descending order of magnitude, in Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney, Wollongong, Brisbane and Hobart, with a majority No vote in Perth, Adelaide, Newcastle, Geelong and Launceston. The more heavily urbanised, cosmopolitan cities were the centre of the Yes vote.


Sydney's voting pattern


In Sydney there was a striking geographical divide, starting at Bobbin Head, going down to Baulkham Hills then through the middle of Parramatta, down to the northern outskirts of Liverpool and across from Liverpool, past the affluent Anglo suburbs north of the Georges River, and hitting the Georges River at about Tom Ugly's Bridge, then out to sea. The electorates, Liberal or Labor, to the east and north of this divide voted Yes, and the electorates south and west of it voted No, although there were strong pockets that voted the other way in all these areas.

There were some striking but significant local idiosyncracies. Often distinctively individual, slightly isolated communities, with a strong local identity and a larger old, established Anglo component, seemed to vote heavily No. Two examples that jumped out at me were Kurnell in Sutherland Shire, which voted almost two thirds No in fairly sharp contrast with the rest of that electorate, where the No vote was lower. Another striking example was Riverstone-Schofields, an old working-class, largely Anglo community, where the meat works was closed some years ago, which showed a No vote approaching 70 per cent, much higher than the No vote in the rest of that electorate, a Labor electorate, where Yes did quite well in the other areas.

These kinds of results suggest strongly that there is some truth in the proposition that pockets of traditionally Labor-voting people who exercised a strong No vote were often expressing a fairly sharp social protest against the political class, against economic and political elites and against the fact that not much has been done for them lately.

On the Tory side of the usual electoral divide, the break from the suburban North Shore to semi-rural kind of activity at Baulkham Hills is the sharp divide in the republic referendum result. Semi-rural areas and, once again small distinctive Anglo communities such as Richmond, Windsor, Castle Hill, etc, were strong No areas, whereas the dormitory North Shore voted fairly solidly Yes.

The Yes vote on the normally Liberal-voting North Shore was quite high, but not as high as the Yes vote in the Labor electorates, where the Yes vote had the majority. Once again, education obviously has a bearing. The North Shore electorate with the lowest Yes vote was Bronwyn Bishop's electorate of McKellar, which stood out from the rest of the North Shore, with an almost 50:50 split between Yes and No.

When you look at the Bureau of Statistics breakdown of Sydney, the Northern Beaches area, which comprises Bronwyn Bishop's electorate, has a high concentration of self-employed tradespeople and contractors. Another Anglo area where there is a strong concentration of self-employed tradespeople and contractors, intertwined, however, with people with tertiary education, are the three subdivisions in Daryl Melham's Labor electorate of Banks, just north of the Georges River.

In federal and state elections Labor wins these subdivisions with a lowish margin, much smaller than the margin in the rest of Banks. In the republic referendum, in which Banks as a whole voted No by a significant margin, these very affluent Anglo subdivisions showed a very substantial No majority. (On the other hand, in Melham's electorate, subdivisions such as Penshurst, with a large Asian community, voted solidly Yes.) This patchwork of voting patterns suggests strongly that people such as self-employed tradespeople, contractors and Anglo small-business people very largely voted No.

One of the more entertaining small sidelights of the referendum was that the vocal public demagogy of two Republican No advocates, Phil Cleary and Ted Mack, didn't persuade the majority of people in either of the electorates that had once put them into the federal parliament. Cleary's old Melbourne working-class migrant electorate of Wills voted overwhelmingly Yes. Mack's upwardly socially mobile, Liberal/independent Sydney lower North Shore electorate also voted overwhelmingly Yes.

The Labor electorates that had a No majority, in the outer suburbs of Sydney and in Newcastle still, despite this, registered a fairly high Yes vote, averaging about 40 per cent, which suggests the traditional core of the Labor vote, trade union members, migrants, many people of Irish Catholic background, Aboriginal Australians, etc, voted Yes.

In Country Party and Liberal seats in rural areas and provincial cities all over Australia, the Yes vote corresponded fairly closely with the Labor primary vote in the last federal elections, which strongly suggests that Labor voters who were drawn away by the populist noises from the Direct Electionists were replaced on the Yes side by ter

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