Thursday 4 November, Glasgow

Thursday 28 October, Southampton

Thursday 21 October, London

Thursday 14 October, Sydney

Thursday 7 October, Manchester

Thursday 30 September, Bournemouth

Thursday 23 September, London

Thursday 15 July, Belfast

Thursday 8 July, London

Thursday 1 July, Birmingham

Thursday 24 June, Leeds

Thursday 17 June, Manchester

Thursday 10 June, Birmingham

Thursday 3 June, Norwich

Thursday 27 May, Bath

Thursday 20 May, Belfast

Thursday 13 May, Birmingham

Thursday 29 April, London

Thursday 22 April, Glasgow

Thursday 15 April, Cardiff

Thursday 25 March, Sheffield

Thursday 18 March, London

Thursday 11 March, Manchester

Thursday 4 March, Maidstone

Thursday 25 February, London


Thursday 14 October, Sydney

You can watch the special programme from Sydney online by clicking here.

The panelists for this special debate on Australia's referendum were:

Questions were asked during the debate on the following topics:


A foreign head of state

Audience Question: How would Britons feel if they had a head of state who was a foreigner, who didn't live in their country and who would never live in their country?

Bob Hawke: They would feel like I do that it's an anomaly. When the Queen is here she sits in the chair in Parliament. Public officials swear allegiance to the Queen.

Simon Heffer: We haven't had an English King since 1485. We've had Welsh, Scottish and Hannoverian kings ever since then. The Queen lives in London and rather likes Australia, but has been warned off of coming here for several years. What matters is the constitutional function discharged by the head of state or the monarchy. Australia is a mature democracy and ought to be able to choose its own head of state if that's what it wants to do, but what's on offer here is that a couple of people and their cronies choose a head of state.

Sophie Panopolous: The Queen is not the head of state. The Governor-General is head of state and exercises powers that the Queen, who is the sovereign, cannot exercise. The head of state is a diplomatic term and not part of our constitution. The Governor-General is treated on foreign trips as the head of state. I'm not concerned with what other people think about our constitution.

Geoffrey Robertson: The British would be appalled if an Australian were crowned the King of England. The answer was provided in 1917 when the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha monarchy changed its name to Windsor so that its German origins were not apparent. Republicanism is the purest form of democracy. "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all are created equal" in the words of Thomas Jefferson. The people must fill every office of political importance. The head of state holds reserve powers of great importance.

Bill Hayden: The key issue is that the present system works tolerably well. If we're going to change let's make sure we don't settle for an inferior arrangement. What's being proposed is a very shoddy model which will increase the power of politicians, and give enormous power to the prime minister to sack the president on a whim. I was effectively the head of state even when the Queen was in Australia. Jefferson also said "From the people, by the people, for the people". This model excludes the people from participation and must mean that the decision-makers don't trust the people.

Aden Ridgeway: If the Governor-General is not the head of state then why go to the Queen for approval to appoint the Governor-General. Our constitution vests power in the Queen, not in the Governor-General.

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What difference will it make?

Audience Question: Do you suspect that the Queen will want the 'Yes' vote to succeed so that she may no longer have to make any tedious journeys to Australia?

Sophie Panopolous: What will we gain if we vote yes? We've been told that we are going to feel better about ourselves. But the economy won't improve. We will not get anything more than an umpire who is not truly independent. We are already a fully independent country. Under this proposal five million Australians won't be able to be president.

Aden Ridgeway: We have an opportunity to leave the nest and make our own way. We are a young country and if we stay in the nest we won't mature and we become a nation unto ourselves.

Bob Hawke: What you get is the right denied to every Australian now, to achieve the highest position in this country. The best Australian in this country can't be president, but a hereditary monarch can.

Geoffrey Robertson: Aden Ridgeway cannot be head of the state of Australia because he is a catholic, because he is an Aborigine, and because he is an Australian. Equality of opportunity for all - that's the democratic principle. No hereditary rulers, no army generals, no communist apparatchiks.

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Do Australians care?

Audience Comment: This is being led by the intelligentsia and the politicians - there is no grass roots support for a republic.

Bob Hawke: There has been a whole series of community meetings and public debates. Everyone has been given the opportunity of being involved in the debate. You're going to be given the opportunity on 6 November of casting your vote. Those who wanted a direct vote for the president only got the support of 10% of the constitutional convention.

Bill Hayden: When I looked at the Irish system I knew that Australians had a good chance of getting it right with an elected president. We should not deny ordinary Australians the right to determine who they want to represent them as head of state. I'm happy with the present system and if it's going to change let's make sure it works properly because this proposal won't.

Aden Ridgeway: There have been a series of constitutional conventions made up of republicans, monarchists and people who wanted better. It's not the sort of thing that inspires passion like a football game does. People may not like politicians to be involved but it is the result of a consultation process that produced the best result on the day.

Simon Heffer: We're trying to reform the House of Lords in Britain. The mass of people in England don't think or care about the Lords, and I see parallels here in Australia.

Geoffrey Robertson: Britain's velvet republican revolution is getting rid of the hereditary peerage. No-one cares because everyone now accepts the republican principle. A hereditary legislator is as absurd as a hereditary mathematician or a hereditary poet. In time Britain is going to have to write a constitution.

Sophie Panopolous: The important question is what is the best constitution for Australian democracy? This model was put together over a couple of weeks. Getting both main parties to agree is no great feat. The important aspect is that the president can be dismissed too easily..

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A directly-elected president?

Audience Question: The Governor-General is only responsible to the people of Australia, not to the prime minister or parliament. If you get rid of him you've messed it all up.

Bob Hawke: Bill Hayden said in his autobiography on the idea of a directly-elected president that this "will result in more, not less friction in government" and this will "create a mess for posterity".

Bill Hayden: I've changed my mind. Why we don't trust the public I don't know.

Geoffrey Robertson: We've got to move forward one step at a time. Under the present system the prime minister appoints a Governor-General and can appoint his mate.

Bob Hawke: This system is totally inadequate. What is proposed will be significantly better. If we find then that the will of the people is to move to direct election then let's do it.

Sophie Panopolous: What is on trial is the model - not our current arrangements, nor the directly elected model. It will create 69 constitutional changes when we've only had 14 in the last hundred years. Let the 'Yes' camp address the detail and not go on about airy-fairy concepts.

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Equality for aboriginal Australians

Audience Question: There are plenty of aboriginal Australians who don't like Australia the way it is today. Will a republic bring equality and will it say sorry?

Sophie Panopolous: No-one can say we'll have greater freedoms or any more equality.

Bill Hayden: If you prefer a direct election but accept what's on offer it's like going to a sale and saying "these are the only shoes on offer. They don't fit me but I'll take them even though they'll cripple me for the rest of my life." You must stand out and get something better.

Geoffrey Robertson: When you get elections political parties drive them. This system provides a nomination by a committee and a two-thirds majority - how often does two thirds of the Australian parliament agree on anything. There's the possibility of getting a high calibre person.

Aden Ridgeway: It's up to the government of the day. The reality is no government has ever used the word. It's something that the nation needs to come to terms with. This is the first time that indigenous people will get the opportunity to be included in the national constitution.

Simon Heffer: You can't equate the bad treatment of aboriginals with constitutional monarchy. The rights of minorities are increasingly protected in many monarchies. In many presidential republics minorities are persecuted.

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Forward-looking values?

Audience Question: Why can't Australia look forward instead of accepting the values of the monarchists, based on the hereditary principle?

Sophie Panopolous: The hereditary monarchy has no power in Australia. Australia's independence and debate are more at threat from the House of Murdoch than the House of Windsor.

Geoffrey Robertson: By avoiding the question the royalist avoids saying "Yes, I am in favour of discrimination upon sex, religious and hereditary grounds."

Bob Hawke: A committee of 32 will make a recommendation to be considered by the PM in agreement with the leader of the opposition and they have to get two thirds of parliament behind them.

Bill Hayden: Don't put this power in the hands of politicians. Two years ago Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Republic had the support of 70% of the public but scraped in by only one vote in parliament. You get politicians doing deals across the chamber of parliament or in back rooms.

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Relationship with the UK

Audience Question: What will be the front page headline of the Sun the day after the Republic referendum is defeated?

Geoffrey Robertson: FROM MOTHER COUNTRY TO BROTHER COUNTRY. That's how we should think of it. Australia has led the world in democracy, universal suffrage, votes for women, the secret ballot, and the minimum wage. Britain must soon get round to writing its own constitution.

Simon Heffer: It depends on a very crucial telephone call between the editor of the Sun and Mr Murdoch. Given that the monarchy is quite popular in Britain it would be GOD SAVE THE QUEEN. We are very close to the Australians and if there is a 'Yes' vote it would cause a good deal of introspection on the monarchy. But many in Britain are glad that we have a monarchy because the constitutional monarch is outside politics. You may elect a superb politician or you may have the misfortune to elect someone like Bill Clinton who makes your country a laughing stock. The real problem we in the UK have is the submersion of our sovereignty into that of Europe.

Aden Ridgeway: BONNY PRINCE CHARLIE GETS THE BOOT. From my recent trips to the UK I go by what Taxi drivers say and they think that Australia ought to become a republic.

Bob Hawke: The Queen herself takes the view that this is something that a mature Australia should decide on. This is not going to be a personal affront to her. The rest of the world is going to think that we're crazy if we vote 'No'.

Bill Hayden: The rest of the world is not paying a great deal of attention.

Sophie Panopolous: Becoming a republic is not going to make us any more independent.

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The Prime Minister's Man

Audience Question: Is the status quo a better alternative in that powers are in the hands of an undemocratically selected person?

Aden Ridgeway: It is an improvement. Currently the Governor-General is chosen by the prime minister. One person gets to choose. Under the proposed model more politicians are involved. The prime minister would be very silly to sack a president without thinking through the consequences.

Bill Hayden: We've had some pretty silly politicians in senior positions of power.

Bob Hawke: There are going to be more constraints on the powers of the Prime Minister than there are now. Under a direct election you'll put the process into the hands of big money.

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No Turning Back?

Audience Question: What are the chances that if Australia does become a republic and doesn't like it we can go back to becoming a monarchy?

Sophie Panopolous: Once we vote 'Yes' it won't change again for a hundred years. Once you give politicians the power to elect the president will they give it up again? I don't think so.

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