While the push for a republic is still high on the agenda, most Australians believe there are more pressing constitutional issues that should first be dealt with - such as Indigenous recognition and clarification on the responsibilities of government.
The latest Australian Constitutional Values Survey was conducted nationally for Griffith University by Newspoll. It focused on the prospects for successful referenda on Indigenous recognition and local government recognition in the next three years, as recently promised by the Federal Government in its agreements with the Greens and Independents.
"Asked how important it was to have referenda on these issues in the next few years, 75 per cent of respondents indicated it was important to have a referendum about Indigenous recognition, and 73 per cent about what levels of government Australia should have in its constitution," said project researcher Professor A J Brown of Griffith Law School.
"This compares with only 59 per cent who said it was important to have a referendum on becoming a republic, and a higher 77 per cent who said it was important to resolve which levels of government are responsible for what, in the federal system."
Professor Brown said the results of the survey highlighted that without a robust and comprehensive process for engaging citizens in the design for such proposals, it remains unlikely that enough public support will translate into a 'yes' vote to actually achieve any change.
"Despite high public interest in changing the constitution to improve Australia's federal system, base support for constitutional recognition of local government remains line ball - nowhere near strong enough to lead to a successful referendum campaign," Brown said.
The first Australian Constitutional Values Survey in 2008 showed that 75 per cent of voters might support constitutional recognition of local government if convinced it would lead to a better funded, more capable system of local government with better standards of integrity and accountability.
However, without these factors, base support for the general idea of local government recognition in 2008 was only 53 per cent. In March 2010, this support slightly dropped, with only 51 per cent of respondents indicating support.
"The results consistently indicate that Australians are interested in constitutional reform if it addresses some of the fundamental problems with Australia's federal system, but may be unlikely to support recognition of local government unless convinced it will help achieve that objective," Brown noted.
Project researcher Dr Ron Levy of Griffith Law School said the research confirmed the need for new and better processes of community engagement in the development of constitutional reform proposals, but reinforced the need for processes not overshadowed by party politics and vested interests.
"Without a process that enables the concerns and desires or ordinary citizens to be truly aired and met, without being overshadowed by political leaders, vested interests and those presumed to know best, we should not expect any great difference fro the last constitutional failures 11 and 22 years ago," Levy said.