The Australian Republican Movement’s New Director Used To Make Tony Abbott’s Dank Memes

Young people are the least likely to support a republic. Could that be about to change?

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The Australian Republican Movement (ARM) received a big boost today with the news that James Packer had donated $250,000 to the cause. The organisation has been a key part of the campaign advocating for Australia to ditch the monarchy and become a republic over the past 25 years. It’s previously been chaired by Malcolm Turnbull, who ran the ‘Yes’ campaign in the unsuccessful 1999 republic referendum.

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Malcolm Turnbull after the unsuccessful 1999 referendum on a republic.

The organisation was pretty quiet throughout the rest of the Howard years and has only recently picked up steam. Under the stewardship of high profile columnist Peter FitzSimons the organisation has reportedly increased its membership. On Australia Day this year all state and territory leaders, other than the Premier of WA, signed a statement calling for an Australian republic.

But the group has been missing one thing: a campaign director. Today the ARM announced that it used some of the money donated by Packer to appoint a new campaign director, Sandy Biar. Biar is a former federal election candidate for the Australia Democrats (remember them?) and more recently worked as a staffer for a South Australian Liberal MP.

He was also the Director of IMGE Australia, a digital strategy and communications firm that worked with the Liberal Party during their successful 2013 election campaign. According to IMGE’s website the company “Used social media to help Australians see the real Tony Abbott.” IMGE helped run Tony Abbott’s digital strategy and dropped dank meme after meme during the election.

dank meme

An image from IMGE’s website boasting about their success in the 2013 election.

IMGE has also worked with the Australian Taxpayers Alliance, a right-wing campaigning organisation that is basically the conservative response to GetUp!. The group also works with conservative politicians in the United States.

At first glance it might seem weird that the new campaign director for the ARM is someone who boasts about the key role they played in Tony Abbott’s election campaign. Abbott is, after all, a staunch monarchist. Remember the time he brought back knighthoods and awarded one to the Queen’s husband? But there’s clearly some logic to the move. Australia has a conservative government and the first challenge for the republican movement is to build support for a referendum to change the constitution.

Appointing someone who has close ties to the Liberal party makes sense if your focus is to work directly with government MPs and lobby for change. But the republican movement is facing a number of other challenges. And those of those might be harder for someone so close to the conservative side of politics to meet.

According to a poll from February support for a republic is unchanged since 1999. The slimmest possible majority – 51 percent – of Australians are in favour of constitutional change. But worryingly for republicans, Australians aged 18-34 were the least likely to support change. Only 46 percent of young Australians supported a republic. The poll also showed a massive gender gap on the issue with women far less likely to support a republic compared to men.

With Biar’s appointment, the three most high profile positions in the group – chair, national director and campaign director – are all held by men, potentially highlighting the challenge the movement faces in terms of seriously engaging with the wider population.

While Labor voters are more likely to support a republic than Liberal voters, the margin is closer than you might expect. 59 percent of Labor voters want change compared to 47 percent of Liberal voters. Given Biar’s experience running Tony Abbott’s digital campaign he’s in a strong position to reach out to conservative Australians. In order to build up as much support as possible for referendum, both in parliament and in the wider community, the ARM will need a strategy to reach out to all voters – not just Liberals.