Australian leaders unite for a republic
Sydney, January 25
Australian state leaders threw their support behind a republic today, with one saying the nation should not have to wait for the end of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign to cut ties with the British monarchy.
Ahead of Australia Day on Tuesday, seven of the nation’s eight state and territory leaders signed a declaration calling for an Australian head of state to replace the reigning royal in London. The only state leader not to sign up, Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett, said he also supported a republic but just did not think “the time is right”.
Federal Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is already a noted republican, having passionately led the cause ahead of a failed referendum in 1999, as is opposition Labour leader Bill Shorten.
Australian Republican Movement chairman Peter FitzSimons seized on the new enthusiasm. “All of Australia’s political leaders now support an Australian head of state,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“Never before have the stars of the Southern Cross been so aligned in pointing to the dawn of a new republican age for Australia,” he said, referring to a constellation in the southern hemisphere sky which appears on the Australian flag.
FitzSimons, who wants the process on a referendum over becoming a republic to start by 2020, said the declaration sent a message to the prime minister. Turnbull has previously said that he has more pressing priorities than turning the nation into a republic. “My own view... is that the next occasion for the republic referendum to come up is going to be after the end of the Queen’s reign,” he said last year.
But South Australia Premier Jay Weatherill said it would be “the ultimate act of respect” if the Queen presided over the transfer of Australia from a monarchy to a republic. “I think that’s something that she could preside over and do it in the elegant and expert way in which she has handled her relationship as head of Australia,” he told the ABC. “I mean if you think about it, what are we waiting for? Are we waiting for her to die? I would have thought that it’s much more respectful to have her supervise this transition.”
The British crown’s power in Australia is seen as largely symbolic, and while Queen Elizabeth II is hugely popular Down Under the monarchy is viewed by some as an anachronistic colonial relic.
When then prime minister Tony Abbott knighted the Queen’s husband Prince Philip last Australia Day, it was met with ridicule and disbelief.
The media dubbed it a “knightmare” for Abbott who was later dumped by his party for Turnbull. But Gabrielle Hendry, a spokeswoman for the Australian Monarchist League, said while debate was healthy and democratic, “the system works” as it stands and there was no need to change it.
“It gives us an impartial head of state,” she told AFP.
The league’s national chairman, meanwhile, told the ABC: “The fact is, our constitution is based on the Crown which always represents the people.”
Support for a republic has wavered over the years, with a Fairfax-Nielsen poll in 2014 finding that 51 per cent of the 1,400 people surveyed favoured the status quo compared to 42 per cent supporting a republic.
Weatherill, however, said there had always been “an underlying sense of support for a republic” despite the 1999 referendum failing by 45 to 55 per cent.
“It’s just a question of rekindling that,” he said.