Australian Leaders Unite to Sign Declaration Calling for A Republic

Australian Leaders Unite to Sign Declaration Calling for A Republic
Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像
What you need to know

Australia is a constitutional monarchy, with Britain's Queen Elizabeth as head of state. With the declaration, almost all of Australia’s political leaders, including the prime minister and opposition leader, now support the country’s push toward becoming a republic, a move that would be an important assertion of Australians’ national identity.

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Compiled by Bing-sheng Lee

On January 24, Australian leaders announced a near unanimous call for an Australian head of state in a declaration hatched by the Australian Republican Movement. The leaders of seven of Australia’s eight states and territories have called for the country to become a republic.

With the declaration, almost all of Australia’s political leaders, including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten, now support the country’s push toward becoming a republic.

Western Australia’s Colin Barnett, the only leader who declined to sign the declaration, reportedly says now is not the right time, but is generally supportive of the move.

“Never before have the stars of the Southern Cross been so aligned in pointing to the dawn of a new republican age for Australia,” says Peter FitzSimons, chairperson of the Australian Republican Movement, the lobbying group that drafted the declaration.

FitzSimons mentions that the declaration is timed for Australia Day on January 26, which marks the anniversary of the arrival of the first British colonists to the country, along with an online petition signed by nearly 4,000 people.

He also states that he is bemused by Barnett’s refusal to sign, saying the premier sent him a note insisting he is committed to the republican movement, but is not keen to sign yet. FitzSimons believes Barnett is worried about losing votes in the upcoming state election.

Photo Credit: AP/達志影像

Australia is a constitutional monarchy, with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth as head of state. The role is largely ceremonial, but the monarch does have the power to dissolve parliament.

For example, in 1975, after Australia experienced a federal government shutdown following a parliamentary deadlock over the country’s budget, John Kerr, Queen Elizabeth II’s official representative in Australia, dismissed and replaced Gough Whitlam, who was then the country’s prime minister.

The renewed push for a republic comes over a decade after the failed 1999 referendum, in which only about 45% of Australians voted in favor of replacing the Queen with a head of state elected by parliament.

Hopes of a shift in sentiment rose when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a staunch republican, headed the Australian Republican Movement in the 1990s, took the leadership last year from his monarchist predecessor Tony Abbott.

In response to the declaration issued on January 24, Turnbull says, ”My commitment to Australia having an Australian head of state is undiminished.”

However, Turnbull has previously said the issue was not a priority and that he believed a national vote would be unlikely during the reign of the current 89-year-old monarch.

With political leaders backing a republic, FitzSimons called for another referendum on the issue. He says, ”It’s got to be a movement of the people and that is happening. We have quadrupled our numbers.”

David Flint, leader of Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy, says there is a lack of public support for the move, while South Australian Premier Jay Weather says, ”I think there was strong support for a republic in 1999, it’s just that some clever politicians managed to maneuver the situation into a defeat for the republican cause.” Weather believes that there is public support for Australia to become a republic, a move that would be an important assertion of Australians’ national identity.

Andrew Barr, chief minister of the Australian Capital Territory, also says in a statement, “I believe Australians deserve to have a head of state who is Australian, someone who lives in our country and represents our values and belief. Our ties with the Monarchy continue to reflect a nation of the past. It’s time for us to grow up and stand on our own two feet.”

Edited by Olivia Yang

Sources:
The Guardian
International Business Times
ABC
The Times of India
The New Zealand Herald