Australian PM says country should become a republic
Julia Gillard, the Australian prime minister, has said Australia should cut its ties with Britain and become a republic when Queen Elizabeth dies or abdicates.
Ms Gillard, who was born in Wales and moved to Australia with her parents aged five, acknowledged that many Australians had “deep affection” for the monarch, but said that the status quo could not remain.
“What I would like to see as prime minister is that we work our way through to an agreement on a model for the republic,” she said during an election campaign stop in Queensland.
“I think the appropriate time for this nation to move to be a republic is when we see the monarch change.
“Obviously I’m hoping for Queen Elizabeth that she lives a long and happy life, and having watched her mother I think there’s every chance that she will.”
While it has its own flag and national anthem, Australia currently operates as a constitutional monarchy, which means that Queen Elizabeth, as head of state, has the same formal role as she does in Britain. Her representative, the governor-general, is in charge of the army, must give assent to all laws passed by parliament and has the power to dissolve both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The role of Queen Elizabeth as Australia’s monarch was laid down at federation in 1901 and a complex system of constitutional ties would have to be unravelled for the nation to become a republic.
First, a referendum could be introduced only with bipartisan support. Then it would need a “double majority”, meaning that as well as a majority of citizens voting in favour of a republic, a majority of the country’s six states and two territories must do so as well.
Finally, a model for the republic must be agreed on, which can prove difficult.
In a referendum in 1999 Australians voted “No” despite a tide of public support for republicanism. At the time, the republican movement blamed the result on the confusing way that the ballot paper had dealt with varying options for appointing a president.
Since 1999 the issue has largely slipped off the agenda. During a trip by Prince William to Australia last year, a poll found that support for Australia losing its status as a constitutional monarchy had dropped from 55pc during the 1990s to 44pc.
One ardent supporter of the monarchy is Tony Abbott, the man Ms Gillard hopes to beat in the Australian election on Saturday.
Mr Abbott is the former head of the group Australians for Constitutional Monarchy and campaigned passionately for the “No” camp during the 1999 referendum.
Responding to Ms Gillard’s remarks, Mr Abbott said that it was “far from certain” that the country would become a republic in his lifetime.
“This republican cause has been with us for a long time but the Australian people have demonstrated themselves to be remarkably attached to institutions that work,” he said.
“I think that our existing constitutional arrangements have worked well in the past. I see no reason whatsoever why they can’t continue to work well in the future.
“So while there may very well be further episodes of republicanism in this country, I am far from certain that at least in our lifetimes that there’s likely to be any significant change.”