While British citizens overwhelmingly want Australia to stay part of the commonwealth, a 2021 poll suggests a third of Australians want to become a republic. And it’s possible this number has increased with Thistlethwaite’s appointment.
Australia’s attempts to become a republic
Back in 1999, the government held a referendum to see if Australians wanted to become a republic.
According to the Australian Electoral Commission, the question put to the public was whether they approved of the following:
“A proposed law: To alter the Constitution to establish the Commonwealth of Australia as a republic with the Queen and Governor-General being replaced by a President appointed by a two-thirds majority of the members of the Commonwealth Parliament.”
It’s an interesting snapshot of Australian politics. Malcolm Turnbull led the ‘Yes’ campaign while then Prime Minister John Howard, an ardent monarchist, pushed for ‘No’.
Howard’s predecessor, Paul Keating, had made the Liberal Party commit to holding a referendum on the matter, hence why a government mostly made of monarchists had to go through with it. But it’s also why the referendum failed.
See, the proposed change allowed parliament to choose the President. Many people who wanted to leave the commonwealth didn’t like the idea so voted ‘No’. Even the leader of the ‘No’ campaign was a republican but didn’t support Howard’s constitution change.
Ultimately the referendum failed with 54 per cent of the population choosing to stay.
To be fair, Australians are sticklers for tradition when it comes to our constitution. Despite 44 proposed changes, only eight have ever been successful.
What happens now?
Earlier this year the Governor-General David Hurley drew the ire of monarchists after suggesting that there would be renewed interest in the republic when the Queen passed.
“I think at the moment people centre on the Queen, and then when she goes, when she passes, then the succession comes in, there’s a new discussion in Australia,” he said.
Now that that moment has come, will Australia become a republic?
In short, maybe, but not right now.
It’s no secret that while many Aussies loved the Queen, King Charles has never quite garnered the same respect and admiration.
This could change. We don’t know what he’ll be like as a King but we do know he’s an environmentalist, an issue many young Australian feel strongly about. It is possible the youth could move back in favour of the monarchy due to him.
Besides, right now the government has other concerns. Their focus at the moment is providing a First Nations voice to parliament. This too will require a referendum and Labor has indicated this could happen as soon as 2023.
There have been suggestions to have one referendum on both questions (to become a republic and add a First Nations voice to parliament) as a cost saving measure but this seems unlikely. Particularly, as Victoria is set to host the Commonwealth Games in 2026.
Albanese himself has said, "now is not the time" for this discussion.
“Quite clearly, this is a time of national mourning,” he told ABC.
“Even though the Queen was 96 years of age and had lived such a long life, it still came as a shock. I think that says something about the way that the Queen was perceived as a constant in our lives.”
For now we mourn our former monarch and wait to see what the future holds.
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