On September 8, Queen Elizabeth II died at the age of 96. And while this death causes a domino effect of unprecedented decisions, one huge question remains unanswered. That question being: Will Labor now call for Australia to become a republic?
Back in early June, Australia’s first-ever Minister for the Republic, Matt Thistlewaite, said it’s time to consider if we should remove a monarch as our head of state.
“As the Queen comes to the twilight of her reign, we can appropriately — and we should — pay respect to her for the wonderful job that she’s done,” Thistlewaite told Sky News at the time. “But I think Australians are now beginning to start to think about what comes next for our country”.
The proposal to shift Australia to a republic is an old one, but it hasn’t much been spoken about since the failed referendum in 1999. All states and territories except the ACT returned a ‘no’ during that vote, however many were not happy with the alternative arrangements, rather than actively wanting to keep the Queen.
Thistlewaite reignited this conversation by suggesting that she didn’t have long left, which turned out to be true. He then asked if we really wanted to continue to be under the UK’s empire.
“Do we want King Charles or are we mature enough or independent enough to look to appoint one of our own as our head of state?” he asked.
Polling in January of this year found that a majority of Australians would support the removal of the Queen as head of state. Moreover, the number of folks in favour of such a change might be even higher now.
Moreover, before Elizabeth’s body even had a chance to hit her lux casket, the Green’s federal leader, Adam Bandt has called for such a referendum. “Australia must move forward,” declared Bandt on Twitter. “We need Treaty with First Nations people, and we need to become a Republic.”
Rest In Peace Queen Elizabeth II.
Our thoughts are with her family and all who loved her.
Now Australia must move forward.
We need Treaty with First Nations people, and we need to become a Republic.
— Adam Bandt (@AdamBandt) September 8, 2022
So, with all of that in mind, here’s what an Australian republic might look like and how Labor plans to get there.
The Republic of Australia?
The Australian Republic Movement, the leading political body campaigning for Australia to remove a monarch as our head of state, released modelling last year that they argue would be the best approach for the country to adopt.
Their ‘Australian Choice’ would see voters elect a ‘Head of State’ who would sit for five year terms and appoint “as Prime Minister the person who has majority support in the House of Representatives, or calling an election if no-one can obtain that support”. This is basically what already happens under the current model, except that the authority to appoint Prime Ministers currently comes from the Queen.
This Head of State would have “no individual authority in relation to the setting of government policy, day-to-day governance or passing of laws, which remains the responsibility of the parliament, Prime Minister and Cabinet”.
So, in essence, not a lot would change in the day to day running of things, except that we get to elect the person who gives the title of PM to the leader of the party we also elect.
Support for Australia to become a republic is official policy of both Labor and the newly empowered Greens. Some in the Liberal party also support the idea.
Thistlewaite worked on the 1999 campaign to turn Australia into a republic over twenty years ago. He served as shadow minister for the republic in opposition and the cause is a passionately held one by him.
Under Bill Shorten, Labor said that they would put the republic issue to a vote if elected. However after Shorten lost the 2019 election to Morrison, the idea was put on the backburner.
More than likely, Labor will put the question of a republic to another national referendum. But back in June, they said that this vote was still a while a way.
“We’ve said that the Voice to Parliament is our priority in a first term and constitutional change and a referendum are difficult and that’s going to take a fair bit of work,” Thistlewaite said.
“I would envisage hopefully if we’re successful in that space, that the next natural step that Australia looks to take is to have one of our own as our head of state.
The Indigenous Voice to Parliament, as part of the wholesale implementation of the Uluru Statement From the Heart, was an election pledge of the new government and one that they have said they will ask the nation to vote on shortly after being elected.
Thistlewaite additionally stated that a referendum on being a republic wouldn’t be something the Labor government would pursue in its first term. “Hopefully, if we’re re-elected, it could be something we’d begin to look at in a second term of an Albanese Labor Government.”
Last time, the actual shape and structure of how the Australian government would work, with a President and a renewed Constitution, was the key sticking point in the vote. For now, Thistlewaite is largely going to be working out the details of a future republican plan and how it might best be sold to the public.
“My role is very much one of education in the initial stages: explaining to people that we do have a foreign monarch as our head of state, we have a proxy representative in the Governor-General, but that we can have an Australian as our head of state,” he said.
However, Thistlewaite made all of these comments before the Queen’s passing. Labor may now decide to capitalise on this international instability and try to kick the royals out before their first term is over. Or, they may want to keep things simple and solely focus on getting the Indigenous Voice to Parliament established.
Whatever Labor’s plans might be, we are in for some major shake-ups.