Australian state and territory leaders on Sunday issued a near unanimous call for an Australian head of state in a declaration released ahead of Australia Day, which marks the anniversary of the arrival of the first British colonists to the country. Western Australia’s Colin Barnett, the only leader who declined to affix his signature to the one line declaration, reportedly said he was supportive of the move but believed that now was not the right time.
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. Speaking to ABC News, Peter FitzSimons, chairman of the Australian Republican Movement — the lobbying group that drafted the declaration — said that he was “thrilled by how enthusiastic the premiers were.”
“Never before have the stars of the Southern Cross been so aligned in pointing to the dawn of a new republican age for Australia,” FitzSimons said.
Currently, the queen’s role as head of state in Australia is largely ceremonial. However, the monarch does have the power to dissolve the Australian parliament. For instance, 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 percent of Australians voted in favor of replacing the Queen with a head of state elected by parliament.
“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,” Andrew Barr, chief minister of the Australian Capital Territory, said, in a statement. “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.”
However, Turnbull, who is himself a staunch republican, has previously said that any referendum on the issue is not likely before the end of the current queen’s reign.
“While I am a republican, there are much more immediate issues,” Turnbull said in September, days after coming to power. “My own view, for what it is worth ... is that the next occasion for the republic referendum to come up is going to be after the end of the Queen’s reign. I think that will be the next watershed event, if you like, to make that issue relevant.”