In the wake of the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, some senior lawmakers in Australia are calling for the government to declare itself a republic and break away from its colonial British heritage.
Federal Treasurer and deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan of the ruling Labor Party and Malcolm Turnbull, senior member of the opposition Liberal party, have called for a vote on the matter, reported the Australian Associated Press (AAP)l suggesting bipartisan support.
However, Turnbull, the former the head of the Australian Republican Movement, said such a step should only be taken after Elizabeth dies and only with a strong consensus behind such a change in the constitution. "The earliest occasion when you can be reasonably confident of winning a referendum is after the end of the Queen's reign," he said. Turnbull also told Fairfax Media: "I think the Queen is likely to outlive many of us. She comes from a very long-lived family."
Elizabeth, now 87 years old, is the official “head of state” and “sovereign leader” of sixteen nations, including Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica and Canada. Australia currently operates as a “constitutional monarchy.” The Queen’s influence in Australia is not entirely ceremonial either. Indeed, the governor-general of the country, whom she appoints, is the commander-in-chief of the military, has the power to pick ambassadors, ministers and judges, and also must approve all laws passed by the Canberra parliament. The governor-general (currently Quentin Bryce, the first ever female to hold the post) also can dissolve both the House of Representatives and the Senate. (However, in practice, the governor-general has rarely exercised such authority and typically acts in accordance with the wishes of the Prime Minister).
Turnbull also indicated that there doesn’t seem to be much enthusiasm for Elizabeth’s descendants in Australia. "Many argue that the sexy celebrity status of [Prince] William and Kate will sweep all before it and their star quality will revive the monarchy in Australia. I don't think so," he wrote in a book of essays called “Project Republic: Plans and Arguments for a New Australia.”
"They will certainly be far more interesting and telegenic than [Prince] Charles and Camilla -- but I am not convinced that will translate into enhanced support for William (or indeed Charles) remaining our head of state."
Swan said that a modern affluent democracy like Australia should have a citizen as its head of state, not a monarch who lives 10,000 miles away. "But there's another even more important reason why now is the right time to discuss the republic question -- Australia's vital place in this the ‘Asian Century’," Swan stated. "With the economic and political balance now shifting to our part of the world, the idea of an Australian head of state who resides in Windsor Castle outside London seems very far-fetched. Personally, I strongly believe we should kick-start that formal process [of transitioning to a republic] sooner rather than later.”
Swan added: "We do need to put some urgency in our national conversation [about the republic]. Australia has never been in a better position on the global stage. I can think of nothing which would secure our future better than to make this vital constitutional change."
But not everyone in Australian government agrees with symbolically separating from the “Mother Country.” Turnbull’s own colleague in the Liberal party, Tony Abbott, has dismissed the republican movement. “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,” Abbott said, according to the Daily Telegraph.
“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.”
Other skeptics think Australia has more important matters to consider. "You have to be in a particular kind of bubble -- as Wayne Swan obviously is -- if you think the public want a debate right now about the republic," Senior Liberal party member Christopher Pyne told reporters. "It is extraordinary that Labor is so out of touch with what working men and women want in Australia that he would think that was a high priority for any new government."
The Prime Minister Julia Gillard has also stated her desire to see Australia become as Republic – again, not until Elizabeth dies or abdicates. During her campaign for the Prime Ministry in 2010, the Welsh-born Gillard said Australians have a “deep affection” for the Queen, but added that “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.”
A previous referendum on converting Australia into a republic was defeated in 1999.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.