Aussie state leaders push for republic

SOUTH AUSTRALIAN PREMIER JAY WEATHERILL
SOUTH AUSTRALIAN PREMIER JAY WEATHERILL

Seven out of eight sign declaration calling for an Australian head of state to replace British monarch

SYDNEY • Australian state leaders yesterday threw their support behind a republic, with one saying the country should not have to wait for the end of Queen Elizabeth II's reign to cut ties with the British monarchy.

Ahead of the annual Australia Day celebration today, seven of the nation's eight state and territory leaders signed a declaration calling for an Australian head of state to replace the reigning royal in London.

The only state leader not to sign the declaration, Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett, said he also supported a republic, but did not think "the time is right".

Federal Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is a longstanding republican and the Australian Republican Movement (ARM) said the new enthusiasm was thrilling.

"All of Australia's political leaders now support an Australian head of state," ARM head Peter FitzSimons told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

HAVE THE QUEEN PRESIDE OVER TRANSITION

I think that is something that she could preside over and do in the elegant and expert way in which she has handled her relationship as head of Australia. I mean if you think about it, what are we waiting for? Are we waiting for her to die? I would have thought that it's much more respectful to have her supervise this transition.''

SOUTH AUSTRALIAN PREMIER JAY WEATHERILL, who said it would be the ultimate act of respect if the Queen presided over the transfer of Australia from a monarchy to a republic.

"Never before have the stars of the Southern Cross been so aligned in pointing to the dawn of a new republican age for Australia."

Mr FitzSimons said the declaration by the leaders was timed for Australia Day, which marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet of British ships at Sydney's Port Jackson.

"Australia can do better than to find our heads of state from one family of unelected English people living in a palace in England," Mr FitzSimons told Australia's Nine Network after being asked if the nation should wait until Queen Elizabeth II dies.

"Have the Queen come when she is young enough and, instead of bowing and curtseying, the nation rises as one in a standing ovation and says thank you, your majesty, we will take it from here."

Mr Turnbull, who led the republican movement ahead of a failed referendum on the issue in 1999 before he entered politics, has previously said that the issue was not an immediate priority.

"The next occasion for the republic referendum to come up is going to be after the Queen's reign," Mr Turnbull said last year.

But South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill said it would be "the ultimate act of respect" if the Queen presided over the transfer of Australia from a monarchy to a republic.

"And I think that is something that she could preside over and do in the elegant and expert way in which she has handled her relationship as head of Australia," he told the ABC.

"I mean if you think about it, what are we waiting for? Are we waiting for her to die? I would have thought that it's much more respectful to have her supervise this transition."

The British Crown's power in Australia is seen as largely symbolic and the monarchy is viewed by some as a colonial relic.

Support for a republic has ebbed, with a Fairfax-Nielsen poll in 2014 finding that 51 per cent of the 1,400 people surveyed favoured the status quo, compared with 42 per cent supporting a republic.

Mr Weatherill said there had always been "an underlying sense of support for a republic", despite the 1999 referendum failing by 45 per cent to 55 per cent.

"It is just a question of rekindling that," he said.

Yesterday's declaration coincides with a new online petition that has so far gathered 4,500 signatures, out of 16 million eligible voters.

The Australian Monarchist League said that despite the moves from the political leaders, there is no widespread public support for replacing the monarchy and that the nation's Constitution is "based on the Crown, which always represents the people".

ARM is calling for a plebiscite to be held by the year 2020, which would then be followed up by a congress of political and community leaders to decide the preferred model for a republic.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 26, 2016, with the headline 'Aussie state leaders push for republic'. Print Edition | Subscribe