The death of Queen Elizabeth II revives the debate on the Australian republic

Many saw Australians’ respect and affection for the late Queen Elizabeth II as the biggest obstacle to the country becoming a republic with its own head of state.

Now, after his death and with a pro-republican Labor Party government in power, Australia’s constitutional ties to the British monarchy will be up for debate again for the first time since change was voted down at a referendum in 1999.

During her long reign, the Queen connected with Australia in a way that no monarch before her had.

In 1954, she became the only reigning British monarch to visit Australia. Such was her star power, around 70% of the Australian population turned out to see her during a harrowing two-month itinerary that took her and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, to 57 cities and villages spread over vast distances. She has been there 16 times, the last time in 2011 when she was 85.

His face is the only monarch to appear on Australian currency since the introduction of decimal coinage in 1966, when Australian dollars and cents replaced British-style pounds, shillings and pence.

Her eldest son, King Charles III, was formally proclaimed Australia’s head of state on Sunday by the monarch’s Australian representative, Governor-General David Hurley, in a ceremonial ceremony in Parliament that ended with a salute of 21 cannon shots.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese addresses the nation on the news of the death of Queen Elizabeth II (ABC/AP)

Anthony Albanese, who describes himself as the first candidate with a ‘non-Anglo-Celtic name’ to run for prime minister in the office’s 121-year existence, began laying the groundwork for an Australian republic when the Labor Party was elected in May after nine years. years in opposition.

Mr Albanese has created a new post as Deputy Minister for the Republic and appointed Matt Thistlethwaite to the post in June. Mr Thistlethwaite had said there would be no change in the Queen’s life.

The prime minister said a republican referendum was not a priority for his first three-year term in government.

It already provides for a referendum in the current term that would enshrine an Indigenous voice in Parliament in the Australian Constitution. Although the details have yet to be finalized, the voice would provide a mechanism for indigenous representatives to address parliament about laws that affect their lives.

Since news of the Queen’s death broke in Australia on Friday, Mr Albanese has brushed off questions about an Australian republic.

“Now is not the time to talk about our system of government,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp on Sunday. “Now is the time for us to honor the life of Queen Elizabeth, a life well lived, a life of dedication and loyalty, including to the people of Australia and for us to honor and mourn.”

Opposition leader Peter Dutton, a monarchist, also avoided questions about why Australia needs a king.

An indigenous dancer performs as Governor General David Hurley, second from left, and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese during the proclamation of King Charles III in the forecourt of Parliament, Canberra on Sunday (Mick Tsikas/AAP/AP)

The Australian Republic Movement, an organization which campaigns for Australia to become a republic and is not affiliated with any political party, has been widely criticized for a political statement issued shortly after news of the Queen’s death was announced.

The statement referred to the Queen’s comments regarding the 1999 referendum which voted to keep the British monarch as head of Australia’s state.

“The Queen backed Australians’ right to become a fully independent nation in the referendum… saying she has ‘always made it clear that the future of the monarchy in Australia is a matter for the Australian people and only them to decide, through democratic and constitutional means,” the statement read.

That referendum largely failed because Australians were divided over what kind of president they wanted. The monarch is represented in Australia by a Governor-General who, for decades, has always been an Australian citizen. The governor general is appointed by the monarch on the advice of the prime minister.

The referendum recommended that the monarch and the monarch’s representative be replaced by a president chosen by at least two-thirds of the politicians in parliament. But many Republicans wanted voters to elect the president as they do in the United States, so they joined the monarchists in opposing the then-proposed Republican model.

The small Greens party, which is influential in the Senate where no party holds a majority of seats, has also been criticized for raising the issue hours after the Queen’s death.

“Now Australia must move forward. We need a treaty with First Nations people and we must become a republic,” Greens leader Adam Bandt tweeted on Friday. Australia is rare among the countries of the former British Empire to have no treaty with its indigenous peoples.

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The Sydney Opera House is illuminated by a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II (Mark Baker/AP)

Support for the republican movement grew in 1975, when Governor General John Kerr used the authority of Queen Elizabeth II to fire Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam to end a constitutional crisis. The British royal family was suspected of ordering Mr Kerr to bring down a democratically elected Australian government.

Whitlam historian and biographer Jenny Hocking fought a four-year legal battle to have correspondence between Mr Kerr and Buckingham Palace released by the National Archives of Australia in 2020. Lower courts have accepted that the letters between the monarch and the Governor-General, two central figures in Australia’s Constitution, were personal and could never be made public.

But the High Court ruled in favor of Ms Hocking in a 6-1 majority decision that allowed the letters to be published.

Mr Kerr fired Mr Whitlam to end a month-old senatorial stalemate. Mr Kerr appointed opposition leader Malcolm Fraser caretaker prime minister on the condition that he immediately call an election, which Labor lost.

While the Queen was the monarch at the time, King Charles III, then Prince of Wales, also influenced Mr Kerr’s decision to fire Mr Whitlam, Ms Hocking said.

Charles had discussed with Mr Kerr the possibility of sacking Mr Whitlam three months before Mr Kerr became the only governor-general to bring down an Australian government.

“It’s clearly an influence on Kerr’s decision to dismiss the government – there’s no question about that,” Ms Hocking said. “It’s a terrible implication. It doesn’t do anyone any favors to pretend that it doesn’t. We have to recognize it. »

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A portrait of the Queen stands among floral tributes outside Government House in Sydney (Mark Baker/AP)

Mr Albanese said the 1975 crisis reinforced the need for an Australian head of state instead of a British monarch.

John Howard, a monarchist who was Prime Minister when Australians voted against severing their constitutional ties to their former colonial master, said those ties can survive the Queen’s death.

“The strength of the monarchy in Australia has been increased immeasurably by the personal popularity of the Queen,” he said. “That doesn’t mean it won’t continue. It will continue in another form.