Is an Australian republic any closer than it was 25 years ago?

4 June 2022

Australian federal MP Matt Thistlethwaite has been appointed to the role of assistant minister for the republic, in the new Labor led government, a move that will put the question of an Australian republic, and an Australian as head of state, rather than the British monarch, back on the agenda.

The push for Australia to break away from the monarchy has received its best news in 25 years after Prime Minister Anthony Albanese appointed an assistant minister for the republic. Australian Republic Movement chair Peter FitzSimons says the appointment of Matt Thistlethwaite was a major show of support. It remains to be seen what progress Labor will make on the issue after it confirmed a constitutionally-enshrined First Nations Voice to Parliament was its referendum priority.

A break from the British monarchy has long been on the cards. In 1995, then Prime Minister Paul Keating declared Australia should become a republic. But the notion was was rejected by the Australian people in a 1999 referendum, with about fifty-five-percent of the population voting against the proposal. But twenty-three years on, support for a republic could hardly be called overwhelming.

Polling conducted earlier this year in the states of New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland found a little over a third of people supported an Australian republic, while a little under a third were opposed. But closer to forty-percent — a significant margin — said they were “unsure or neutral” on the matter. When posed the question: yes or no, would you support a republic, fifty-four-percent of respondents said yes. But it’s not much of a margin, and I’d contend a minimum of sixty-percent of Australians would need to be firmly in favour for the idea to carry.

But Australians appear to have other priorities, and the matter of a republic is of little interest to many, although that doesn’t mean Australia is a country filled with monarchists:

The biggest hurdle for republicans is the reality that Australia is already an independent nation, with only sentiment and inertia linking us to the British crown. Most Australians, when pressed, struggle to remember the name of the current governor-general or to explain their role.

Interestingly, this week marks the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth’s, seventieth jubilee. I only know because I try to keep up with the news. A month ago I’d have had no idea the occasion was imminent. Certainly I’m not aware of any events locally to acknowledge the milestone. I see no banners flying on the streets, nor detect any sort of buzz of interest generally. People seem to be going their day-to-day affairs as normal.

But another obstacle for those in favour of a republic is what the exact role of any head of state, presumably a president, would be. What sort of executive power would they be invested with, and how would they assume office? Should they be appointed by the Australian parliament, or elected by popular vote? There are many questions to address.

Personally I think Australia should be a republic, and a nation with a head of state chosen by the people. It may only be a symbolic gesture, but it’s an important one.