Australia’s republican question . . .
The passing of Queen Elizabeth II on September 8 has led to renewed public debates in some Commonwealth countries about the British monarch remaining their respective head of state. In Australia, this question emerged quickly, as republicanism is the official policy of the governing Labor Party. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has made clear his preference for Australia becoming a republic on many occasions, including during the federal election campaign earlier this year. However, since the death of Britain’s longest-reigning sovereign, Albanese has stated that now is not the right time to push for the country to become a republic and that it would be “inappropriate” to discuss the topic while commemorations for the late Queen are ongoing.
‘The Commonwealth’ in brief . . .
In Australia, ‘The Commonwealth’ can mean both the ‘Commonwealth of Australia,’ namely, the Australian federation made up of states and territories and governed from Canberra, as well as the ‘Commonwealth of Nations,’ the political association of 56 member states, most of which were at one time part of the British Empire. Like Canada, Australia is a member of the latter, and one of only 15 ‘Commonwealth realms’ to retain the British monarch as its head of state, represented by a governor general. Many other Commonwealth members, such as India, Pakistan, and Nigeria, have a head of state elected or appointed domestically, and are therefore republics. Nearly 20 Commonwealth members are in the Asia Pacific region.
Pathway to a republic . . .
The republican movement in Australia predates the country’s official federation in 1901, and contemporary opinion on the question remains mixed. But ditching the British Crown to become a republic would require changing the country’s Constitution, with the proposed change approved by a referendum. Only eight of 44 referenda in the country’s history have been successful. The 1999 referendum in which Australians were asked whether Australia should become a republic was rejected, with 55 per cent indicating they did not want such a change. While Prime Minister Albanese has signalled that a similar referendum may take place in the future, it would not occur during his first term in office. The next federal election will take place in 2025. The Labor Party will, however, be pursuing a referendum on enshrining an Indigenous Voice to Parliament during its first term, an initiative in part intended to demonstrate the central position of Indigenous Australians in contemporary Australian society after a traumatic colonial history and land dispossession as a policy of the British Crown and later the Australian government.