Will Queen Elizabeth be long to reign over Oz?

Australia’s wish to be a self-governing republic becomes more pronounced

 

It’s a hardy annual of Australian life, like Christmas on the beach with the ‘barbi’ and ritual debates about the use of sun screen. Come Australia Day, January 26th, the occasion that commemorates the start of British rule, the Australian Republican Movement (ARM) runs up the flagpole another call for the country to declare itself a self-governing republic, to cut the last constitutional umbilical link with the Old Country.

“Never before have the stars of the Southern Cross been so aligned in pointing to the dawn of a new republican age for Australia,” ex- rugby international and chair of ARM, Peter FitzSimons declared as he unveiled a call from seven of Australia’s eight state and territory leaders for change.

Only Western Australian premier Colin Barnett declined to sign up this year – because he said he thought the timing was wrong , a view shared by prime minister Malcolm Turnbull whose election last year, replacing monarchist Tony Abbott, had raised republican hopes. Turnbull is a former leader of the ARM.

Polls suggest a narrow majority now favour abolition of the monarchy, although younger and older voters tend the other way. A referendum in 1999 which went against – 55-45 – is said to have been lost because the republicans failed to unite on an alternative means of picking a head of state, an issue not addressed in the ARM declaration.

That Australia faces more pressing issues than the monarchy is clearly beyond argument, but the maintenance of this feudal, democratically indefensible hangover from colonial rule remains a visible dilution of the country’s formal independence. And Australians remember all too well how the far-from-notional residual powers of the queen were exercised to significant effect in the not so distant past – in 1975 governor-general Sir John Kerr, acting on her authority, dismissed from office prime minister Gough Whitlam of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and then appointed leader of the opposition, Malcolm Fraser of the Liberal Party, as caretaker prime minister.

Maybe not this year, but the crown will be dislodged before long.

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