Would Australia Still Vote 'No' In A Referendum To Become A Republic?
It’s been 20 years since more than six million Australians voted to stick with the British monarchy. But would the country vote the same way now?
The argument has largely fallen out of the national conversation. While there isn't much political drive to reignite the debate or put another vote before the people, the Australian Republic Movement claims a majority of federal MPs would back a republic if given the choice, pointing to 2016 figures from the last parliament.
Chair of the Republic Movement Peter FitzSimons claimed up to 60 percent of federal politicians supported Australia becoming a republic, giving us the power to choose our own head of state and cast off Queen Elizabeth II.
However, FitzSimons conceded there were "so many cards in the air" that could sway a vote on the issue either way. These include the popularity of the young royals, the health and reign of the aging Queen, the unpopularity of next-in-line Prince Charles, and the never-ending Brexit process -- which would all play a part in the future of the debate.
It's been 20 years since the last botched bid for a breakup with the British monarchy. So where does the republic debate stand today?
“We’re going again ... we've got to build to get, once more, the people saying 'this is ridiculous'," FitzSimons said, hopeful that the ARM will see a vote happen in the near future.
FOR THE REPUBLIC
Support for an Australian republic is still strong, despite a recent dip in backers.
An ARM poll released in October 2018 found 53 percent of Aussies backed a change, while 22 percent were flat out against it and the remaining quarter were unsure.
A different poll one month later, following an Australian visit from Prince Harry and wife Meghan, found just 40 percent wanted a republic, the lowest support for a change from the monarchy in 25 years.
"When we become a republic, it will be an indication to the world and ourselves that this is not a nation that's been here for 250 years. Our people, we Australians, we've been here for 65,000 years," FitzSimons said.
"We're not transplanted Brits, we're our own independent people."
"(It's) difficult to get (a referendum) up while the Queen is still around," the ARM chair said.
"Well, people say 'difficult', I think we're better than that. The matter of our national sovereignty is far more important than the health report of the Queen.
"We wish her a long life, but I think we can get this done. There are so many people who say 'I'm with you once Charles takes over'. But why wait? Is it fair to Prince Charles to say 'we had your mum for 70 years but we won't cop you for five minutes'?" FitzSimons said.
"If we're going to do this, let's do it like grown-ups, look mum straight in the eye and say 'mum, we love you, but we're moving out' rather than sneak away after the funeral."
On the matter of the ever-delayed Brexit, FitzSimons claimed the final makeup of a proposed deal to separate Britain from the European Union "certainly changes the game" for the republic debate in the possible scenario that Scotland and Northern Ireland decide to stay in the single market.
He spoke of a republic as a "matter of national dignity".
Directly addressing Prime Minister Scott Morrison, FitzSimons said: "I don't believe your daughters should be able to do anything they want in this world bar one, being the Australian head of state."
FOR the monarchy?
Philip Benwell, national chairman of the Australian Monarchist League, sees clear reasons for the country to stick with its current constitutional monarchy.
"It’s the most stable system of government yet devised," he said.
"It keeps politicians from absolute power."
He claimed to 10 daily there "are not many republics that actually work", citing systems where a president "becomes a sort of dictator", and asking:
Do we want an American system with a president like Donald Trump?
In an interview released by Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy, former prime minister John Howard said: "I'm in favour of changing things that don't work. Our constitution does work."
Benwell admitted an Australian republic could remain in the Commonwealth bloc, which would give us access to the Commonwealth Games among other perks. Only a third of competing nations still have the Queen as their head of state, the ARM said.
"We would apply to be a member of the Commonwealth as a republic and we'll undoubtedly be accepted ... but the Queen will go from our money, the crown will go from uniforms. There will be radical, expensive change in that regard," Benwell said.
"But more importantly, the first one, two or three terms of a president will work alright, but then the politicians will start controlling more."
Benwell noted the Monarchist League's current efforts to reach young voters, with young monarchists groups launched in universities.
He claimed there was an "anti-older generation change," theorising young people were resisting the pro-republic sentiments of their parents.
"We've had the visits of Princes William and Harry, the marriages, babies. It's created a bond between younger people and the royal family, something that didn't exist before," Benwell said.
For Benwell, the young royals -- William, Kate, Harry, Meghan and the rest -- are perhaps the monarchist movement's most powerful PR weapon.
"There will be a visit in the near future, and several visits more, before we talk about a republic again," he said.
"A lot of people won't want to change because they will lose that. We'll still be a part of the Commonwealth, but we won't be a realm if the king or queen won't be sovereign."
COULD CHANGE WORK?
The ARM wants another referendum by 2022.
If that were to happen there would likely be a public vote to decide the model to put forward.
This would include how the head of state is chosen -- via parliamentary vote or popular vote -- and whether there are varying levels of connection with or divorce from the Commonwealth.
FitzSimons wants a simple plan for a 'minimalist republican solution'.
"The current system is the prime minister chooses the governor-general, asks the Queen. In the new system, everything stays the same, bar one thing -- PM chooses GG, asks the parliament," he said.
"To me, that is the perfect solution ... we do not ask a lady living in England for her blessing for decisions the democratically-elected leader of the Australian people has made."
FitzSimons snubbed suggestions from monarchists that such change would be too much trouble.
"For the French to become a republic, they had to storm the Bastille -- that was a fair bit of trouble," he joked.
WILL IT EVER HAPPEN?
A new republic referendum isn't happening anytime soon.
Momentum is building for a referendum on Indigenous constitutional recognition first.
"All of Labor's policies are currently under review," a spokesperson for opposition leader Anthony Albanese told 10 daily.
The prime minister's office did not respond to a request for comment.
The Monarchists are focusing on building a youth following and praising the new generation of royals.
FitzSimons' republic team are building a network to speak at Rotary clubs nationwide.
"You must have confidence in our country, confidence in our people, confidence in us. Other countries can run their own show, why can't we?" FitzSimons said.