Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Australian republic leadership elected for coming battle

As Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex were putting the final touches on their successful Australian tour, the republic movement last week voted in the leadership team it hopes will sever Australia’s constitutional ties to the British monarchy.

Peter FitzSimons, a prominent media figure whose signature headscarf serves as a red rag to his critics, was elected to a further two years as chairman of the Australian Republic Movement, with mental health advocate and former Australian of the Year Patrick McGorry joining the group’s ­national committee.

The last referendum on a ­republic, held in 1999, was soundly defeated after republicans could not agree on whether an Australian head of state should be appointed by the parliament or ­directly elected by the people.

Matt Thistle­thwaite, a Labor MP who would be the minister ­responsible for a republic under a Shorten government, said the growing support for a republic suggested Australians were able to separate their fondness for the British royals from our constitutional arrangements.

“If we become a republic, the relationship between the average Australian and the royal family will not change one bit,’’ he said. “They will still come to Australia regularly, they will still be welcomed here and they will still ­appear on the front cover of our gossip magazines and newspapers when they get married and have kids.’’

Newspoll surveys show that since April 2011, the month William and Kate were married, support for a republic has grown from a low ebb of 41 per cent to 50 per cent.

Labor supports a two-staged vote on a republic, with a non-binding vote on the threshold question in a first term of government, followed by a referendum to decide a republican model.

The elevation of the republic to an election issue, albeit a second-order one for most voters, is a triumph for the ARM, which under FitzSimons has rebuilt its membership base and finances, and ­quietly campaigned to put the ­republic back on the political agenda.

In last week’s elections, Fitz­Simons received about 75 per cent of the vote of ARM members. “I think we need more Peters rather than one fewer,’’ ARM national ­director Michael Cooney said. 


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