With Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister, the Australian Republican Movement (ARM) is back from the dead.
The ARM was founded in 1991 as a non-partisan lobby group pushing for constitutional change in Australia. Who else was one of its founding fathers but our very own, Malcolm Turnbull. With Australian politics now under Turnbull, Republicanism and the ARM is showing its first signs of life and vitality in years.
“Republicanism”, in the Australian context, refers to a movement that wishes to see Australia move from having a British head of state (currently Queen Elizabeth II) to an Australian head of state. Australian republicanism was a very active social movement in the 1990’s under the Prime Ministership of Paul Keating (1991-1996). However, the movement went into a period of decline after a referendum for an Australian Republic was defeated in 1999. Since then a string of Prime Ministers with either strongly monarchist sentiments (John Howard and Tony Abbott) or hidden Republican sentiments for the purpose of political pragmatism (Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard) has ensured that Australian Republicanism has been a virtual non-issue in recent years.
The revival of the Australian Republican movement has come as an unexpected side effect of the deposition of unpopular monarchist Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the ascension of Republican Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull only a few months ago. However, there were murmurs of a revival of Republicanism before this event occurred.
On the 25th of August, Chairman of the Australian Republican Movement and former rugby union footballer Peter FitzSimons had been engaging in a series of press conferences calling for the revival of the Australian Republic debate. FitzSimons had been surprisingly publicly joined in his sentiments by now outgoing Australian treasurer Joe Hockey, who formed a controversial parliamentary “friendship group” calling for an Australian Republic with his political rivals in the Australian Labor Party (“ABC News”). More recently, the former governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, Ian Macfarlane, has joined the Australian Republican Movement.
The referendum for the Australian Republican movement failed in 1999 in no small part due to then Prime Minister John Howard’s splitting of the Republican vote by requiring Australia to draft a completely new constitution in order to become a Republic. With this, the move for an Australian Republic failed.
At the time, Turnbull blamed Prime Minister and future Liberal Party colleague John Howard, labeling him “the Prime Minister who broke this nation’s heart.”
With a staunch and active Republican as Australia’s Prime Minister, the Australian Republican Movement appears alive once more. Australian Federal Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, has already stated his support for Australian Republicanism. In addition, former Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd (2007-2010, 2013) and Julia Gillard (2010-2013), though fierce political rivals for control of the Labor Party and the Australian Prime Ministership, have both tweeted their support for an Australian Republic. The Facebook page of the Australian Republican Movement has also seen a lot of activity in recent days.
Although political pragmatism will probably dictate that no official steps are taken towards an Australian Republic until after the next election, it appears most likely that a renewed push for an Australian Republic will be made by either Prime Minister Turnbull or Shorten after the next election is over. Tony Abbott’s deposition has revived the Republican debate in Australia.