Labor’s Push for a Republic

CommentaryThe 31st Prime Minister of Australia, Anthony Albanese, has unveiled his ministry. It consists of a total of forty-two ministers who were sworn in on June 1 by Governor-General David Hurley. One notable choice is the appointment of Matt Thistlethwaite as Assistant Minister for the Republic. Although the appointment has attracted only a limited amount of attention, it is potentially of serious concern to Australia. This is because Thistlethwaite’s appointment foreshadows the activist nature of Albanese’s Labor government with regard to the constitutional structures of Australia. Not only has the prime minister thrown his unqualified support behind the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which seeks to entrench Aboriginal rights in the Constitution but, in appointing an assistant minister for the Republic, he has also disclosed his desire to radically change the constitutional framework of Australia, changing it from a monarchy to a republic. Common sense and experience confirm that Australia’s political class should exercise restraint when promoting structural amendments to the Constitution. This is because constitutional referenda needed to make such a change are not often successful—since federation, 44 proposals have been voted upon by Australia’s electors, and only eight of these have been approved. Assistant Minister for the Republic Matt Thistlethwaite (L) shakes hands with Australian Governor-General David Hurley during a swearing-in ceremony at Government House in Canberra, Australia, on June 1, 2022. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) Albanese’s activist approach, which tinkers with Australia’s basic law, is as unwise as it is deplorable for several reasons. First, the appointment of a minister for the Republic constitutes a repudiation of the Australian Constitution, which states in its preamble that “the people … have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and under the Constitution hereby established.” Section 2 of the Constitution states that “A Governor-General … shall be Her Majesty’s representative in the Commonwealth, and … may exercise … subject to this Constitution, such powers and functions of the Queen as Her Majesty may be pleased to assign to him.” The new Labor government has unequivocally opted to work outside this framework to achieve its long-held dream of turning Australia into a republic. Second, the appointment of a minister for the Republic pre-empts any decision that Australian electors might make in a referendum on this issue, thereby disrespecting and disregarding their views. The Constitution, in section 128, provides that electors, voting in a referendum, must consent to any proposed constitutional amendment. The last referendum on this issue was held in 1999 when 55 percent of electors voted “No” to the establishment of a republic. An Ipsos poll, released in January 2021, found that 40 percent of interviewees opposed Australia becoming a republic, and one-quarter of the surveyed people indicated they did not know. Jewel Topsfield, reporting on the results of the survey, indicated that this is “the highest level of undecided responses on the issue recorded by successive Ipsos and Nielsen polls.” The poll indicated that support for a republic, which peaked in December 1999, has steadily decreased since then. Another poll, conducted by research company Resolve Strategic and released in January 2022, found that 54 percent favour the establishment of a republic, but it also noted that “there is no momentum for the republican cause compared to opinion polls over the past two decades.” So, if the polls are correct, it is unlikely that a double majority can be found for this profound constitutional change. Third, the appointment of a minister for the Republic has been made at a most inopportune time when her Majesty the Queen celebrates her platinum anniversary jubilee as Queen—a reign of 70 years. As could be expected, the Australian Republic Movement (ARM) chair Peter FitzSimons welcomed the appointment of the Assistant Minister for the Republic. However, he commented dismissively that “we’re getting our head of state from a family of English aristocrats living in a palace in England.” Queen Elizabeth ll smiles amongst Australian flags being waved by the crowd after the Commonwealth Day Service in Sydney, Australia, on March 13, 2006. (Rob Griffith-Pool/Getty Images) ARM announced its preference for the election of an Australian Head of State for a five-year period. If this proposal were to be adopted, Australians would have to vote for yet another politician, who likely would be aligned with a political party. If so, his or her impartiality would be seriously compromised. If the Australian Head of State were to belong to a party different from the ruling party, the likelihood of constitutional crises would be radically increased. FitzSimons also disclosed his personal preferenc

Labor’s Push for a Republic

Commentary

The 31st Prime Minister of Australia, Anthony Albanese, has unveiled his ministry. It consists of a total of forty-two ministers who were sworn in on June 1 by Governor-General David Hurley.

One notable choice is the appointment of Matt Thistlethwaite as Assistant Minister for the Republic. Although the appointment has attracted only a limited amount of attention, it is potentially of serious concern to Australia.

This is because Thistlethwaite’s appointment foreshadows the activist nature of Albanese’s Labor government with regard to the constitutional structures of Australia.

Not only has the prime minister thrown his unqualified support behind the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which seeks to entrench Aboriginal rights in the Constitution but, in appointing an assistant minister for the Republic, he has also disclosed his desire to radically change the constitutional framework of Australia, changing it from a monarchy to a republic.

Common sense and experience confirm that Australia’s political class should exercise restraint when promoting structural amendments to the Constitution. This is because constitutional referenda needed to make such a change are not often successful—since federation, 44 proposals have been voted upon by Australia’s electors, and only eight of these have been approved.

Epoch Times Photo
Assistant Minister for the Republic Matt Thistlethwaite (L) shakes hands with Australian Governor-General David Hurley during a swearing-in ceremony at Government House in Canberra, Australia, on June 1, 2022. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Albanese’s activist approach, which tinkers with Australia’s basic law, is as unwise as it is deplorable for several reasons.

First, the appointment of a minister for the Republic constitutes a repudiation of the Australian Constitution, which states in its preamble that “the people … have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and under the Constitution hereby established.”

Section 2 of the Constitution states that “A Governor-General … shall be Her Majesty’s representative in the Commonwealth, and … may exercise … subject to this Constitution, such powers and functions of the Queen as Her Majesty may be pleased to assign to him.”

The new Labor government has unequivocally opted to work outside this framework to achieve its long-held dream of turning Australia into a republic.

Second, the appointment of a minister for the Republic pre-empts any decision that Australian electors might make in a referendum on this issue, thereby disrespecting and disregarding their views. The Constitution, in section 128, provides that electors, voting in a referendum, must consent to any proposed constitutional amendment.

The last referendum on this issue was held in 1999 when 55 percent of electors voted “No” to the establishment of a republic. An Ipsos poll, released in January 2021, found that 40 percent of interviewees opposed Australia becoming a republic, and one-quarter of the surveyed people indicated they did not know.

Jewel Topsfield, reporting on the results of the survey, indicated that this is “the highest level of undecided responses on the issue recorded by successive Ipsos and Nielsen polls.” The poll indicated that support for a republic, which peaked in December 1999, has steadily decreased since then.

Another poll, conducted by research company Resolve Strategic and released in January 2022, found that 54 percent favour the establishment of a republic, but it also noted that “there is no momentum for the republican cause compared to opinion polls over the past two decades.”

So, if the polls are correct, it is unlikely that a double majority can be found for this profound constitutional change.

Third, the appointment of a minister for the Republic has been made at a most inopportune time when her Majesty the Queen celebrates her platinum anniversary jubilee as Queen—a reign of 70 years.

As could be expected, the Australian Republic Movement (ARM) chair Peter FitzSimons welcomed the appointment of the Assistant Minister for the Republic. However, he commented dismissively that “we’re getting our head of state from a family of English aristocrats living in a palace in England.”

Epoch Times Photo
Queen Elizabeth ll smiles amongst Australian flags being waved by the crowd after the Commonwealth Day Service in Sydney, Australia, on March 13, 2006. (Rob Griffith-Pool/Getty Images)

ARM announced its preference for the election of an Australian Head of State for a five-year period. If this proposal were to be adopted, Australians would have to vote for yet another politician, who likely would be aligned with a political party. If so, his or her impartiality would be seriously compromised. If the Australian Head of State were to belong to a party different from the ruling party, the likelihood of constitutional crises would be radically increased.

FitzSimons also disclosed his personal preference to call the Australian Head of State “Elder,” instead of, say, “President.” He indicated that this title “represents the dignity of Australia.”

Although this title would easily fit into the narrative proposed by the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which aims at entrenching the “Voice”—an Indigenous advisory body to the Australian Parliament—into the Constitution, it does not represent the “dignity” of all Australians.

The proponents of maintaining the monarchy undoubtedly deplore the continuing push, supported by a progressive left-wing government bent on trashing the constitutional structures of Australia and turning the country into a republic.

They point out that Australia already has an Australian Head of State, who is known as the governor-general. The governor-general’s appointment is made by the Australian government, and the Queen’s assent is a formality because she always signs off on the recommendation. They argue that any change in the constitutional structure would lead to unnecessary upheaval, resulting in cultural as well as economic challenges, and would not result in measurable benefits for Australia.

The appointment of the assistant minister for the Republic raises the spectre that Albanese is planning a referendum to change the Constitution. However, he will have to contend with section 128 of the Constitution, which requires a double majority for a law amending the Constitution to be successful: an overall majority of electors and a majority of electors in four states. It is a formidable hurdle to overcome.

But the prime minister, in appointing an assistant minister for the Republic, has skewed the debate in favour of a republic and will be spending public money on yet another dubious project.

Australia has now a minister of the Crown whose job it is to remove the Crown from the Australian landscape.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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Gabriël A. Moens AM is an emeritus professor of law at the University of Queensland, and served as pro vice-chancellor and dean at Murdoch University. In 2003, Moens was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal by the prime minister for services to education. He has taught extensively across Australia, Asia, Europe, and the United States. Moens has recently published two novels “A Twisted Choice” (Boolarong Press, 2020) and “The Coincidence” (Connor Court Publishing, 2021).