POLITICS

Labor Promises A First Term Australian Republic Referendum

Bill Shorten has a simple head of state question ready to go.

28/07/2017 10:28 PM AEST | Updated 28/07/2017 10:57 PM AEST
Andrew Meares/Fairfax
Bill Shorten: "I am not an Elizabethan… I’m a Victorian, I’m an Australian."

CANBERRA -- Using current citizenship question marks over federal parliamentarians as a push, Labor Leader Bill Shorten is taking the Australian Republic fight straight to the "Elizabethan" Republican Prime Minister with a proposal to pose a fresh republic referendum question during the first term of a Shorten Labor Government.

According to speech notes for Saturday night's annual gala dinner of the Australian Republican Movement (ARM), seen by HuffPost Australia, Shorten wants to ask the simple "yes" or "no" referendum question, "do you support an Australian Republic with an Australian Head of State?"

Under the plan, a Shorten Government Minister would have the Australian republic as part or his or her portfolios with a view to putting a preliminary referendum question by the end of Labor's first term. The harder part of how to do it would come later.

"A Shorten Labor Government will take the first real step to an Australian Republic in our first term," the Opposition Leader is expected to say. "A Member of our Ministry will have direct responsibility for advancing this debate."

"And -- by the end of our first term -- we will put a simple, straightforward question to the people of Australia:

"Do you support an Australian Republic with an Australian Head of State?"

Labor's proposed republic referendum question

It takes the fight straight to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who was a former head of the Australian republican movement and the main figure behind the failed yes vote during the failed 1999 republic referendum.

Turnbull is still an ardent republican and -- well what else could he do -- after meeting Queen Elizabeth II during his recent European tour declared he was a proud "Elizabethan".

"Even Republicans like myself can be, and in my case are, very strong Elizabethans as well," Turnbull said earlier this month.

The PM's position has been to wait until after the Queen dies.

Shorten will instead declare the time is right now and Australians can vote for a Republic and still respect Queen Elizabeth.

"I am not an Elizabethan...I'm a Victorian, I'm an Australian."

Labor Leader Bill Shorten

"I know no other land, as Henry Lawson said a hundred years ago. And I believe our head of state should be an Australian too- and we should start now."

And he insists this is not about the current Queen or any British monarchs who will follow her.

"This not a decision that requires us to wait for a change of monarch, we don't need to tip-toe around our future," Shorten is expected to say.

The proposed question heads off any debate over what should be posed and acknowledges one of the main problems of the failed 1999 republic referendum. Last century's question was way too complicated.

"If the yes vote prevails -- and I'm optimistic it will -- then we can consider how that head of state is chosen," Shorten is expected to say.

"We cannot risk being caught in a referendum like the last one, where Australians were given one vote to settle two questions. When a lot of people voted 'No', because of the model, not because of the Republic."

"The first, clear question we ask the people should be whether we want an Australian head of state. And the debate should be about why. About our sense of Australia, our history and above all, our future."

Two years ago, Shorten stated he would like to see an Australian head of state by 2025.

The renewed push for an Australian referendum comes as federal parliamentarians grabble with, and three Senators so far, have come undone by still to be officially determined, citizenship-related breaches of the Australian Constitution.

Two Greens Senators Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlam have resigned from parliament, while Nationals Senator Canavan has stepped down from the Turnbull Government Cabinet, but held on to his senate seat while awaiting a determination from the High Court.

Victorian federal MP Julia Banks appears in the clear after furious speculation she held Greek citizenship through her parents despite being born in Australia.

The loss of just one member of the House of Representatives has the potential to bring down the Turnbull Government as it has a paper thin one seat majority.

The question of Australia's ties to Great Britain are not lost on Shorten, as he makes his pitch for an Australian republic.

"In the last two weeks, a Minister has resigned and two Senators have left the parliament because they had not renounced their allegiance to a 'foreign power'," the Labor Leader is expected to say.

"Yet the laws our parliament enacts are all passed in the name of someone who will never be an Australian citizen. The King or Queen of Great Britain doesn't just owe an allegiance to a foreign power -- they are a foreign power.

"I know an Australian Republic isn't front of mind for everyone, but I don't buy the argument that we can't have this debate until every other problem in the nation has been solved."

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