CANBERRA -- The push behind an Australian republic has secured a crucial political ally, with Treasurer Joe Hockey signing on to the campaign.
In a surprise move that has raised the ire of some colleagues, Hockey will join Labor Senator Katy Gallagher in forming a Parliamentary Friendship Group for an Australian head of state.
Described by the head of the Australian Republican Movement, Peter Fitzsimons, as his top pick as the “number two political leader in the land,” it sets Hockey up against his leader, the avowed constitutional monarchist Tony Abbott.
“For me, it was obvious that Joe was the one because I know he's passionate for it, “Fitzsimons told the National Press Club in Canberra.
While senior colleagues Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Education Minister Christopher Pyne are well known republican, the ARM Chairman said they were not asked.
“I know Malcolm Turnbull is passionate for it,” Fitzsimons told reporters.
Turnbull is an early predecessor to Fitzsimons, leading the Republican Movement in the 1990s into the failed 1999 republic referendum.
“You wouldn't say hold the front page, Malcolm Turnbull comes out in favour of the Republic. Of course Malcolm Turnbull is in favour of the Republic.”
Coalition colleagues are unimpressed.
Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss says the Government should be concentrating on what matters most to Australians.
Hockey supported the 1999 referendum and a spokeswoman for the Treasurer said he had long advocated his view on this issue.
“They are a matter of public record and those views have not changed,” she said.
Hockey has, however, also felt that an Australian republic is not the most pressing issue confronting Australia, railing in 2004 against the renewed push for a referendum by the then-Labor Leader Mark Latham.
“This is a distraction,” he said on Lateline at the time.
“When you've got hospitals and schools and police and security as you talked about - the issues that really matter - including national security, Mark Latham is off talking about the republic and as an avowed republican I don't know where he's coming from.”
Hockey also declared: “I don't want another referendum where Australians decide they do not want to become a republic.
“I don't want that as a republican.
“If we're going to do it, let's get it right and let's get it up.”
Fitzsimons said the Australian Republican Movement is gearing up for a new push for an Australian head of state
"The key thing I wish to say today is we are putting the band back together," he said.
He said he wanted a simple question on a republic put to the Australian people within five years.
During that time, Australian voters are likely to face a marriage equality plebiscite, a constitutional recognition referendum and two federal polls.
Fitzsimons predicted Abbott would be Australia’s last monarchist Prime Minister.
“If Tony Abbott is there for 10 years we won't get this over the line," he said.
“We take no political position on Tony Abbott whatsoever. Just the absolute reality of the situation is we won't get this over the line without bipartisan support.”