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G’day, ma’am

G’day, ma’am

Australia has just appointed its first assistant minister for the republic. Matt Thistlewaite’s job is to oversee the transition toward establishing an Australian republic with an Australian head of state. But will he be successful?

“For 60 years, you have been a presence in our national story, and given the vagaries of public life, I’m confident that this will not be the final tally of the politicians you have outlasted….”

AP Archive

In 2011, Queen Elizabeth II visited Australia on an 11-day royal tour.

“Many heads of state and government are welcomed within these walls but in this, the home of Australian democracy, you are a vital constitutional part. Not a guest.”

AP Archive

It was her 16th visit to the country and was thought to be her “farewell tour” as royal commentators expected it to be her last.

The queen hasn’t been back to Australia since, but the country marked her recent platinum jubilee with its own air force conducting a fly-pass, lighting a beacon in the capital Canberra, and the renaming of Aspen Island to Queen Elizabeth II Island.

After all, the queen has been Australia’s head of state for 70 years. Although that could be about to change.  

“The prime minister says Australians hold Queen Elizabeth with respect and affection even though the bond with Britain is not what it was when she assumed her title in February 1952.”

Sky News Australia

Australia’s Labour Party won the recent election, and when new prime minister Anthony Albanese began putting together his government, there was one appointment that jumped out.

“Tomorrow the queen starts the celebrations for 70 years of loyal service as the head of state to Australia as well… and Labor marked this yesterday by appointing Matt Thistlethwaite as our first assistant minister for the Republic, or shall we say for getting rid of the queen.””

Sky News Australia

MP Matt Thistlethwhaite was appointed as assistant minister for the republic. 

It’s the first time a politician in the government has given the official responsibility of steering the country towards removing the Queen as head of state and replacing her with an Australian.

So, how likely is it that Australia will become a republic?

***

That question is quite familiar to many Australians.

“Australia should become a Republic by the year 2001… we are all Australians. We share a continent, we share a past, a present, and a future, and our head of state should be one of us.”

ABC News Australia

In 1999, Australia held a referendum. 

In a yes or no question, voters were asked,

“Do you approve of an Act to alter the Constitution to establish the Commonwealth of Australia as a republic with the Queen and Governor General being replaced by a President appointed by a two-thirds majority of the members of the Commonwealth Parliament?”

Put simply, should Australia replace the Queen with its own head of state and how should that new head of state be chosen.  

The result?

“This was the best republic that… the best brains of the republican movement could come up with and it could only get 45% support and that is a credit to the healthy skepticism of the Australian people when faced with change for changes’ sake and a dub model republic.”  

ABC News Australia

Almost 55 per cent of Australians voted against becoming a republic.

But that was more than 20 years ago. And Matt Thistlethwhaite believes the mood has changed.

***

“It means that we can now begin a serious discussion about recognising Australia’s independence and maturity, and hopefully moving one day, to having an Australian as our head of state.”

Matt Thistlethwhaite, 10 News First

Having learnt lessons from the 1999 referendum, Matt Thistlethwhaite wants to educate Australians on the role the crown plays by funding an information campaign.

And he wants a dedicated team in the attorney general’s department to steadily build a consensus on what an Australian republic might look like.

“Monarchists are outraged that taxpayer resources are going to be used to push for a republic. They suspect the government wants to do a lot of the groundwork required for a second referendum before the queen dies and then when her son Prince Charles takes over and a period of mourning has passed, they believe it will suddenly be a much bigger priority for Anthony Albanese.”

ABC News Australia

Out of the 54 Commonwealth countries, 34 are now republics, putting Australia in the minority. 

But Matt Thistlethwaite insists that Labor’s priority in its first parliamentary term is constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians and not becoming a republic.

The aim is to make policies with Aborignal and Torres Strait Islander people through a body called The Voice, rather than making policies for them.  

Only when that’s successful will he turn his attention to making Australia a republic in a second term of a Labour government, and let the Australian people decide.

Today’s episode was written and mixed by Imy Harper.