There’s an alternative answer to the Republic question that deserves examination.

Most of the popular enthusiasm for the creation of an Australian Republic is for the idea that Australia should have its own head of state. There is strong majority sympathy for the idea that the Australian head of state should belong uniquely to Australia: ie. be Australian and be the head of no other state. Inheritance to first-born sons is anachronistic and many of the connotations associated with the English monarchy no longer fit comfortably with contemporary Australia.

On the other hand, there isn’t much appetite for a significant change to the way Australian government is organised. Most of the arguments against a Republic are about the wisdom of leaving things unchanged if they are working well and about the risks of changing the existing structures. Opposition to the proposal for a directly elected President reflects concern at the potential for conflict raised by creating a new office that might legitimately claim a popular mandate separate from the members of Parliament.

The referendum process makes the creation of a Republic difficult. Strong majority support for the principle of an Australian head of state fragments in the face of specific structural proposals. There is little antipathy to the current Queen and that adds to the resistance to change. Malcolm Turnbull recently commented that the next real opportunity for the Republican cause would be at the end of Elizabeth II’s reign.

The problem is to find someone to replace Elizabeth II, who will have the same lack of involvement in the government of Australia but who will be Australian and might be called something other than King or Queen, and to make the change without needing a referendum.

What’s at issue is not the nature of the Australian polity but the succession. The Australian Parliament already has the power to make laws about that, and about royal titles.

The Australian Parliament could, without changing the Constitution, without making any change to the existing arrangement, without altering the office of Governor-General, legislate a change to the way the monarch’s position was transferred. If it wished, it could also change the term used to refer to the holder of the office.

There would be an Australian head of state, unique to Australia. There would be no change to the existing structures of government. There would be no need for a referendum.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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