Yesterday Julia Gillard declared her republican aspirations for Australia, saying that Australia should be a republic after the end of the Queen’s reign.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Party under Tony Abbott appears to have quietly thrown its support behind the monarchy, according to a letter published on a monarchist website, said to be from the Liberals federal campaign director Brian Loughnane.

The text of the letter, published on the official “Australians for Constitutional Monarchy” Facebook page, states that the Liberal Party supports the continued role of the monarchy in the Australian system. The first two sentences of the letter are:

“We support the role of the Crown in Australia’s constitutional system. The Coalition has no plans to make any changes to Australia’s existing constitutional framework.”

This varies sharply with stated Liberal Party policy not to have a policy about an Australian republic. This position was enunciated by Tony Abbott on the ABC’s Q&A last month.

“If it ever came to a vote, the Liberal Party policy is for each member to have a conscience vote on the floor of Parliament,” said Abbott.

Repeated requests for confirmation on the veracity of the letter and confirmation of the change in policy have so far been stonewalled, officials saying that the letter had been “referred” to Loughnane’s media adviser who would be “in touch soon”.

Tony Abbott is an ardent monarchist and was once the executive director of the same group that published the letter: Australians for Constitutional Monarchy. In a TV interview with Andrew Denton, former Liberal Party leader John Hewson related how Abbott had once told him that Australia would become a republic over his [Abbott’s] dead body.

Abbott appeared to be mirror this statement at the National Press Club yesterday, when he said: “I am far from certain that, at least in our lifetimes, there’s likely to be any significant change.”

The Liberals are deeply split on the issue of the republic between moderate republicans and more conservative monarchists.

Indeed, Abbott won the Liberal leadership by just one vote from the ex-chair of the Australian Republican Movement, Malcolm Turnbull. Republicans now hold key positions in the Liberals leadership team, including Joe Hockey (Treasury), Andrew Robb (Finance) and Julie Bishop (Foreign Affairs).

The question is whether Abbott and his campaign team have quietly moved the Liberal Party to a pro-monarchist position without discussion by the party room. It sets the stage for further dissension within the Liberal Party, and a potential wedge by the Labor Party, after the election.