Without Paul Keating’s determination to progress the republican cause, it would never have developed any momentum in Australia in the 1990s. Without John Howard’s determination to wreck it, Australia might well have been a successful republic for a decade by now.

As the man who led the “yes” campaign, Malcolm Turnbull knows this better than anyone, which is why his comments yesterday about a republic being a “decision for the Australian people” are disingenuous.

Groups like the Australian Republican Movement can agitate, lobby and debate, but only a prime minister can put the issue front and centre in the national conversation.

As both Turnbull and Bill Shorten have said, there are more urgent issues than a republic in Australia — but there will always be more urgent issues than constitutional change of any kind. And although such big-picture reform as a republic or same-sex marriage don’t qualify as “urgent”, they are important to Australians in terms of our national identity.

Turnbull of course faces reactionary opposition from within his own party and from the Nationals on such issues. But if he is successful at this year’s election, he should use his authority as Prime Minister in his own right to face down the advocates of 19th-century thinking within his own ranks.

Peter Fray

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