Where Does Australia Stand On Becoming A Republic in 2022?

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The UK has recently come out in overwhelming support for Australia to not become a republic — something that nobody really wanted their opinion on.

Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe responded by asking “do we really need colonisers dictating how we should run our country, when colonisation itself is dying?”

Meanwhile the Albanese Government just picked out Australia’s first Assistant Minister for the Republic in June. So, where does Australia stand in 2022 on becoming a republic? And what can previous attempts tell us about making it a reality?

Australia’s History On Trying To Become A Republic

Australians haven’t been officially asked whether we want to be a republic since 1999. That was when a referendum asked whether or not the Constitution should be changed to separate from the Queen and become a republic.

And boy is it a real throwback time in Aussie politics.

We had Malcolm Turnbull as the national campaign director of the ‘Yes’ campaign, John Howard as the Prime Minister who campaigned against a republic, and Paul Keating, his predecessor, who made the Liberal Party commit to holding a referendum on the matter. Once John Howard was elected, his party had to go through with the referendum despite Howard and many of his ministers being against it.

Nearly 54 percent of the population answered ‘no’, meaning Queen Elizabeth II continued as our head of state. But the outcome wasn’t all that surprising, given the many, many flaws the referendum had.

For starters, many Australians voted no despite actually wanting to cut ties with the British monarchy. That’s because people were only given the option of Australia becoming a republic with a President that would be selected by Australia’s ruling Parliament. At the time, The New York Times referred to this catch as a “politicians’ republic.” 

And in fact, Ted Mack, leader of the “No” campaign, supported a republic but wanted it with a leader elected directly by the people — not someone by the Parliament. Our very own Prime Minister at the time being against the change was another major hurdle to successful national campaigning. But Australian Barrister Greg Barns said that one of the “most potent elements of the campaign” in 1999 was the line that “republic was a matter for elites”.

What Becoming A Republic Would Mean For Australians

What’s important to note here is that only eight of the 44 attempts to change the constitution in Australia have been successful since 1901.

Governor-General David Hurley, who works for the Queen, thinks that when the Queen abdicates or dies, there will be renewed discussions around leaving the British Monarch. Which is kind of already happening, following Prime Minister Anthony Albanese appointing Matt Thistlethwaite as assistant minister for the republic— a move that is the most significant development in more than two decades.

But Labor’s current focus is on providing a First Nations voice to parliament, with reports saying it could happen in 2023. Of course, to change the Constitution you need a referendum. Experts, like George Williams, deputy vice-chancellor and professor of law at the University of NSW, have warned that governments have “failed to win referendums because of complacency and poor management”.

Hopefully if it is to happen by next year, it will be a well-thought out campaign, especially given how many decades it has taken for a leading Government to commit to a voice to Parliament.

But in the meantime, Australia becoming a republic might not be on the cards in this decade… especially given Victoria is set to host the 2026 Commonwealth Games.