Queen's visit revives republican debate

Parliament house flag post

Queen's visit revives republican debate

Posted 15/11/2011 by Joy McCann

The recent trip to Australia by Queen Elizabeth II marked her 16th visit since 1954, when she was the first reigning British monarch to make the journey. The Queen is the Head of State of the United Kingdom and holds the symbolic position as Head of the Commonwealth. She is currently Head of State in 16 of the 54 Commonwealth member countries including Australia. Thirty-three Commonwealth countries (including the Fiji Islands which was suspended from the Commonwealth in 2009) have a republican form of government. Each of the remaining five member countries has its own monarch as head of state. The Queen is also the head of each of Australia’s six states, and she is represented in Australia by the Governor-General.

The recent royal visit stirred a range of emotions amongst Australians, and inspired much reflection about the nature of Australia’s relationship with the British monarchy. It also reignited a long-running debate about whether Australia should replace the constitutional monarchy with a republican constitution. The idea of Australia becoming a republic has been around since the nineteenth century, but it remained on the margins of political debate until the last few decades of the twentieth century. The constitutional crisis in 1975 attracted intense public scrutiny of Australia’s constitutional arrangements, but it was during the 1990s that the republic emerged as a significant and controversial political issue. Australia was fast approaching its centenary of Federation as a nation in 2001, and it seemed that the time had come for a sustained examination of whether a republic was desirable and what it might mean for Australia.

The federal government established the Constitutional Centenary Foundation in 1991 with the aim of promoting public understanding of the Australian Constitution and system of government in the lead up to the centenary of Federation. High-profile figures came out in support of a republican model, whilst others mounted arguments in support of retaining the constitutional monarchy. In 1991–2, supporters rallied into organisations to promote their respective arguments, including the Australian Republican Movement and the Australians for Constitutional Monarchy.

Paul Keating, who replaced Bob Hawke as Prime Minister in 1991, supported the republican argument and established a Republic Advisory Committee in 1993 to canvass issues and options for an Australian republic. The Committee report concluded that ‘the establishment of an Australian republic is essentially a symbolic change, with the main arguments, both for and against, turning on questions of national identity rather than questions of substantive change to our political system’.

In 1998 a Constitutional Convention (preceded by a Women’s Constitutional Convention) was conducted by the Howard government. The Convention outcomes included:
  • in principle support for the idea that Australia should become a republic (89 votes to 52 with 11 abstentions)
  • a proposed Bipartisan Appointment of the President Model (73 votes to 57 with 22 abstentions) and
  • a recommendation to the Prime Minister and Parliament that this model be put to a referendum to be held in 1999. If successful, the republic would come into effect by 1 January 2001.
The Convention's preferred model became the basis of the 1999 referendum proposal even though the Government as whole was not in favour of the change. The republic referendum was the only time that a referendum question has been put to the people without Government support. Australian voters went to the polls on 6 November 1999 to vote on whether Australia should become a republic and whether to insert a preamble to the Constitution. Both proposals were defeated, having failed to achieve a majority overall and a majority in any State.

The sense of urgency generated by the referendum diminished after the ballot was held, although the issues raised during the 1990s campaigns continue to surface. In the days before the 2010 federal election Prime Minister Gillard, a republican, responded to a question at the National Press Club by saying that the debate should continue, but warned that it needs to be led by the Australian community rather than by politicians:

...I genuinely believe that for this nation to become a republic, we need to see an organic coming together in the community, a sense that people want change.
The Queen’s most recent visit illustrated that the reigning monarch still commands widespread respect in the Australian community. It also sparked lively discussion about Australia’s current constitutional arrangements, particularly on the vexed issue of whether our head of state should be a British monarch or an Australian citizen. Other issues canvassed in the media during the Queen’s visit included:
  • the British government’s move to change the rule of succession to enable the oldest child, irrespective of gender, to ascend to the throne
  • reasons for the lack of momentum in progressing the republican cause, and what might happen when the current monarch ends her reign and
  • the monarchy as a symbol of stability and tradition for some, and a sign of Australia’s reluctance to move towards full independence and nationhood for others.


  • 21/01/2014 3:41 PM
    Anonymous said:

    The Queen was visiting Australia as Head of the Commonwealth. Even if Australia becomes a republic we will remain in the Commonwealth and she will visit again if we host CHOGM!

Thank you for your comment. If it does not require moderation, it will appear shortly.

Add your comment

[Click to expand]

We welcome your comments, or additional information which is relevant to a post. These can be added by clicking on the ‘Add your comment’ option above. Please note that the Parliamentary Library will moderate comments, and reserves the right not to publish comments that are inconsistent with the objectives of FlagPost. This includes comments that are not relevant to the article, factually incorrect or politically partisan, as well as spam, profanity and personal abuse. We will close comments after three months.

Generate a new image
Type characters from the image:

Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Add | Email Print


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

Parliamentary Library Logo showing Information Analysis & Advice




Refugees asylum immigration climate change Australian foreign policy Parliament social security elections welfare reform welfare policy school education Australian Defence Force health financing indigenous Australians women Private health insurance higher education emissions trading people trafficking Middle East taxation Employment illicit drugs gambling health reform federal election 2010 Medicare disability Sport Australian Bureau of Statistics statistics United Nations Asia criminal law Afghanistan income management health forced labour Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency World Anti-Doping Agency United States federal budget Industrial Relations Carbon Pricing Mechanism politics dental health Australian Public Service constitution Australian Electoral Commission WADA transport aid child protection environment poker machines Australia in the Asian Century steroids National Disability Insurance Scheme detention aged care 43rd Parliament slavery health system OECD ASADA Law Enforcement Australian Federal Police Fair Work Act governance labour force people smuggling debt international relations New Zealand food Australian Crime Commission pharmaceutical benefits scheme banking International Women's Day corruption pensions public service reform children's health Aviation federal election 2013 foreign debt gross debt net debt defence capability parliamentary procedure Senate Senators and Members ALP Newstart Parenting Payment multiculturalism Youth Allowance sea farers High Court skilled migration UK Parliament election results voting mental health Federal Court terrorist groups science social media Higher Education Loan Program HECS federal state relations accountability Papua New Guinea youth paid parental leave same sex relationships coal seam gas customs planning doping crime health risks Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling sex slavery Special Rapporteur Northern Territory Emergency Response social policy firearms public policy Census Population violence against women domestic violence China ADRV terrorism transparency research and development welfare ASIO intelligence community Australian Security Intelligence Organisation carbon tax mining military history electoral reform employer employee renewable energy regional unemployment fishing by-election European Union family assistance United Nations Security Council Australian economy forestry food labelling vocational education and training Drugs welfare systems Indonesia children Constitutional reform local government codes of conduct terrorist financing homelessness Parliamentary remuneration money laundering Trafficking in Persons Report energy social inclusion human rights paternalism early childhood education Canada Financial sector national security fuel disability employment Tasmania integrity standards NATO Australian Secret Intelligence Service sexual abuse World Trade Organization Australia public health housing affordability bulk billing political parties water productivity health policy Governor-General US economy trade unions export liquefied natural gas foreign bribery question time speaker superannuation public housing expertise climate Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change leadership Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry regulation Pacific Islands reserved seats new psychoactive substances synthetic drugs UNODC carbon markets animal health middle class welfare Indigenous constitutional recognition of local government referendum consumer laws PISA competition policy royal commission US politics language education baby bonus Leaders of the Opposition citizen engagement policymaking Australia Greens servitude Trafficking Protocol forced marriage rural and regional alcohol entitlements ministries Hung Parliament social citizenship maritime Iran ANZUS regional students school chaplains federal budget 2011-12 salary Medicare Locals primary care Building the Education Revolution procurement Indigenous health e-voting internet voting nsw state elections 44th Parliament 2015 ABS Age Pension Death penalty capital punishment execution Bali nine Bali bombings Trade EU China soft power education Fiji India Disability Support Pension Antarctica Diplomacy by-elections state and territories Bills anti-corruption fraud bribery corporate ownership whistleblower G20 economic reform innovation Members of Parliament Scottish referendum Middle East; national security; terrorism social services Criminal Code Amendment (Misrepresentation of Age to a Minor) Bill 2013 online grooming sexual assault of minors ACT Assembly smoking plain packaging tobacco cigarettes Asia; Japan; international relations Work Health and Safety Migration; asylum seekers; regional processing China; United States; international relations fiscal policy Racial Discrimination Act; social policy; human rights; indigenous Australians Foreign policy Southeast Asia Israel Palestine asylum refugees immigration political finance donations foreign aid Economics efficiency human rights; Racial Discrimination Act employment law bullying asylum seekers Animal law; food copyright Australian Law Reform Commission industry peace keeping contracts workplace policies same-sex marriage disorderly conduct retirement Parliament House standing orders prime ministers election timetable sitting days First speech defence budget submarines workers Somalia United Kingdom GDP world heritage political engagement leave loading Trade; tariffs; safeguards; Anti-dumping public interest disclosure whistleblowing Productivity Commission limitation period universities Ireland cancer gene patents genetic testing suspension of standing and sessional orders live exports infant mortality honorary citizen railways disciplinary tribunals standard of proof World Health Organisation arts international students skilled graduate visas temporary employment visas apologies roads Italy national heritage NHMRC nutrition anti-dumping Rent Assistance obesity evidence law sacrament of confession US presidential election international days DFAT UN General Assembly deregulation Regulation Impact Statements administrative law small business Breaker Morant regional engagement social determinants of health abortion Members suspension workplace health and safety marine reserves hearing TAFE Victoria astronomy resources sector YMCA youth parliament Korea rebate Australian Greens presidential nomination Racial Discrimination Act political parties preselection solar hot water Financial Action Taskforce Horn of Africa peacekeeping piracy Great Barrier Reef Stronger futures political financing political education Social Inclusion Board early childhood National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care Murray-Darling Basin sanctions Norway hospitals republic President Barack Obama Presidential visits qantas counselling Korean peninsula Work Choices biosecurity hendra environmental law federalism federation preselection therapeutic goods Therapeutic Goods Administration plebiscites computer games pests suicide nuclear COAG Ministerial Councils floods ADHD stimulant medication advertising electricity extradition conscience votes poverty preventative health rural health coastal erosion Parliamentary Budget Office work-life balance

Show all
Show less
Back to top