Australian republicans try again to dump the Queen

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The Independent Online

When Australia self-consciously reached its centenary last week, republicans cannily tried to turn the absence of the Queen from the festivities into a means of rekindling their failed attempt to replace her as head of state.

When Australia self-consciously reached its centenary last week, republicans cannily tried to turn the absence of the Queen from the festivities into a means of rekindling their failed attempt to replace her as head of state.

There was cause for them to feel chagrin, for 1 January 2001 was long planned by republicans as the date for the transition of the nation from one nominally headed by a monarch to one led by a president, so this was an opportunity to remind Australians of what might have been.

The former chairman of the Australian Republican Movement (ARM), Malcolm Turnbull, claimed that the monarch and all things British had been swept under the carpet to avoid embarrassment during the anniversary. Then on Friday the ARM launched a new campaign for a native head of state linked to the year-long celebrations marking the centenary.

In the November 1999 referendum, about 55 per cent voted to keep the monarchy. Since then the ARM's membership has plummeted from 8,000 to 3,000, so the group clearly wants to halt the decline. The ARM's present chairman, Greg Barnes, said it would begin gathering signatures on a petition calling for parliament to hold a plebiscite on whether Australia should become a republic and replace the Queen with a president.

The petition will be presented to both houses of parliament when they hold a special sitting in May to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the federal parliament.

"This year provides us with an ideal opportunity to work within the Centenary of Federation context to get as many Australians committed to an Australian head of state as we can," Mr Barnes said.

Professor David Flint, national convener of Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy, retorted: "We have much to celebrate and it would have been better to have done that without the Republican Movement's divisiveness."

The monarchists claim the planned plebiscite is designed to obtain a vote of no confidence in the constitution and so, by a war of attrition, persuade a generally uninterested electorate that it is time for change.

The republicans continue to claim that voters only rejected a particular model of republic, in which parliament and not the people chose the president. "Just as the campaign for federation took some time, met some setbacks and involved many compromises, it was in the end successful," says the ARM's latest statement. "So will be the campaign for an Australian republic ... the next step in the progress of our nation."

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