The about turn by the coalition's Liberal and National parties, for which the monarchy has always been an article of faith, will hasten the momentum towards a republic launched by Paul Keating, the Labor Prime Minister.
One of the most influential Liberal leaders, John Fahey, the Premier of New South Wales, yesterday wrote to Mr Keating proposing that the federal and state governments take part in a constitutional convention this year to consider how Australia could move towards a republic.
Mr Fahey dropped a bombshell at a Liberal Party conference in Sydney at the weekend when he said: 'It is inevitable that Australia will become a republic.' Referring to the debate launched by the Labor government, he added: 'The train is going to leave the station and it is appropriate that the Liberals are on that train.'
No Liberal leader has ever expressed such open support for a republic. Despite its name, the party has always been the voice of Australian conservatism and has stood for a defence of the constitutional status quo. In this respect, the Liberal Party has lived largely in the shadow of the late Sir Robert Menzies, who founded it 44 years ago and was probably the Commonwealth's most staunch defender of the Queen during his 16 years as prime minister.
Still reeling from their fifth successive election defeat by Labor a fortnight ago, many Liberals are now realising that Labor's return to power with an increased majority was an endorsement of Mr Keating's push for a republic, and that the Liberal Party risks being mar ginalised still further unless it confronts the fact that constitu tional change is an issue whose time has come.
Mr Fahey's initiative yesterday sparked an instant domino effect among other state Liberal leaders in Tasmania, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, who called on their side of politics to join the debate.
John Hewson, whom the Liberals last week re-elected as their leader after his election trouncing, was not as enthusiastic as Mr Fahey but said republicanism was a debate Australia had to have.
Wal Murray, the New South Wales leader of the National Party, the junior coalition partner, yesterday opposed his col leagues's revisionism. 'I don't like it at all. I will vigorously oppose any move for a republic.' But the fact that the issue now seems to have largely bipartisan approval increases the chances of an eventual public referendum succeeding.
Yesterday, Wayne Goss, the Labor Premier of Queensland, announced that state oaths, affirmations and legislation would be overhauled to remove references to the Queen: 'We should have a set of laws and customs which reflect a modern Australian identity, not that of another country or a royal family.'