Keating pledges referendum on the monarchy

Australian election: Labor leader plays up demand for republican head of state as Liberals cause outcry with 'de-wogging' remark

ROBERT MILLIKEN

Melbourne

In his most dramatic commitment so far towards making Australia a republic, Paul Keating yesterday promised that if his Labor government wins the general election it will hold a plebiscite within a year on replacing the Queen with an Australian as head of state.

To sustained, loud applause from supporters in Melbourne, where he formally launched his campaign for the 2 March election, the Prime Minister declared: "We believe that Australia's head of state should be one of us. We believe that an Australian head of state should welcome in the new century, should open the [Sydney] Olympic Games in the year 2000, should represent us abroad in this nation's second century."

At the last election three years ago, Mr Keating promised to devise a "model" for an Australian republic with a view to holding a referendum before 2001, the centenary of the country's federation. Yesterday's announcement makes that commitment more finite. If Labor wins next month, there will be a plebiscite, a non-binding popular vote, within a year of the first sitting of the new parliament on the question: "Do you want an Australian to be Australia's head of state?"

If the answer is yes, the government would set up a select committee from both houses of Parliament to make recommendations for a constitutional amendment to be put at a later referendum. Neither government nor opposition would have a majority on the committee. This reflects Mr Keating's belief that, without bipartisan support, a referendum on republicanism would be a waste of time.

Mr Keating's fanfare revival of the republican issue half way through the election campaign came as the government was fighting to claw back ground from the conservative Liberal-National coalition, which has led in opinion polls by up to 10 points so far. A poll in the Bulletin, a national news magazine, boosted Labor's morale when it showed a tighter gap with Labor at 49 points and the coalition at 51. Mr Keating led John Howard, the opposition leader, as preferred prime minister by 51 points to 42.

But Labor strategists have a hard road ahead. A lacklustre television debate between Mr Keating and Mr Howard last Sunday, the first of two planned for the campaign, produced no real winner and only appeared to confirm a mood among Australians that, while they believe the 13-year- old Labor government has been in power long enough, they are hardly inspired by Mr Howard, who is due to launch his campaign on Sunday.

At his launch yesterday, Mr Keating offered just three specific promises: the republic plebiscite; A$300m (pounds 150m) to buy computers for schools; and initiatives to help older Australians, the last possibly inspired by polls which show that the over-45s have swung against Labor. Otherwise, standing alone on a large stage, the word "Leadership" suspended above him, Mr Keating called on Australians to judge him on his record as a man of vision who has repositioned Australia's place in the world

"It is the greatest challenge we have ever faced as a nation," he said. "By the year 2000 we should be able to say that this predominantly British and European country has learned to live securely, in peace and mutual prosperity, among our Asian and Pacific neighbours."

While Mr Keating was pitching his republican vision to multicultural Australia, the opposition was in turmoil over remarks by two of its candidates in north Queensland, one of Australia's most conservative regions. Bob Burgess, a National Party candidate for the marginal constituency of Leichhardt, near Cairns, caused an outcry recently by describing functions at which immigrants take out Australian citizenship as "de-wogging ceremonies".

He also called on "traditional" Australians to reclaim the word "gay" from homosexuals and described as "garbage" the idea that more women were needed in parliament to represent women's interests. "The real men of Australia care about their women," he said.

Yesterday, Bob Katter, Mr Burgess's fellow Queensland candidate, sprang to his defence on national radio when he said: "He has paid no truck to the politically correct brigade and he is also making the Leichhardt seat a testing ground for those who are game to defy the politically correct enviro-Nazis and femi-Nazis and all the rest of these little slanty-eyed ideologues who persecute ordinary, average Australians."

Mr Howard, the Liberal Party leader, disowned the remarks. But Mr Keating is likely to seize on them to whip Mr Howard, whom he portrayed yesterday as "the most conservative leader the Liberal Party has ever had"

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
United States President Barack Obama, right, uses actor Keegan-Michael Key from Key & Peele to play the part of 'Luther, President Obama's anger translator'
video
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions