Keating puts monarchy on poll agenda

RETURNING to his working-class roots, Paul Keating, the Australian Prime Minister, yesterday formally launched his campaign for the 13 March general election with a pledge for a referendum on changing the country from a monarchy to what he called the Federal Republic of Australia.

It was the first time any Australian leader had raised such an issue in a campaign launch, and it drew prolonged applause from about 700 Labor Party faithful in the town hall at Bankstown, a working-class Sydney suburb where Mr Keating was born 49 years ago.

The occasion was as close to an old-fashioned home-town launch as it was possible to be in an age when Australian politics and elections are dominated by television - a deliberate attempt by Mr Keating to show he had not forgotten his origins at a time when unemployment of more than 1 million, 11 per cent, is at record levels.

It was also a crucial moment for Mr Keating in his bid to reverse the Labor government's decline in opinion polls less than three weeks before the election. In three main polls over the past few days, Labor trails the opposition Liberal-National coalition by between six and 12 points, enough to lose government.

At Mr Keating's request, the stage of the Bankstown Town Hall was decorated with a simple backdrop by the designer of the Australian film Strictly Ballroom, of which he is a fan.

He avoided specifics and pitched his speech at a broad vision of Australia's future, saving his call for a republic almost until the end. 'It is perhaps in part because Australians are growing in confidence that more and more of them are questioning whether it is appropriate for Australia to have as its head of state the monarch of another country,' he said. Amid a loud ovation which brought some in the audience to their feet, Mr Keating said a Labor government would appoint a committee of 'eminent Australians' to produce a discussion paper on options for a Federal Republic of Australia, with a view to putting to a public referendum the question of becoming a republic by 2001, the centenary of the states' joining in federation.

In making this a key election pledge, Mr Keating is gambling on a sense of nationalism overriding the hard economic reality which is troubling many Australians. He admitted some responsibility, as Treasurer (or finance minister) in Bob Hawke's governments, for policies which led to the recession and high unemployment. 'Governments in Australia in the Eighties were not always as prudent or wise as they should have been,'he said.

Mr Keating said unemployment was 'overwhelmingly' his principal concern but offered no new measures to relieve it. Instead, he announced Adollars 1.6bn (pounds 760m) of further assistance over three years to child and health care and the aged. He described the opposition's approach as 'the economic and social jungle of Reaganism and Thatcherism which other countries have just abandoned'.

John Hewson, the opposition leader, who will formally launch his campaign on Monday, said republicanism was not an issue and described Mr Keating's speech as 'a plea by a tired and desperate government for another chance'.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Sport
Rooney celebrates with striker-partner Radamel Falcao after the pair combine to put United ahead
footballManchester United vs Newcastle match report
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 Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all