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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high