Republic support lowest in 17 years
- From: The Australian
- April 25, 2011
SUPPORT for an Australian republic is at its lowest level since the mid-1990s as growing ambivalence on the need for a home-grown head of state saps the nation's will for constitutional change.
With renewed interest in the monarchy as Friday's royal wedding approaches, a special Newspoll puts support for a republic at just 41 per cent, with only 25 per cent strongly in favour.
According to the poll, conducted exclusively for The Australian this month, overall support for a republic is now 10 points below a pre-referendum peak of 51 per cent, and at its lowest for 17 years since hitting 39 per cent in March 1994. The latest poll reveals 39 per cent of Australians are against a republic, while one in five have no opinion either way.
The results reflect a lack of enthusiasm for a republic among the nation's political leaders, even those who identify themselves as republicans.
But any mention of Prince Charles, and to a lesser extent his son Prince William, fires public support for an Australian head of state. The poll of more than 1200 voters found 48 per cent of respondents would back a republic with Charles on the throne and his wife, Camilla, as princess consort, while the proportion opposed falls to 34 per cent.
While Prince William and his bride-to-be, Kate Middleton, are more popular, 45 per cent of respondents said they would be in favour of a republic if William became king, while 39 per cent said they would be opposed.
Julia Gillard, in north Asia before attending the royal wedding with her partner, Tim Mathieson, on Friday, is cool on the possibility of a republic any time soon, despite being a republican.
The Prime Minister has declared that the time to revisit the republic question would be when the Queen died or she handed the throne to her eldest son, Charles.
Speaking in Seoul yesterday, Ms Gillard dismissed British media criticism of her attendance at the wedding. She said although she was a republican, she represented the people of Australia.
"The Australian people have a variety of views about the future constitutional arrangements for our country," she said. "There are many republicans in Australia. There are also many Australians who want to see our continued ties to the monarchy."
Ms Gillard said the issue of a republic would continue to be discussed within "our national life".
Departing the country last week, she reiterated the low priority she attached to the issue. "I think that will happen at some time, that we will make that decision to become a republic. But to date Australians have expressed their view and we haven't had a republic proposal accepted."
The Newspoll reveals support for a republic is highest among middle-aged voters, with 48 per cent of those aged 35-49 in favour.
The over-50s are more likely to be opposed, while 18- to 34-year-olds are increasingly undecided. Men are much more likely to back a republic, with 49 per cent favouring the change compared with 34 per cent of women.
There is also a clear split along party lines, with Labor voters preferring a republic two to one over Coalition supporters.
Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy convenor David Flint said there was a lack of passionate support in the community for a republic, which politicians had responded to by shelving consideration of the issue.
He said support for the monarchy would continue to grow, even after the death of the Queen, 85, predicting an "enormous retrospective" on her reign when it came to an end. "They'll call it the second Elizabethan age. It'll be quite astounding," Professor Flint said. "And then the interest will come up about the coronation and the next Prince of Wales and the sons and daughters of the Prince of Wales."
Australian Republican Movement chairman Mike Keating lamented what he saw as a lack of political leadership on the issue.
"All sides are looking for some sort of cheap political advantage, preferably next week," he said.
"That's not the kind of issue the republic is. It's not about scoring cheap political points."
Major General Keating said public fascination with the royal wedding was a symptom of modern celebrity culture.
"We're interested in the goings-on of footballers and Russell Crowe and everyone else," he said.
"That's quite different to the concept of having a republic."
Support for a republic, as measured by Newspoll, peaked at 54 per cent in September 1997, about six months before the Howard government's Constitutional Convention.
It crashed to its lowest level in 1994, under pro-republic prime minister Paul Keating, when it hit 39 per cent.
In the 1999 republic referendum, a proposal for an Australian head of state elected by a two-thirds majority of parliament was defeated 55 per cent to 45 per cent.
In his latest public comments on the issue, Tony Abbott, an avowed monarchist, said Australia's existing constitutional arrangements had served the nation well.
"I see no reason whatsoever why they can't continue to work well in the future," the Opposition Leader said before the last election.
"So while there may very well be further episodes of republicanism in this country, I am far from certain that at least in our lifetimes there is likely to be any significant change."
Even former opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull, a past chairman of the ARM, no longer sees the republic as an urgent priority.
"Changing the Constitution is extremely difficult and that is why I believe that the next republic referendum has the best chance of success after the Queen's reign.
"That moment will be an historic and political watershed," he said in an opinion piece published in The Times of London last year.
General Keating said even if Australia did not become a republic until after the Queen's reign was over, a "sensible national discussion" was needed to ensure the nation was ready.
Otherwise, he said, Prince Charles would become king of Australia. "It doesn't matter what we think because when the Queen dies or abdicates, Charles and Camilla are going to be in the job," he said.
"We don't have a say in this. It's the Windsor family's line of succession. We will not be consulted . . . It will be done to us, not by us."
Professor Flint said the republican case always fell over when discussion turned to the model Australia should consider.
"They can't say what sort of republic they want," he said.