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Australian republicans renew calls to replace Queen

Published 26/01/2016

The Queen greets well-wishers in Bourke, Australia
The Queen greets well-wishers in Bourke, Australia

The Australian government has come under mounting pressure to appoint a head of state to replace the Queen, as the country celebrated its national day.

Every Australia Day, marked on January 26, an eminent citizen is made Australian of the Year in recognition of their contribution to national society.

The 2016 Australian of the Year, former army chief David Morrison, said in his acceptance speech that he intended to use his new public profile to campaign for Australia severing its constitutional ties to Britain.

A referendum that would have replaced the Queen with an Australian head of state was soundly defeated in 1999, with then prime minister John Howard campaigning against change.

But support for the so-called Australian Republic Movement, which advocates for an Australian head of state, is growing and Mr Morrison said it was time another referendum was held.

"I am a member of the republican movement, I have been a republican all my life. When I was serving in the army, these views were very private," he told Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"Now, without giving it undue resonance, I do intend to at least contribute to a national debate, if we're going to have one, about where we might go in the future."

This week, all but one of the leaders of Australia's eight states and territories signed a declaration of support for the Australian Republican Movement's quest to have a national vote on Australia becoming a republic by 2020.

On Australia Day last year, former conservative prime minister Tony Abbott, a staunch monarchist, created a furore by announcing that he had made the Duke of Edinburgh a knight.

Many thought Mr Abbott should have used the national day, which marks the arrival of the first British colonists in Sydney in 1788, to honour a worthy Australian.

Mr Abbott was replaced in September by prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who was chairman of the Australian Republican Movement at the time of the 1999 referendum.

But many in his government want the Queen to remain Australia's head of state and after becoming prime minister, Mr Turnbull said he was in no hurry to sever the nation's constitutional links to Britain and did not believe there should be another referendum until after the Queen's reign ended.

"Frankly, there was more momentum in the late 1990s than there is now," he told reporters, referring to the public mood.

"I've led the Yes case for a republic into a heroic defeat once, I've got no desire to do so again."

Opposition leader Bill Shorten said Australia should not delay in holding a referendum.

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