Australia: Hope for Democracy Over Hereditary Privilege

The hope that Australia might be freed from monarchy and join the growing number of former British colonies that have become republics increased last week when the Australian Labor Party leader promised a referendum if his party won the next general election.

Bill Shorten, Labor Party leader, said that the referendum would be held before the end of his first term of office if he became Prime Minister. Australians would be asked to vote on the question “Do you support an Australian republic with an Australian head of state?”

If Australians voted to be free of the feudal institution there would be another vote to decide how the new democratic head of state would be chosen.

Australians last voted on becoming a republic in 1999. But the question was complicated because they were also asked to agree that the president should be chosen by a two-thirds majority of members of parliament. They voted at that time to keep the British queen as head of state rather than have a head of state chosen by MPs.

At present the British feudal head of state, currently queen Elizabeth Windsor, is automatically the head of state of Australia. This is a consequence of the country’s former status as a British colony. Mr Shorten said “Our head of state should be an Australian”.

Republicans in other countries where the people are allowed no say in who should be their head of state, including the UK, will take the news from Australia as another encouraging sign of the progress of democracy over hereditary privilege.