News National Republic not a priority: PM

Republic not a priority: PM

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Prime Minister Tony Abbott has shut the door on Australia becoming a republic any time soon.

The staunch monarchist also revealed Joe Hockey did not discuss beforehand the treasurer’s decision to jointly lead a cross-party parliamentary group that will push for a plebiscite on the republic within five years.

“We’ve got, I suppose, bigger things on our minds most of the time,” Mr Abbott said on Thursday.

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But he denied it was deliberate, suggesting the matter had been “sprung” on Mr Hockey by Australian Republican Movement chairman Peter FitzSimons, who revealed the republic push during a National Press Club address on Wednesday.

Mr Abbott said the treasurer was entitled to be involved in a parliamentary “friendship group” but warned change wasn’t likely in the near future.

“I don’t think anything is going to change on this issue any time soon,” he told the Seven Network.

He also dismissed the argument that becoming a republic was about making Australia more mature.

“I think one of the problems with the republican push is that it seems to … suggest there’s some lack of maturity, some lack of independence in our system,” Mr Abbott told the Nine Network.

“[I] don’t believe that most Australians think that’s the case.”

Mr Hockey isn’t the only prominent coalition frontbencher supporting a republic.

Malcolm Turnbull, as chairman of the Australian Republican Movement, went head to head with Mr Abbott during the 1999 referendum on the issue.

Another cabinet minister, Christopher Pyne, supports a popularly-elected head of state with the same powers as the existing governor-general, subject to clear protections and parameters around that power.

He doesn’t think any model where parliament chooses the head of state will get up after being defeated in 1999.

Parliament’s two most senior Nationals – Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce – believe there is more important work to do than promote the republican cause.

“I’m sure that Joe’s got strong reasons but I want to focus on the job we’re doing,” Mr Joyce told ABC Radio.

But LNP backbencher Ewen Jones came to Mr Hockey’s defence, insisting he could be treasurer and be involved in the campaign for a republic at the same time.

“It won’t take away from the importance of the economy,” he said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has also backed a republic.

Labor MP Stephen Jones backed calls for a non-binding plebiscite on the issue, to avoid repeating the mistake of 1999 where people who supported a republic voted against it because they didn’t like the model.

“We need to bring Australians along with us,” he told Sky News.

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