Federal government MPs who support a constitutional monarchy have questioned an address by the Prime Minister to the Australian Republican Movement, with one warning that Malcolm Turnbull had a “political death wish” if he kept talking about the issue.
While some Coalition MPs considered his speech to be “very mild”, others warned it was a distraction the government could not afford to have, amid debate about power prices and the health of the economy.
Mr Turnbull declared he still supported Australia becoming a republic, in a speech to the Australian Republic Movement in Sydney.
He repeated his warning that any new proposal or model would have to wait until the Queen was no longer in power, and would also need widespread public support beforehand.
— ABC News (@abcnews) December 17, 2016
Liberal senator Eric Abetz said the Prime Minister needed to be aware other issues should take priority over any debate for a republic.
“It’s understandable that the Prime Minister may want to indulge in the history of an organisation that he set up, but my message to the forgotten people is that we’re focused on the cost of living and protecting your jobs above all else,” Senator Abetz said in a statement.
Liberal MP Craig Kelly, who is also a monarchist, said he had no objection to Mr Turnbull’s remarks in Sydney.
“The speech he gave was very mild,” Mr Kelly said.
“It basically takes [the republic] off the table and lets us get back to the core basics of government.”
But Mr Kelly questioned Mr Turnbull’s proposal that Australians should first choose through a plebiscite how a president would be elected, before the model was put to them in a later referendum.
“It just shows the republican movement, amongst themselves, can’t even come up with a model they believe is superior to the current arrangements,” he said.
One Liberal described the remarks as “Keatingesque”, and criticised the timing of the speech amid debate about power prices, pensions and Australia’s AAA credit rating.
“The bloke seems to have a political death wish.”
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who is a constitutional monarchist, welcomed Mr Turnbull’s remarks the republic was less of an issue now than it was at the time of the 1999 referendum.
“I heard the PM say that the issue was settled at the referendum a little while ago and I certainly agree with him on that,” Mr Cormann told Sky News.
Shorten offers cooperation
Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor would work with the government to help deliver an Australian head of state if there was a renewed push for the country to become a republic.
On Twitter, Mr Shorten said his offer to work with the government on the issue remained.
My offer still stands – let's work together to deliver an Australian head of state.
— Bill Shorten (@billshortenmp) December 17, 2016
But he also criticised the Prime Minister, saying “climate change, marriage equality, housing affordability, now Republic too hard for Turnbull”.
Monarchist groups said Mr Turnbull failed to make a convincing case to replace the monarchy with a president, but the Australian Republican Movement, which hosted Mr Turnbull’s speech, welcomed the Prime Minister’s hypothetical model for a future vote on the issue.
The National Chair of the Australian Monarchist League, Philip Benwell, said Mr Turnbull should remain neutral on the issue.
“It makes it totally inappropriate, he is the head of Her Majesty’s government,” Mr Benwell said.
“He should not be promoting the removal of the Queen, he should maintain a neutral stance.”
The Australian Republican Movement’s Peter FitzSimons said he agreed with Mr Turnbull who warned there was still a lot of hard work to do to make Australia a republic.
“He’s the Prime Minister, he’s experienced in this field, and he’s saying make no mistake you have a long hill to climb,” Mr FitzSimons said.
“The point that I’m about to make in return is … we are climbing that hill, we’ve got extraordinary enthusiasm.”