The coronation of Britain’s King Charles III takes place in London on Saturday. The king came to the throne after the September death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. Charles is head of state not only in the United Kingdom, but in more than a dozen countries. In Australia, the death of Queen Elizabeth has reignited the debate about the country’s constitutional future.
As the coronation approaches, republican sentiment in Australia is again stirring. Campaigners argue that Australia’s constitutional monarchy, under which King Charles III is the head of state and is represented in Australia by a governor-general whose role is almost exclusively ceremonial, is outdated, although they have yet to settle on the type of republic they would favor. A poll in January showed support for a republic had risen from 36% to 39% among voters since the death of Queen Elizabeth II. The survey was carried out for The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.
Charles first visited Australia as a teenager in 1966 and has developed a “special connection” to the country through several visits over the years.
Matt Thistlethwaite is the Australian government’s assistant minister for the republic – a position the Labor government created in the expectation that a referendum would be held in the next few years. He told the Australian Broadcasting Corp last month that change was well overdue.
“We woke up in September last year when the queen passed away, and all of a sudden, we had a new head of state,” he said. “The Australian people weren’t consulted about that. The Australian people didn’t get a choice in who should be their head of state, despite the fact that we govern by democratic means.”
Charles is the head of state in more than a dozen countries, including Canada, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand, all members of the Commonwealth, a grouping of former British colonies.
Australia voted against severing its ties to the British crown in a referendum in 1999.
Supporters of the monarchy believe the system has made Australia’s democracy safe and secure.
Rachel Bailes, an official spokesperson for the Australian Monarchist League, told local media that it gives her country stability.
“I believe that a constitutional monarchy is a system that works,” she said. “It allows our government to get on with the business of serving the people of Australia through hard-nosed issues like the economy, energy crisis and housing affordability.”
Ultimately it will be up to about 18 million Australian voters to decide the country’s constitutional future.
Although enthusiastic for change, Australia’s Labor government says a vote on a republic won’t be held until its next term in office if it is reelected. Another referendum is taking priority. Later this year, Australians will decide whether to recognize Indigenous people in the constitution.
Constitutional change, though, in Australia is rare. Only eight out of 44 referendums have been passed since 1901.