When it comes to Australian even thinking about becoming a republic, former prime minister Tony Abbott doesn’t think it’s a good idea.
Speaking at the Samuel Griffith Society Conference in Brisbane on Sunday, the politician hit out at opposition leader Bill Shorten and his desire to ask the Australian people whether they wanted the country to become a republic in the form of a plebiscite. Shorten said last year that he would put the question to the public if he was elected as PM.
Despite pushing for a plebiscite when it came to the same-sex marriage debate last year, Abbott said it was different when it came to whether the nation should become a republic.
“Quite apart from people’s views on the merits of Australia becoming a republic, there’s a fundamental problem with Shorten’s proposal for bringing it about,” he said. “He’s putting the cart before the horse, seeking to gain approval for an end without any agreement on the means for making it happen.
“It’s a sneaky, devious, tendentious ploy that should be opposed by everyone concerned to protect constitutional due process, regardless of where they stand on the substantive issue.”
He also said plebiscites are “completely toxic” for anything that can only be resolved by the people at a referendum. Abott said Australians need to know exactly what the republic is or means before they vote on it and that many could unintentionally vote for something they actually don’t want.
“Shorten and his republican allies should do the hard work of deciding what type of republic they think could improve our system of government and might gain popular support and then seek to put that to the people at a referendum,” Abbott suggested. “Only then, would it be a fair choice: between the system of government we have, and that has served us well for over a century; versus a specific alternative without the crown, where Queen Elizabeth and the young royals would be just foreign celebrities, rather than a living link to one of the oldest institutions of Western civilisation.”
He also claimed Shorten wanted to change the system of the current government and said a proposed plebiscite is one of many Shorten ideas that need to be looked into further.
Shorten isn’t the only leader who has flagged the idea of Australian becoming a republic. Current prime minister Malcolm Turnbull was head the Republic Advisory Committee in 1993, while former PM Paul Keating proposed a plan for a head of state to be elected by both houses by a two-thirds majority at a joint sitting of Parliament.