Last month, Anthony Albanese became the newly elected prime minister of Australia. Albanese’s electoral victory was notable for several reasons – he’s much more center-left and will pursue more progressive policies, he’s a competent bureaucrat who has been in government for decades and knows how to get things accomplished, and he’s a longtime small-r republican. Albanese believes that Australia needs to become a republic and the country needs to remove the British monarch as their head of state. Now he’s quietly making moves to soften the ground for Australia’s eventual freedom from the chains of the British monarchy. He’s appointed an assistant minister to the republic. As in, an actual government position to educate Australians on republicanism.
A new appointment: Anthony Albanese, the newly elected prime minister, is an avowed republican. He has appointed the country’s first ever “minister for the republic” — a position intended to begin the transition to an Australian head of state. Polling shows that a slim majority of Australians would support a republic if they had to choose yes or no. But that does not mean that constitutional change on the republican front is anywhere near the top of Mr. Albanese’s agenda. The new ministerial position — an assistant minister — is a comparatively minor one, and its role will be limited, at least for the near term, mostly to conversation starter and weather vane.
Australians didn’t celebrate the Jubbly: During Queen Elizabeth II’s platinum jubilee over the weekend, there was little celebration in Australia — and thus little to stir up republican passions. Mr. Albanese delivered a speech about the constancy of Britain’s royal women and renamed an island in the queen’s honor.
Testing the waters: “I think the republican sentiment,” said Ben Wellings, a senior lecturer in international relations at Monash University in Melbourne, “has settled on this passive republicanism — they’re pleased that we don’t have all those trimmings of monarchy, but at the same time, not motivated enough to really change the current setup, which is like a pale imitation of that.” The new assistant minister position is “a way of testing the waters,” he said. “He’s got three years” — the time until the next federal election — “to see what sort of enthusiasm there would be for such a change.”
A growing republican movement? The appointment of Matt Thistlethwaite, a longtime Labor politician, as the new assistant minister of the republic “is the biggest breakthrough for the republican movement in 30 years,” said Peter FitzSimons, chairman of the main republican organization. Mr. Thistlethwaite, for his part, describes his role in less stirring terms. It is, he said, “initially one of educating the Australian people about our current constitutional arrangement and the fact that we have the British monarch as our head of state, and explaining that we can have an Australian in this role.”
Thistlewaite also told the Times that “As the queen comes to the twilight of her reign, Australians are naturally beginning to think, well, what comes next for us.” As many have said, myself included, all hell is going to break loose when the Queen passes. Clearly, many Caribbean countries are moving ahead with the removal of colonialist British ties, but for Australia, it feels more like a wait-and-see vibe. It’s clear that Albanese wants people in place for when the Queen passes, and his government will likely make some serious moves after that. “Serious moves” meaning what would likely be a simple referendum vote. I also didn’t know that the Jubbly was barely celebrated in Australia – that’s very interesting. I know that many Caribbean Commonwealth countries were like “eh” on the Jubbly, but it’s fascinating to hear that Aussies kind of blanked on it as well.
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