Pathway to an Australian Republic: Turnbull and Shorten must unite

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Bill Shorten: "I’ve always been a passionate republican and I’m looking forward to continuing to press the case for an Australian republic. We can get this done." (Image screenshot YouTube)

It's time for Turnbull and Shorten to unite on Australia becoming a republic, writes history editor Dr Glenn Davies.

THE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE in Australia is definitely changing. The push for a republic has gone from strength to strength in recent years with support from a resurgent membership, the majority of federal parliamentarians, the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten

Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten brought the campaign for an Australian republic to a new peak at the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne last night, 29 July 2017, as the Australian Republic Movement’s guest of honour and keynote speaker at its Gala Dinner.

National chair of the ARM Peter FitzSimons said the event demonstrated the broad bipartisan support within the community:

I daresay The Royal Exhibition Building won't have seen such an inspiring display of Australian nationhood in its arches since it hosted the first meeting of the Australian Parliament.”

Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten said, when speaking of his long-term support for an Australian republic, that he appreciated the historic opportunity to address the Movement and its supporters:

"I’ve always been a passionate republican and I’m looking forward to continuing to press the case for an Australian republic. We can get this done."

The Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne, the location of the first gathering of the Federal Parliament in 1901, will now become known for another pivotal moment in Australia’s history — the biggest gathering of Australian republicans from across the country.

Earlier that day, Bill Shorten had announced at the Queensland ALP State Conference in Townsville that Australians would vote in a plebiscite on becoming a republic within the first term of a future Labor government. He stated that, if Labor wins the next election, a Shorten government would appoint a minister with direct responsibility for advancing the republic debate.

The Royal Exhibition Building was erected for the Melbourne International Exhibition, 1880-1881. As a "Palace of Industry", it displayed the technologies and achievements of the mechanised age. Huge temporary halls housed exhibits of the latest products from more than 30 nations. Pianos, typewriters, lawnmowers, electric lights, carriages and decorative homewares were all on display. Public taste in Melbourne was changed forever.

The 1880 International Exhibition was the greatest show the city had ever seen and attracted over 1 million visitors. A second, even larger world fair, the centennial International Exhibition, was staged there in 1888. The Royal Exhibition Building is the only surviving "Palace of Industry" from a 19th Century world fair on its original site. It is still in use as an exhibition venue.

The Great Hall has been the scene of many events, but it was probably most crowded and most popular during the two international exhibitions, 1880-81 and 1888-1889. The Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880-81 attracted more than 1.3 million people over eight months. The Carlton Gardens were the scene of trysts and assignations, gossip and introductions, as friends, families and lovers met to buy their tickets and stroll through the vast halls.

On 9 May 1901, the Melbourne Exhibition Building hosted the opening of the first Federal Parliament of Australia, following the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January. After the official opening, the Federal Parliament moved to the Victorian State Parliament House, while the Victorian Parliament moved to the Exhibition Building for the next 26 years.

The campaign for an Australian republic is uniting Australians from across the political divide. The address by Bill Shorten at the 2017 Pathway to a Republic Gala Dinner follows on from a passionate keynote speech in support of a republic by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the ARM Gala Dinner in December 2016.

There Prime Minister Turnbull proudly declared,

I am an Australian and proud to say so. Our head of state should be someone who can say the same.”

On Saturday, 17 December 2016, in the Great Hall at the University of Sydney, Prime Minister Turnbull helped the Australian Republican Movement celebrate its 25th anniversary.

Australian Republican Movement national chair Peter FitzSimons said the dinner would “... honour those who’ve got us to this point” and Mr Turnbull was “at the forefront of our founding fathers and mothers”.

He continued:

The dinner is also a moment for the ARM to outline its vision for the future. A vision in which Australia takes the lead and completes the journey to full and final independence.”

Turnbull, who co-founded the Australian Republican Movement 25 years before, had previously said he did not believe Australians would support a republic during Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. It was here that he outlined a road map toward an Australian head of state. If you haven't seen it, you can read the speech here.

However, PM Turnbull also made it clear in his speech that he considered himself an Elizabethan and believed that this journey should not begin until the end of the Queen's reign. With respect to Prime Minister Turnbull, as a long-term avowed republican, his use of the term "Elizabethan" is incongruous.

Professor John Warhurst has reflected that Turnbull will now be lampooned for his use of this phrase:

“... just as the monarchist Sir Robert Menzies is often held up to ridicule for his gushing address to the Queen during her 1963 royal tour to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Canberra. To express his admiration for the Queen, Menzies famously quoted the lines from Thomas Ford's poem "There is a Lady Sweet and Kind" which read "I did but see her passing by and yet I love her till I die."

Bill Shorten’s 29 July 2017 republican statements are in line with the timelines proposed by the Australian Republican Movement. This includes a plebiscite in 2020 that asks the people of Australia a very simple question:

Should Australia have an Australian head of state?

With 2020 marking 250 years since Captain James Cook landed surely it must be time for us to stand on our own two feet.

Perhaps, in the words of Paul Kelly, not “before too long”.

You can join the Australian Republican Movement HERE.

History editor Dr Glenn Davies is an Australian Republican Movement Queensland branch councillor. You can follow Dr Davies on Twitter @DrGlennDavies.

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