Australian Labor Party to reignite republican debate

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Prime Minister Tony Abbott is a strong supporter of the British monarchy

Australia's opposition is set to adopt a motion to change the nation's constitution and cut ties with the British monarchy, a group of MPs say.

The group of Labor Party MPs and party members introducing the motion at the forthcoming party conference told the BBC they are confident it has support.

Party policy documents already mention the need to transition to a republic.

But this move shows Labor's determination to revive this as a national issue ahead of an election.

The party will vote on the motion on Friday at its national conference. If adopted it means they are likely to head towards the next election with specific proposals and a roadmap of how Australia could become a republic.

Australia is a parliamentary democracy that retains Britain's monarch as its head of state. The resolution represents the first major republican push since a failed 1999 referendum to have an Australian head of state.

It also follows the controversy sparked by Prime Minister Tony Abbott in January when he knighted Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

Mr Abbott was criticised in many quarters for being out of step with the Australian public.

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One of the proponents of the Labor resolution, Senator Lisa Singh, said stepping away from the monarchy would modernise Australia's self-image.

"I think Australia's collective shock at the Prince Philip knighthood shows how alien the concept of knights and dames is to our contemporary identity," Senator Singh told the BBC.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Former Governor General Quentin Bryce revived the republican push in 2013

The Labor Party promises to appoint a minister to the portfolio of promoting an Australian republic.

Labor's so-called roadmap to a republic comes amid speculation Mr Abbott will call an early election, this year.

In 1999, Australia voted on changing to a republic but the referendum failed because people wanted to vote directly for a president.

The referendum asked if people favoured a republic with a president appointed by parliament.

The debate was briefly revived by the Queen's representative in Australia, Quentin Bryce in 2013, when she became the first serving governor-general to publicly back the country becoming a republic.

But last year Australia's support for a republic appeared to drop to its lowest level in more than three decades, around the time of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's visit.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Dubbed the 'Republican Slayer' by Australian media, Prince George won the hearts of Australians

The Fairfax poll found more than half of all Australians (51%) saw the switch to a republic as unnecessary, with 42% backing a republic, down from a high of 58% in 1999.

Labor's shadow parliamentary secretary Matt Thistlethwaite said he was confident the motion would be adopted.

"We're recognising our independence, our maturity, and our unique culture, and identity, and that's reflected in our figurehead, appointed under our nation's most important document - our constitution," Mr Thistlethwaite told the BBC.

Mr Thistlethwaite said the party's support for a republic was a clear point of difference from the government.

"I think it's pretty clear that you're only going to see a republic come about through a Labor government," he said.

"And this motion reflects how serious we are with getting on with the job of working towards a republic from day one in government."

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