Former Australian PM says Harry and Meghan interview strengthens case for becoming republic

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Former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who presided over the failed republic referendum of 1999 - Reuters
Former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who presided over the failed republic referendum of 1999 - Reuters

Former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has again called for the country to become a republic after the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's interview with Oprah Winfrey.

Mr Turnbull, who met the couple in 2018 in the final months of his prime ministership, told ABC on Tuesday that the situation “seems very sad”.

“My view in 1999 was that if we voted no to the republic, we wouldn’t come back to the issue until after the end of the Queen’s reign… She’s been an extraordinary head of state, and I think, frankly, in Australia, there are more Elizabethans than there are monarchists.

“After the end of the Queen’s reign, that is the time for us to say – OK, we’ve passed that watershed and do we really want to have whoever happens to be head of state, the King or Queen of the UK, automatically our head of state?”

Mr Turnbull was the chairman of the Australian Republican Movement from 1993 to 2000 and presided over the failed republic referendum of 1999 despite polls showing majority support for ditching the monarchy. He entered the national parliament in 2004 and served as prime minister from 2015 to 2018.

The former PM was not alone in renewing the call for an Australian republic. Jenny Hocking, a professor at Monash University who was the driving force behind the release of the Palace letters involving controversial Australian Governor General Sir John Kerr, said the “extraordinary” interview was “one of several instances recently where the veil of royal secrecy has been lifted and what you see there is not altogether pleasant”.

Prof Hocking told Guardian Australia that the interview, along with the revelations of the Queen’s veto option over proposed legislation and the High Court battle to release the Palace papers, raised questions about the future of the monarchy in Australia.

“What is the role of an inherited constitutional monarchy – an inherited role – in a modern democracy?” she asked.

Former Labor leader Bill Shorten had pledged a two-stage referendum – first on the question of becoming a republic, then on the form of that republic – if he won government but his party’s shock loss in 2019 put those plans on ice.

In July last year Labor MP Ed Husic said the Duke and Duchess had “shown us how antiquated [the monarchic] system is”.

“Frankly, why should we stay if the Queen's grandson has called time on the monarchy?”

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