The queen’s representative in Australia, Governor-General Quentin Bryce, has reignited debate over cutting ties with the British monarchy after she expressed support for the country becoming a republic.
Bryce made the comments at a speech in Sydney on Friday evening in which she outlined a future vision for Australia in which she imagined a nation “where an ethic of care guides the way we lead”.
“Where the young, the elderly, the indigenous, the newly arrived, people with disabilities, are treated with dignity and respect,” she said.
“Where every child is given the opportunity of a good education from their very early years; where women’s contributions to civil society, the workplace, the economy, the family and home are valued equally with men’s… where people are free to love and marry whom they choose;
“And where, perhaps my friends, one day, one young girl or boy may even grow up to be our nation’s first head of state.”
Bryce, the nation’s first woman governor-general since she was appointed by then prime minister Kevin Rudd in 2008, was praised by republicans and advocates for same-sex marriage for her speech.
But her comments, reportedly the first by a sitting governor-general in favour of a republic, were criticised by David Flint, national convenor of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy as “a great pity”.
“The constitutional system requires that the Crown be above politics so that when the representative of the Crown… speaks, they shouldn’t be talking about politics,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“It’s just, it goes against the position. There are a number of people who are now going to wonder about her. There’s this sense of division that she’s created and the position is not intended to be divisive — it’s intended to unite and be above politics.
“So we’ve got commentators everywhere on these issues, couldn’t she have left them alone until she was out of the office?”
Chair of the Australian Republican Movement, Geoff Gallop, said while Bryce had served with distinction as the queen’s representative, it would send a powerful message about the country if its head of state was drawn from the Australian people.
“We will always be friends with Britain, but now we should be equals,” Gallop said.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a staunch monarchist, said Bryce was entitled to express her personal views, adding that she did so with grace and style.
“It’s more than appropriate for the governor-general approaching the end of her term to express a personal view on a number of subjects and that’s what she was doing, she was expressing a personal view and, as you would expect from Quentin Bryce, she did it with grace and style,” he said Saturday.
Australians voted against becoming a republic in a 1999 referendum and over the years the issue has faded from the limelight, but the matter has support from politicians on both sides of parliament.
Abbott government MP Kelly O’Dwyer said while she personally supported a republic, the issue was not on the to do list for the administration which has taken power after six years in opposition.
“I’m not sure that this is a number one priority issue right now,” she said.
Ahead of the national election in September, state broadcaster ABC asked more than 1.4 million people their views and found 38 percent were in favour of cutting ties to the monarchy while 20 percent were neutral.
Australia is a parliamentary democracy that retains Britain’s monarch as its head of state.