Will Australia Ditch the Queen? Days After Royal Birth, Politicians Earmark Funds for Public Vote

Queen Elizabeth, Australia
Queen Elizabeth II arrives for the state banquet in her honour at Schloss Bellevue palace on the second of the royal couple's four-day visit to Germany on June 24, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

With all the fawning over the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's new baby, it's easy to forget that many citizens of Britain's former colonies would like to sever their royal ties once and for all.

Australia's center-left Labor Party, the country's current opposition party, has earmarked the equivalent of $38.5 million toward support for a nationwide vote on becoming a republic.

Funding for the potential 2021-2022 vote was noted in the party's policy costings, released Friday, ahead of an upcoming federal election, as Australian outlet News.com.au reported.

The party's commitment will be tested if they succeed in the May 18 ballot. At present, Labor boasts 69 House of Representative seats to the rival Liberal party's 74. The center-right Liberal Party currently leads a minority coalition government.

A Guardian Essential poll published Monday gave Labor an election-winning lead of 52 percent to the coalition's 48 percent.

Republican sentiment has existed in Australia before it became a sovereign state, and the idea of shedding the royal family has become popular in recent years. It's endorsed not only by the Labor Party and the Greens, an environmentally focused party, but also by prominent Liberal politicians such as former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Although some past leaders have been staunchly monarchist, Liberal members today are divided on the role of the royal family. Current leader and Prime Minister Scott Morrison is a monarchist.

Australia became an independent nation in 1901 but remains a constitutional monarchy. The nation is one of a number of so-called Commonwealth realms, which still recognize Elizabeth II as queen. Other realms include New Zealand, Canada and Papua New Guinea. As in the U.K., politicians are elected to actually run Australia. The role of the monarch is mostly ceremonial.

The country decided to stick with the queen in a 1999 referendum, in which 55 percent of Australians voted to reject the nation becoming a republic.

Recent opinion polls have produced opposing results on the matter. For example, an Essential poll published in May 2018 showed 48 percent of participants supported Australia becoming a republic, while 30 percent wanted to keep the monarchy. But a November Newspoll vote saw those figures flip, with 48 percent of participants in favor of a monarchy and just 40 percent in favor of a republic.

Back in November, Labor spokesman Mark Thisthlethwaite affirmed his party's commitment to holding a vote. "The last time we did that it failed, and we're conscious of the pitfalls of 1999 where republicans were divided around the model," he said, per The Sydney Morning Herald.

"We want to make this the cause that unites Australians around the principle of having one of our own as the head of state…And we believe the best way to do that is to hold an initial national vote with the simple question."

But, as News.com.au pointed out, the $38.5 million price tag is relatively small for a vote of this scale. In 2017 the government spent the equivalent of $56 million on a postal survey on same-sex marriage. As the Herald previously noted, Turnbull's government had originally earmarked nearly $120 million for a plebiscite on same-sex marriage.

Beyond the costs, there are still plenty of hurdles for Labor party republicans to overcome in the battle for a ballot—not least winning May 18th's election. Thisthlethwaite acknowledged in November that getting a vote "will take time" but was optimistic the party would succeed. "We've had a lack of political leadership at a national level on the question of referenda, and that's something Labor is hopeful of changing."