It appears the election campaign has already unofficially begun with Bill Shorten this week announcing that should Labor win government at the next election, they will hold a plebiscite on the question of whether Australia should become a Republic.
So what does this actually mean?
Australia is currently a Constitutional Monarchy. This means that we have a Constitution that underpins our system of government (Local, State and Federal) and the laws that govern our country. It also means that technically our Head of State is a Monarch, being Queen Elizabeth II.
Historically, such Monarchs have exercised to direct political power over nations such as Australia, however in the last century this role has all but evaporated and the Monarch is simply a figurehead that performs ceremonial functions and acts on the advice of the government of the day.
The argument then becomes why should we retain the Queen as our symbolic figurehead when our nation has functioned with independence for such a long time?
The answer to this question for some is for Australia to become a Republic.
A Republic refers to a system of government under which the people who govern the nation are elected with a member of that nation serving as a Head of State, as opposed to a Monarch.
Historically in a Constitutional Monarchy, ruling parties inherit their power as opposed to being elected, and this is the main conceptual difference between the two models.
Moving to a Republic model would mean some changes that would technically remove historic links to England and enshrine our nation’s independence. For example, currently the Governor General, the Queen’s elected representative in Australia, has to approve all Australian laws once they pass through Parliament. If Australia were to become a Republic, this would no longer be required.
There are various different models that Australia could adopt. Many people think that a Republic means that we would be imitating the United States of America. This is however unlikely because under the USA’s system, their elected President has significant power over government.
In Australia we have a history of party politics whereby elected leaders, such as the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader, typically make decisions by consulting members of their party, and it is likely that any Australian Republic would reserve many of the important functions of this system.