Mark Dreyfus, who chairs the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the Australian parliament, has called for a plebiscite to measure support for an Australian republic.
Prime minister Kevin Rudd, a republican, had said that a referendum would not be a priority in the first term of his Labour Party government. Mr. Dreyfus believes that a plebiscite, which would do no more than indicate public opinion, could be held in the first term and would be a first stop towards a constitution-changing referendum.
The plebiscite would ask whether citizens they want an Australian as their head of state, instead of Britain's queen Windsor. It would also indicate whether they want the head of state to be elected by the people or chosen by parliament.
An opinion poll late in 2008 showed 50 per cent of Australians in favour of a republic and only 28 per cent opposed.
Only 42 per cent of New Zealanders expressed support for a republic in a recent poll in that country. Forty eight per cent were opposed. However, republicans were pleased that support for the feudal institution was strongest amongst older people. Only 38 per cent of those aged between 15 and 39 supported a hereditary head of state.
In Canada the republican case has been strengthened by controversy about the suspension of parliament by the governor general, who is the representative of queen Windsor in that country. Michaelle Jean agreed to a request from the prime minister that parliament be suspended for a period of weeks. PM Stephen Harper made the request to prevent legislators expressing no confidence in his government. By agreeing the governor general has made clear that although she is not democratically accountable, she does have real power that can be used to the advantage of the governing party.