Could Australia and New Zealand ‘Divorce’ From the British Monarchy?

In some countries in the Commonwealth, the global group of former British colonies, the debate over whether to sever ties with Britain’s royal family has been fierce. In 2020, Barbados decided to remove the queen as its head of state and become a republic, and other Caribbean countries may follow.

Yet in Australia and New Zealand — both of which Britain brutally colonized in the 18th century — questions about whether to keep the monarchy have long been ignored in favor of bread-and-butter political issues.

“It’s not something a lot of New Zealanders wake up worrying about,” said Simon O’Connor, a conservative member of Parliament and former chairman of Monarchy New Zealand, a group that encourages New Zealanders to support the monarchy.

However, a change in Australia’s government and Indigenous calls for constitutional reform have prompted a surge in interest in the role of the monarchy.

Both Australia and New Zealand have complicated feelings toward Britain.

Australia was once used to house British prisoners, inspiring a measure of resentment to this day. And although the country rejected becoming a republic in a 1999 referendum, polls now indicate that the public narrowly favors the idea.

New Zealand maintains closer cultural ties with Britain. It is almost a rite of passage for young middle-class New Zealanders to spend time working there, and a substantial plurality of the public opposes becoming a republic.

Support for the monarchy in both nations is often lukewarm and centered on Queen Elizabeth, and many people expect an uptick in republicanism after she dies.

In Australia, the election last month of Anthony Albanese as prime minister may renew the public’s interest in constitutional questions, which inevitably will raise questions about the monarchy’s role.

In his first speech after being elected, Mr. Albanese — a committed republican — promised to heed a plea from Indigenous Australians about their status in society. That campaign, the Uluru Statement from the Heart, seeks a change to the Constitution to guarantee the participation of Indigenous Australians in political debate and recognize their sovereignty, which Britain denied the existence of 300 years ago.

And on Tuesday, in a further sign of Mr. Albanese’s seriousness about constitutional reform, he noted while announcing his cabinet that he had created a new role of “assistant minister for the republic.”

Peter FitzSimons, the chairman of the Australian Republic Movement, which campaigns for Australia to cut ties with the monarchy, said his organization had received $100,000 in donations in the week after Mr. Albanese’s election.

In New Zealand, earlier this year, Te Pāti Māori, a political party representing Indigenous Māori, called for a “divorce” from the monarchy, driven in part by distrust in an institution that oversaw the theft of their lands.

“We put trust in a monarchy that we thought was acting in good faith,” said Rawiri Waititi, a member of Parliament and a co-leader of Te Pāti Māori. “That didn’t happen.”

The “divorce” is part of a set of changes that the party hopes New Zealand will embrace, including establishing a Māori Parliament and allowing for greater Maori self-governance.

Still, New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, a republican, said last year that she had “never sensed urgency” from the public on the monarchy’s role. She has said that she will not act on the matter while in government.

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