Shorten backs new vote for re­pub­lic

The Sunday Times - - NEWS - JOE SPAGNOLO Po­lit­i­cal Edi­tor

THE man who is bet­ting favourite to be Aus­tralia’s next prime min­is­ter has reignited the re­pub­lic de­bate, say­ing the royal fam­ily were “lovely peo­ple”, but he did not be­lieve they should be in charge of our coun­try.

Fresh on the heels of Harry and Meghan’s royal visit, Fed­eral Op­po­si­tion Leader Bill Shorten said Aus­tralians were “open to the case be­ing made” for a re­pub­lic.

He com­mit­ted a fu­ture La­bor govern­ment to a plebiscite, which would ask the ques­tion, “Do you sup­port an Aus­tralian re­pub­lic with an Aus­tralian head of state?”

Mr Shorten said he did not want to be our new head of state, but WA could hold the key to him be­com­ing prime min­is­ter.

“I met them (Harry and Meghan),” he said. “I liked them.

“I like Charles, I like lots of peo­ple from over­seas — I like the Dalai Lama, I like the Pope. It doesn’t mean I want the Pope to be in charge (of Aus­tralia).

“(But) 230 years af­ter Euro­pean set­tle­ment of Aus­tralia, I think the rest of the world needs to see that Aus­tralians are com­fort­able in their own skin.

“Hav­ing an Aus­tralian head of state says to peo­ple in our re­gion and the rest of the world that there is a dis­tinct, Aus­tralian iden­tity.

“We no longer need to bor­row some­one else’s king or queen. I think Aus­tralians are open to the case be­ing made. We can still stay in the Com­mon­wealth.”

But be­fore be­ing able to guide Aus­tralia to­wards be­com­ing a re­pub­lic, Mr Shorten needs to be­come PM. He said La­bor was tar­get­ing five Lib­eral seats in WA — Pearce, Hasluck, Swan, Stir­ling and Can­ning.

“I can’t re­mem­ber when there was an­other Fed­eral elec­tion where WA mat­tered to the re­sult as much as this one,” he said.

“There is a clear chance that WA will de­cide the elec­tion. A clear chance. La­bor has only won govern­ment from Op­po­si­tion three times since World War II. It doesn’t hap­pen very of­ten. So, ev­ery­thing mat­ters and the west mat­ters more than ever.”

In a wide-rang­ing in­ter­view, Mr Shorten said he had scrapped plans for a $2 bil­lion Fair Share of WA Fund, say­ing it had been “su­per­seded” by the soon-to-be-passed GST leg­is­la­tion.

He said the Trea­sury Laws Amend­ment Bill 2018 was ex­pected to pass the Se­nate this month, de­liv­er­ing WA a $4.7 bil­lion GST wind­fall over eight years, mean­ing there was no need for an ex­tra $2 bil­lion.

But he said a Shorten govern­ment would still fund pro­jects it had com­mit­ted to, such as $700 mil­lion for the El­len­brook rail line. He also said be­ing an un­pop­u­lar op­po­si­tion leader was not keeping him up at night.

“I don’t lose any sleep (over it),” he said. “A lot of peo­ple don’t know me. The peo­ple who do know me, let’s have a poll of them.”

King hit: Bill Shorten says La­bor would hold a plebiscite on Aus­tralia be­com­ing a re­pub­lic. Pic­ture: Justin Ben­son-Cooper

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