Turnbull bursts his own 'thought bubble', ruling out republic vote in short term

The Turnbull government has ruled out holding a plebiscite or postal survey before the next election on Australians' preferred model for becoming a Republic even if Queen Elizabeth's reign ends during the current parliament.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed on Tuesday there would be no such vote during this parliamentary term even if there is a change of British monarch, despite Mr Turnbull saying the day before that an end to the Queen's reign would be the obvious moment at which the republic issue becomes "live again".

Mr Turnbull had on Monday suggested that a postal survey similar to that which decided the same-sex marriage debate might be used to guide how the nation evolves from a monarchy to a republic, including how a president is chosen.

The swift walk-back prompted acting Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek to dismiss Mr Turnbull's remarks as a "thought bubble" and to suggest he was bowing to conservative elements in his party.

Malcolm Turnbull floated the idea of a postal plebiscite on an Australian republic.

Photo: Mick Tsikas

"It looks like nothing's changed in 2018 - just more thought bubbles from Malcolm Turnbull that barely last 24 hours. Overruled by the right wing of his party again," she said.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott, a diehard monarchist, told The Australian on Tuesday that Mr Turnbull seemed to be "jumping on the Keating bandwagon" by raising the plebiscite - referring to former prime minister Paul Keating's attack on current political leaders for failing to keep the republic issue on the agenda.

Mr Turnbull said should the Queen's reign end during his prime ministership and the republic debate be revived, "the first thing you would need to do is have an honest, open discussion about how a president would be elected".

"It may be that a plebiscite, maybe even a postal survey, given the success of the marriage postal survey, could be one way to deal with that," he said.

The Mirror declared Prince Charles' future role as Australia's king has been thrown into doubt after Malcolm Turnbull's comments.

Photo: AP

The British press seized on the comments, including The Mirror which declared Prince Charles' future role as Australia's king has been thrown into doubt.

Ms Plibersek demanded Mr Turnbull clarify the government's position on the republic issue.

Mr Turnbull does not believe the republic issue should be debated in Australia until the Queen's reign ends.


"Let's have a real discussion about this. What is the government actually proposing? What is the government's position on this? There isn't one, there's a thought bubble," she said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten in July pledged to give Australians a vote on whether to become a republic during the first term of a future Labor government.

Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek accused Malcolm Turnbull of "thought bubble" policy making.

Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Australians would be asked to answer "Yes" or "No" to the question: "Do you support an Australian republic with an Australian head of state?"

"Perhaps the government could join us in putting that simple question to the people," Ms Plibersek said on Tuesday.

"Labor supports Australia becoming a republic and we are happy to work with the government on whatever proposition they have for advancing this objective."

Labor is yet to determine if a postal survey is the best way to test public views on the issue.

Under Labor's plan, if Australians voted for a republic then work would be done to decide on the best model.

Mr Turnbull said if a postal survey or plebiscite were to be held, voters should be asked whether an Australian president would be chosen by Parliament or directly elected by the people.

Ms Plibersek questioned why voters would be asked about the best model for appointing an Australian head of state without first determining if there was majority support for a republic.

Mr Turnbull's comments came in response to criticism by former Prime Minister Paul Keating who questioned the commitment of the Prime Minister, Australia's most prominent republican, of transitioning to an Australian head of state.

Australian Republic Movement chair Peter FitzSimons said Mr Turnbull should "commit to a national vote on an Australian republic during the next Parliament".

"The leaders on both sides of politics clearly want this to happen. Now it's not a question of if, but how," he said.

Most Viewed in Politics