Tony Abbott was officially sworn in as the 28th Prime Minister of Australia on Wednesday. While he grabbed headlines for appointing just one woman to his cabinet, there was another subtle change that caught my eye as he was sworn in.
Under Prime Minister’s Paul Keating, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, the oath of allegience for ministers was changed from swearing an oath to Queen Elizabeth to;
I, (Insert name), do swear that I will well and truly serve the Commonwealth of Australia, her land and her people, in the office of the prime minister, so help me God.
However, all that changed on Wednesday as Tony Abbott changed the oath to include;
I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Queen Elizabeth the second, the Queen of Australia.
On the one hand it’s nice to see that the obsession with symbolism is not confined to just Northern Ireland but that these debates are also going on in Australia too.
Abbott was a key figure in the No campaign during the 1999 Australian republic referendum (interestingly the leader of the Yes side Malcolm Turnbull is a minister in Abbott’s cabinet). The issue of a republic in Australia became a major issue in 1995 when the then Prime Minister, Paul Keating, declared that the country should become a republic by the year 2001.
When the referendum was defeated in 1999, it was not done so on the basis of love of Queen and country. Rather, the Australian electorate rejected the fact that the proposed republican model allowed the parliament to choose the President rather than the people. It alway’s amazed me that the republican groups did not point to Ireland as an example of how an elected President can transcend party politics.
This debate has gone on in the background of Australian politics ever since with a general consensus that once Queen Elizabeth dies the government will revist this issue. Currently six of the last eight Australian Prime Minister’s have supported changing the head of state. Gough Whitlam, Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard are in favour, whereas, John Howard and Tony Abbott are opposed.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs