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Labor Is Ready To Go For A Compulsory National Vote On The Republic

It sounds complicated but tl;dr it's a national vote to decide on whether to green light another referendum.

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Australia will hold a national, compulsory vote on the republic if the Labor Party wins power at the next federal election, according to opposition leader Bill Shorten.

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Shorten's promise to fast-track the republic debate after the next federal election will come in the form of a speech to be delivered at the Australian Republican Movement's gala dinner in Melbourne on Saturday night.

According to Shorten's prepared remarks, a Labor government would hold a simple "Yes/No" vote on whether people wanted an Australian as head of state. If a majority voted yes then a referendum would be held on what sort of republican model Australia would embrace:

A Shorten Labor government will take the first real step to an Australian Republic in our first term.

A member of our ministry will have direct responsibility for advancing this debate.

And by the end of our first term we will put a simple, straightforward question to the people of Australia.

Do you support an Australian Republic with an Australian Head of State?

If the yes vote prevails – and I’m optimistic it will – then we can consider how that head of state is chosen.

Australia's only other referendum on the republic was held in 1999, with the "Yes" side led by none other than Malcolm Turnbull.

Rob Griffith / AP

The national vote to remove the Queen as Australia's head of state was ultimately unsuccessful, with the two-question referendum being voted down nationally Yes/No, 45% to 55%.

A referendum to change the Australian Constitution is notoriously difficult to pass, with voters needing to approve in a majority of the states, while also voting "yes" as a majority across the country.

But according to his speech on Saturday night, Shorten's national vote plan is a way to get around holding a two-question referendum and confusing people.

Lukas Coch / AAPIMAGE

"We cannot risk being caught in a referendum like the last one, where Australians were given one vote to settle two questions," Shorten's speech reads. "When a lot of people voted ‘No’, because of the model, not because of the republic.

"The first, clear question we ask the people should be whether we want an Australian head of state."

If the vote comes back with a "yes" majority, Shorten's government will come up with a model on how to appoint or elect the future Australian head of state, which will then be put to the people in the form of a referendum at a later date.

Turnbull addressed the Australian Republican Movement at the end of last year, re-affirming his personal support for the republic but suggesting it would be better raised after the Queen died.

Dan Himbrechts / AAPIMAGE

Mark Di Stefano is a media and politics correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Mark Di Stefano at

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