Author and former international rugby player Peter FitzSimons will step down as the public face of Australia’s republican movement after seven years at the helm.
Weeks after the Queen’s death spurred renewed debate about the British monarch’s role as Australia’s head of state, FitzSimons announced he would not renominate to chair the Australian Republican Movement (ARM).
Australian Republican Movement chair Peter FitzSimons launches the new Australian republic model in January.Credit:Kate Geraghty
FitzSimons confirmed his departure when contacted by The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, saying he first informed colleagues in June of his intention to step down. FitzSimons is a long-time Sydney Morning Herald columnist whose writing is occasionally published in The Age.
He said he always intended to depart before any republic referendum campaign, which may occur in a second term of the federal Labor government, but whose momentum has been overshadowed by a separate plebiscite on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
“I am thrilled with what has been achieved by the movement on my watch,” FitzSimons said in a written statement.
“Building on the fine work of my predecessors who kept the show on the road in the fallow years after the 1999 referendum, my colleagues and I have been able to make great strides.
“It is wonderful, right now, to have the republic on the agenda, to have a strong movement with expanding membership and money in the bank – and, most importantly, to have for the first time in history, a ‘Minister for the Crown devoted to removing the Crown’.”
His predecessor, former West Australian premier Geoff Gallop, praised FitzSimons.
“He has personally raised millions, put the ARM on a professional footing with full-time staff, and been an unstinting public advocate for change,” Gallop said in a statement.
“In the words of Anthony Albanese at the last Republican dinner in Canberra … ‘We all know why we are here. Fitz’s leadership’.”
‘He is not stepping down for any negative reason.’
Nominations for the ARM’s national committee closed on Friday evening with several high-profile candidates expected to nominate.
Famous for his red bandana, FitzSimons and his wife, TV presenter Lisa Wilkinson, are frequently the subject of paparazzi coverage and barbs from conservative commentators who have cast the pair as being out of touch.
Some republicans believe his membership of Sydney’s elite social scene meant he was not the ideal person to lead a campaign that requires the support of younger Australians and those from non-English-speaking backgrounds, many of whom live in cities such as Melbourne where he is less well-known.
His departure comes after a period of occasional turbulence inside the ARM, the non-partisan organisation designed to grow public support for an Australian republic.
Meredith Doig.Credit:Simon Schluter
Some sections of the republican movement had been dissatisfied with the trajectory of the movement under FitzSimons leadership, with popular support for a republic stalling despite attitudes on contentious issues such as same-sex marriage shifting quickly.
A number of republican sources have said personal infighting – not involving FitzSimons – has occurred in recent years within the group’s national committee, which is made up of activists across the country including mental health advocate Peter McGorry and former South Australian senator Tim Storer.
The sources said there was a disagreement at national committee level over whether the ARM should declare public support for the Voice to Parliament when the then-Labor opposition announced its plans for a referendum.
Some republicans, including FitzSimons, believed the ARM should stay out of the Indigenous debate and focus on its core business. However, FitzSimons has grown to the view that the ARM should throw its weight behind the Voice since the Albanese government’s election.
The ARM’s deputy chair, Meredith Doig, said some republicans were “concerned there would be conservative [republicans] who might be opposed to the Voice, and the ARM has to appeal to a majority of people in the majority of states [including conservatives]“.
However, a group of progressive candidates running in the ARM election will prioritise pushing the organisation to fully back the Voice campaign.
Republican activists from WA had previously raised concerns about the sustainability of the ARM’s revenue. However, Doig and Storer both praised FitzSimons’ fundraising ability, having secured large donations including a $250,000 sum from billionaire James Packer in 2015.
Doig hit out at FitzSimons’ internal opponents, arguing “factionalism is death in an organisation and … people should pursue the mission for this organisation, not stab one another in the back … Peter is not stepping down for any negative reason. He is going out on a high.”
Storer, a South Australian senator between 2018-19, said FitzSimons had overseen the process to develop an ARM-backed republic model – a divisive point that split the pro-republic campaign in the failed 1999 election.
“Some chairs just chair the meetings. He has provided, through fundraising, significant financial stability to the movement. Some chairs are all about receiving kudos and being at the top of the table, and he’s not like that at all,” Storer said.
The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.
Most Viewed in National
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article