Opposition leader Bill Shorten says the Australian head of state should be Australian.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says the Australian head of state should be Australian. Photo: Pat Scala

Committed republican and Labor leader Bill Shorten has conceded the ‘‘lovely visit’’ of royal couple Kate and William, and their baby George, is winning Australian hearts and minds.

And he has declared many Australians are yet be convinced of the need for a local head of state.

Mr Shorten was challenged to commit the next Labor government to a legislative timetable for a republic at a forum in Melbourne on Tuesday where he called for Labor party reforms.

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge
during a sunset walk at Uluru. Click for more photos

Royal Australian tour - Day 7

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge during a sunset walk at Uluru. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Another audience member called out ‘‘as long as not directly elected’’ before Mr Shorten could answer, in an echo of the debate that divided republicans at the 1999 referendum.

Mr Shorten said: ‘‘I am a republican, [and] for the life of me have not found an argument which says why we should not have an Australian head of state.’’

But he said it was up to people who believed in a republic to convince others of the need.

‘‘We’ve got the lovely visit currently by the young royals – you know, they’re winning hearts and minds, that’s great,’’ he said.

‘‘If we want to explain to Australians why an Australian head of state is important, we can’t just simply sit in a castle – not that we would because we’re republicans.’’

Recent polls have indicated a collapse in republican sentiment - with Prime Minister’s decision to bring back the awards of knights and dames so far failing to energise the movement.

Mr Shorten argued increasing Labor party membership to 100,000 would be the ‘‘vehicle’’ to abolish ties to the monarchy.

‘‘The Labor party needs to become a campaigning movement again. We can’t just answer questions in sound bites. People have got to think we are fired up about stuff, we’re passionate, we mean what we say,’’ he said.

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