SYDNEY – Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Thursday his priority is to hold a referendum on Indigenous people’s political rights, not to remove the monarch as head of state.

The centre-left Labor Party leader is an avowed republican but has refused to be drawn into that debate in the aftermath of Queen Elizabeth II’s death.

Instead, Mr Albanese says he is focused on a planned referendum to give Indigenous people the right to be consulted by lawmakers on matters that affect them, a so-called Voice to Parliament.

“I want Australians to concentrate on the Voice to Parliament,” he told national broadcaster ABC when asked why the country could not also consider its future under the monarchy during his initial three-year term.

“We should be proud of the fact that we share this continent with the oldest continuous culture on earth, at least 65,000 years.

“That should be something that needs to be fixed before other matters are debated.”

Australia was a British colony for more than 100 years. The country gained independence in 1901, but kept the monarch as head of state.

In 1999, Australians narrowly voted against removing the queen.

However some supporters of a republic voted against removing the queen because they opposed the proposed new model in which Members of Parliament would choose her replacement, not the public.

Polls in the lead-up to the 1999 referendum and before Queen Elizabeth II’s death showed most Australians in favour of becoming a republic.

“Getting constitutional change in this country is very difficult,” Mr Albanese said, pointing to the 1999 vote. “The idea that you would have multiple debates at once is, I think, not feasible and I have made my priorities clear.”

The republican issue has been rekindled since Mr Albanese was elected prime minister earlier this year, replacing a conservative government that was more supportive of a monarchy.

He quickly appointed the country’s first “minister of the republic” and suggested that another referendum could be held in the future. AFP