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Wednesday, November 3, 1999 Published at 11:07 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Race plays its card in republic vote

By BBC correspondent David Grossman

Nothing demonstrates how much Australia has changed from its days as a British colony more than the faces of its people.

Australian referendum
In the 1950s, 95% of the population were either migrants from Britain and Ireland or their descendants. Up until the Second World War successive Australian Governments pursued a "White Australia" policy , setting up formidable barriers to non-English speaking migrants.

That has all changed, Australia now welcomes people from all nations. It is now a truly multicultural society, today's "typical Aussie" is just as likely to have family in Greece, China or the Middle East as they are to trace their ancestry back to the British Isles.

To many of these new Australians, ties to a British Monarchy are absurd. With no British heritage many are unimpressed by the pageantry and tradition of the crown and resentful that it is a British face that stares out at them from their notes and coins.

"The Monarchy is simply not relevant to modern Australia," said Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, a member of the "Yes" campaign team.

"Undoubtedly there is a clear correlation between our unique multicultural society and our increasing economic ties with the Asia pacific region and changes to the way we see ourselves. The crown is part of our past - it's not part of our future"

By opinion divided

Opinion within the ethnic community though is divided on the issue.

[ image: Dr Abraham Constantin with his children]
Dr Abraham Constantin with his children
"The present constitution has provided us with the stability that we're after," said Dr Abraham Constantin, a successful Sydney dentist who migrated to Australia from Lebanon aged 13.

"I came from a country that was very troubled, why would I want to risk a change here? People from ethnic backgrounds have all the political and religious freedoms that we need under the monarchy. We owe it to our children to give them the same opportunities."

Fears remain

The Yes campaigns admit they have a difficult job in overcoming the fears of ethnic minorities.

"There is a widespread fear of a republic," admitted Jason Yat Sen Li's, the co-chair of the Yes committee whose family came from China.

"A lot of the immigrants to Australia have come from republics and are worried that if we become a republic that will lead to the sort of place they escaped from. It's that combined with a lack of a good understanding of our system of government."

[ image:  Jason Yat Sen Li]
Jason Yat Sen Li
The message the Yes team is pushing is that the monarchy doesn't reflects who Australia is today and that the change to a republic is a safe one.

"The monarchy no longer represents Australian values such as diversity," added Jason Yat Sen Li.

"Any Australian - from whatever background - should have the opportunity to become our head of state. We respect our British institutions and our British history but we've moved on from that now. This is not an act of rejection but an act of recognition of who we are now and where we want to go in the future"

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