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Australia debates ditching Queen

Britain's Queen Elizabeth ll in Sydney, Australia, on Commonwealth Day, 15 March 2006

By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Perth

As the United States celebrates its first African-American president, the people of another former British colony, Australia, are wondering whether they will ever have their own home-grown head of state.

The issue of a republic is brewing again amid mounting pressure on the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to say when Australians can vote on constitutional reform.

The idea that Queen Elizabeth II should be replaced by an Australian president was enthusiastically endorsed by delegates at Mr Rudd's recent 2020 Summit, which invited 1,000 of the nation's brightest minds to Canberra to debate pressing public concerns.

The prime minister is expected to respond within weeks to their suggestions and those agitating for change believe that the Labor leader must set out a timetable for a referendum.

Six models

"It's really about identity and dignity," explained Grant Jordan, Western Australian convenor of the Australian Republican Movement.

Steve Amphlett
I love the Queen, I love what she stands for
Steve Amphlett
"It is a bit debasing when you have a situation where a British child born into a particular family can one day become the head of state of your country yet no Australian child can ever become head of state of Australia no matter what he or she achieves in life."

Australia is a constitutional monarchy and it is a decade since the country rejected wholesale reform at the last referendum, thanks in large part to the type of republic on offer, which would have seen a president appointed by parliament and not by the people.

Republicans believe that up to six different models should be put to the popular vote in a plebiscite, with the most favoured then subjected to a referendum.

Hot topic

On a sweltering evening in the northern Perth suburb of Joondalup, home to legions of British migrants, opinion on the issue at the local soccer club was as fierce as some of the tackles at the start of pre-season training.

Alan Vest
It's nice she's a titular head of state but I'm not so sure in today's world it's really necessary
Alan Vest
"I love the Queen, I love what she stands for," declared club president Steve Amphlett, a salesman originally from Stoke-on-Trent. "I don't see Australia as a republic."

Neither did John Higgins, a bricklayer from Birmingham who emigrated to Perth 18 years ago.

"The monarchy should stay in Australia," he told the BBC. "If you speak to the majority of the English here, they really want it to stay as it is."

Joondalup's soccer coach, Alan Vest, a Yorkshire-born former New Zealand international - whose name may be familiar to older supporters of Barnsley and Rochdale - believes though that constitutional change in Australia is inevitable.

"My mother's a monarchist. She's mad about the Queen. It's nice she's a titular head of state but I'm not so sure in today's world it's really necessary."

Asian orientation

Republicans have estimated that up to 85% of Australians support their cause, among them both the Prime Minister and leader of the conservative opposition.

Licence plate in Joondalup soccer club
The driver of this Perth car makes his royal allegiance clear
Joondalup club veteran Adrian Kenny, 46, who moved from Stafford when he was seven, said that although his adopted home should treasure its rich British history, it was time to move on.

"I think the Queen's for England," he told BBC News. "I just think Australia is an old enough country to be the master of its own destiny. We are becoming more Asian-orientated and there are more Asian people in Australia and they have no affiliation with the UK."

The republic debate in Australia is always passionate and both sides are promising a forceful campaign when the next referendum eventually comes around.

Neil Gilmore, the Australian Monarchists League representative in Western Australia, remains adamant that voters will favour the status quo.

"The notable thing about Mr Rudd's enthusiasm for a republic is the fact that the people of Australia don't share it," he insisted. "We don't want a republic. We've had stability and prosperity. Everything that we could want we get from our wonderful system of government."

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