Page last updated at 18:26 GMT, Monday, 2 November 2009

Challenges of prince's NZ trip

By Peter Hunt
Royal correspondent, BBC News

Prince William
Prince William will visit Australia for the first time since he was a child

Plans for Prince William to represent the Queen on an official trip to New Zealand next year mark an important step for the prince. He will follow his formal duties on the visit in January with an unofficial trip to Australia.

He is the tiptoeing prince. For now, Prince William has time on his side. His grandmother is a healthy octogenarian and his father is ahead of him in the line of succession.

This gives William breathing space and the opportunity to do what comes naturally to him - exercise control. In the driving seat, William is edging slowly, very slowly, towards his destiny as a full-time senior royal.

'Novelty value'

The forthcoming visit to New Zealand and Australia can be seen in this light. It will be very brief, taking place during a break in his military training, but significant.

It is Australia which has the potential to offer the greatest challenges for the prince and his advisers
Peter Hunt, BBC Royal correspondent

For three days in New Zealand the second-in-line to the throne will be representing the Queen, who is the country's head of state.

In that role, he'll open the new supreme court building in Wellington. Elsewhere in the capital, and in Auckland, William will undertake further engagements.

Working overseas, as a royal, has a novelty value for the prince. One day, it will be commonplace.

Before heading home to continue his training as an RAF search and rescue pilot, he will stop off in Australia. Again, the visit will be so brief that if Australians blink they might miss it.

But it is Australia which has the potential to offer the greatest challenges for the prince and his advisers.

As things stand, Australia, like New Zealand, will have William as their king in the future. His presence, in and around Sydney and Melbourne, could renew the debate about the country's links with the British crown.

Constitutional change?

The issue of whether Australians are comfortable having a sovereign who resides in a palace thousands of miles away was last put to the vote in 1999. In that referendum, the idea of a republic was rejected.

Despite this, the issue has not gone away. Republicans still hope their country will sever a link hailing back to the colonial era.

Buckingham Palace has made it clear the future of the monarchy in Australia has always been a matter for the Australian people alone. The sense is they would be relaxed if constitutional change came about.

In 2006, the then prime minister, John Howard, a monarchist, raised doubts about his country's long term commitment.

He told the BBC: "I don't believe Australia will become a republic while the Queen is on the throne. Beyond that, I don't know."

Mr Howard's replacement, Kevin Rudd, has spoken out in favour of having an Australian as head of state. The prime minister has said that while another referendum on the monarchy was not a top priority, he was committed to it and it would happen in "due season".

This will be the political background to Prince William's two day visit in two months' time.

He was last there in 1983 when, to his parents' delight, he crawled for the first time. Now 27 years on, the nappies will be replaced by long trousers and William will be back in a Commonwealth country which he may not one day reign over.



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