Australian PM backs republic after queen's death

17th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

Australia should become a republic when Queen Elizabeth dies, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Tuesday in comments which may revive a long-running debate just days ahead of national polls.

Gillard, whose centre-left Labor Party is in a tight electoral race against a conservative coalition, said the queen's death would be an "appropriate" time for Australia to move away from having a British monarch as head of state.

"I believe that this nation should be a republic. I also believe that this nation has got a deep affection for Queen Elizabeth," Gillard, Australia's first woman prime minister, told reporters.

"What I would like to see as prime minister is that we work our way through to an agreement on a model for the republic, but I think the appropriate time for this nation to move to being a republic is when we see the monarch change."

Australians voted against turning the former colony into a republic in a 1999 referendum, and debate on the issue has often proved divisive.

"Obviously I'm hoping for Queen Elizabeth that she lives a long and happy life and having watched her mother, I think there's every chance that she will live a long and happy life," Gillard said.

"But I think that's probably the appropriate point for a transition to a republic."

A January visit by Britain's Prince William, second in line to the throne, proved wildly popular with the public, in what some commentators saw as a boost for the monarchist movement.

"Prince William, in his two-day charm offensive in Sydney, may have done more to set back the republican cause than anything since the 1999 referendum," The Sydney Morning Herald wrote at the time.

Gillard's challenger in Saturday's elections is Tony Abbott, who once led Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, the country's main movement opposing a republic.

The prime minister is polling just four percentage points ahead of Abbott in the final days of campaigning.

© 2010 AFP

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