Queen meets republican-minded Australian PM

21st October 2011, Comments 0 comments

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II Friday met with Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard, as the ex-colony's former leader Paul Keating revealed how he once told the monarch the nation no longer needed her.

The queen, who is in Australia to open next week's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, has been warmly received in Canberra with thousands turning out Thursday to see her barge on Lake Burley Griffin.

"It was very popular, there were lots of people to see the boat," the queen remarked to Gillard as the Welsh-born prime minister, who favours Australia becoming a republic, met with her at Government House for 45 minutes.

Gillard, who bowed but did not curtsey, replied: "I suspect it was more popular because you were there."

Thousands have so far gathered to see the queen, a hugely respected figure in Australia since her first visit in 1954, amid speculation that the tour could be the 85-year-old's last to the far-flung former penal colony.

Her visit comes ahead of the launch of a book by former prime minister Paul Keating, in which he recounts how he told the queen at Windsor Castle in September 1993 that Australians felt the monarchy was outdated.

Keating, a staunch republican, said he admired the queen for meeting him alone in Balmoral, knowing what he wanted to discuss.

"She was to entertain a heretic -- delivered to her home by a foreign constituency whose message would call into question all she stood for," he wrote in an extract published in The Australian on Friday.

Keating, who once so outraged the British press by placing his hand on the queen's back during a visit to Canberra in 1992 that they dubbed him "The Lizard of Oz", said he told the queen Australia had changed vastly since 1954.

"I told the queen as politely and gently as I could that I believed the majority of Australians felt the monarchy was now an anachronism; that it had gently drifted into obsolescence," Keating said.

"Not for any reason associated with the queen personally, but for the simple reason she was not in a position to represent their aspirations. They were Australian, she was British."

Keating said the queen sat through his remarks, before commenting: "You know my family have always tried to do their best by Australia." To which he replied: "Yes, I know that ma'am."

He said he assured the queen he would do his best by her and he felt the monarch was relieved by the "nature and course" of the conversation.

In an interview with the newspaper, Keating said he told the monarch that in the event of Australia becoming a republic, her visits Down Under as Queen of Great Britain would be more "celebratory" than her tours as Queen of Australia.

"She didn't orally concur in that, but I think she may have intellectually concurred," he said.

Australia became independent in 1901 but a referendum in 1999 to cut ties to the British monarchy and become a republic with an Australian head of state failed. Enthusiasm for severing links has since ebbed.

Most of the queen's 10-day Australia trip is focused on Canberra, with outings to Melbourne and Brisbane, before she leaves for Perth.

She attends a reception hosted by Gillard and her partner Tim Mathieson at Parliament House on Friday evening.

© 2011 AFP

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