British queen arrives in Australia

Many loyal subjects will warmly welcome Britain's Queen Elizabeth II when she arrives Sunday in Australia, but her visit also has stirred passions of campaigners who would prefer a homegrown president as their head of state.

The country rejected the idea of dumping the distant, absentee monarch as Australia's head of state in a 1999 referendum. But the Australian Republican Movement said Friday her four-day visit was a timely opportunity to reopen the debate.

"The issue is still very much alive," said the movement's national director, Allison Henry. "We would like to see a president who is drawn from the Australian population, somebody who lives here and understands what it is like to be Australian and can represent our values and interests abroad."

Monarchists insisted that the matter was closed and said the queen was a cherished head of state.

"I think she plays the role of queen of Australia impeccably," said David Flint, national convener of Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy. "The country was formed under the Crown, we decided to federate under the Crown and it is the fulcrum of our federal system."

Australia became an independent state in 1901 when a group of British colonies joined together to form a confederation. But, like many former outposts of the British Empire such as Canada and Papua New Guinea, it still recognizes Britain's monarch as head of state.

The nation overwhelmingly voted against changing the country's constitutional monarchy into a republic in 1999 _ not because they wanted to retain the queen, critics insist, but because of the wording of the referendum.

Polls at the time suggested the republicans would have won, if the referendum had offered a clear choice between a queen or a directly elected head of state, reports the AP.


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