Poms away as Aussies vote on Queen and country

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The Independent Online

Jan Reynolds arrived at the Australian High Commission in London at 10am yesterday, and stood alone as her homeland started its referendum to decide whether it should become a republic with an elected president to replace the Queen.

Jan Reynolds arrived at the Australian High Commission in London at 10am yesterday, and stood alone as her homeland started its referendum to decide whether it should become a republic with an elected president to replace the Queen.

"We don't need hordes of people with a huge table and lots of badges. The republicans may have spent a lot of money on this campaign but the silent majority will push through," she said defiantly.

Clearly warming to her theme, Mrs Reynolds, 57, added: "The Queen is fantastic, she is apolitical, she is not power hungry and we have a system that works well, so why change it?"

Inches away, a "yes" campaigner was telling anyone who would listen that there was no logic to keeping the Queen. "There is an inevitability to the republic and it is really hard to understand why people would not want it. It is insane to have a head of state outside the country. The British wouldn't like it if Tony Blair was Norwegian and governed from Oslo."

Mrs Reynolds just smiled. Her son, a campaigner for ACM (Australia for a Constitutional Monarch) was on his way and he would convince waverers.

More than 20,000 people are expected to vote at Australia House by 5 November. The building in the Strand, in the heart of London and 12,000 miles from Australia, is the biggest polling station in the referendum. Early indications, despite yesterday's start, hint that it will be a close run contest.

Voting is compulsory in Australia, where polling starts on 6 November, and although those overseas can avoid it there is still expected to be a 97 per cent turn-out. Everyone from backpackers to businessmen has an opinion.

While the general consensus is that the young generally favour a republic and their parents and grandparents preferthe status quo, this referendum is about more than the removal of aQueen. It is also about the election of a president.

Parliament, not the people,will vote for the final candidate. Many feel this will result in a phoney republic with a puppet president. As a result many instinctive republicans will actually vote no.

When Mrs Reynolds' son, Andrew, 32, finally arrived, he was equally forthright. "It is not so much the link with Britain and the Queen but that what they are proposing to put in place is just plain dangerous. The argument about a foreign Queen is a side issue and Australians are capable of looking beyond that."

Amid the arguments there were a few conservative voices. "I said no. I am scared of the dramatic change," admitted Fiona Jones, 22, a supply teacher from New South Wales. "They'll change our money, the flag will have a kangaroo on it and I don't want 'Waltzing Matilda' as the national anthem." Her simplistic argument gained sympathy from many of the 600 people who turned up to vote yesterday.

The republicans had an equally defining chorus. "It's about time we stood on our own two feet," said Jason Pentony, 28, an IT consultant. "We have a well-developed independent country and the Queen serves no purpose - she is just a figurehead. There is no point in being stood over by a monarchy half a world away."

John Silveris, 58, a pharmacist from Brisbane, was angry about the way Australians are treated by the British. "They see us as a separate people. We are treated like foreigners - particularly at the airport where all the European Union residents go straight through and we have to queue. If that's the case then why should we stick by the Queen?"

As the "yes" campaign noisily proclaimed its confidence in the outcome, Mrs Reynolds, having waved off her son, was greeting more relatives who had turned up unexpectedly. "I'm sure they'll be with us," she said.

But she used the term "us" rather loosely. Mrs Reynolds can only hope the majority see it her way - as a resident of Hawaii she no longer has the right to vote.

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