Australian public back move to republic

A new opinion poll in Australia has revealed for the first time there is sufficient public support to change the constitution to make the country a republic.

Published yesterday in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age, of Melbourne, the poll showed 55 per cent of Australians want to replace the Queen with an Australian president as their head of state, a rise of 4 per cent since a similar poll was taken last year.

More significant is the fact that a majority of voters in five of Australia's six states want a republic. This is the crucial test that republicans would have to pass in order to change the country's constitution. For it to be altered, a referendum needs not only an overall majority of votes but also a majority vote in at least four of the six states.

This has made the constitution notoriously hard to change. Since 1901, when it came into force, only eight of 42 proposals to amend it have passed popular referendums. But, according to the opinion poll, Tasmania is the only state where republicans are still in a minority, at 46 per cent. In New South Wales their support stands at 57 per cent.

The latest republican opinion poll has put renewed pressure on the federal government, led by John Howard, to press ahead with its election promise to stage a convention next year as a first step towards holding a referendum on a republic by 2000.

Mr Howard is a monarchist, who has shown every sign of trying to sweep republicanism under the carpet since his conservative coalition government's election last March. But republicans, including MPs in the Liberal Party, which Mr Howard leads, have called on him in to honour his promise.

At a republican rally attended by 2,000 people in Sydney on Sunday, Gladys Berejiklian, president of the Young Liberals in New South Wales, urged Mr Howard to hold a referendum. Robert Hughes, the Australian author and critic, told the audience: "There is nothing, absolutely nothing, Australian about our present head of state, the reigning British monarch. The monarch's role as the simultaneous head of state of Great Britain and Australia had its obvious uses when the interests of the two nations overlapped and were in essence the same. But today they are not always the same and, in the coming century, they will be less so."

Republicanism crosses party lines and among Australians aged between 25 and 54, support stands at 60 per cent.