Diva hits false note in royal encore

A STRIDENT defence of the Queen by Dame Joan Sutherland, the former opera diva and one of Australia's great cultural icons, has probably done the monarchist cause more harm than good.

Dame Joan, 67, was recruited by Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy to lend her prestige in the contest with the Prime Minister, Paul Keating, who wants Australia to become a republic by 2001.

Speaking at a campaign luncheon of monarchists in Sydney on Thursday, she complained that if Australians dropped their association with the Queen, they would lose their connection with 'home'. She said she found it 'ludicrous' that she had to be interviewed by a person of Chinese or Indian background each time she renewed her Australian passport.

Leaders of Australia's 150 ethnic communities promptly denounced her remarks. Victor Rebikoff, chairman of the Federation of Ethnic Community Councils, demanded that Dame Joan retract them. 'She is insensitive, naive and completely out of touch with multicultural Australia,' he said.

Mr Keating dismissed Dame Joan with suave contempt. 'It's a long time since she's been part of the contemporary Australian political debate, if ever,' he said. 'It's probably a little unfair on her to be asked to step into a debate which is shaped by contemporary circumstances and to ask her to give a set of relevant, contemporary views.'

Born in Sydney to Scottish immigrant parents, Dame Joan has spent much of the past 40 years living abroad, since her career as one of the world's great sopranos was launched at Covent Garden in 1959.

'My parents loved the old country and I was brought up believing I was British,' she told her luncheon audience. 'I used to have a British passport and it really upsets me that I don't any more. It also upsets me that it is such a damned job to get an Australian passport now - you have to go to be interviewed by a Chinese or an Indian. I'm not particularly racist, but I find it ludicrous.'

Of the Queen, she said: 'I'm a very ardent supporter of the monarchy and I can't imagine not having our wonderful allegiance to our heritage, to our Queen and to our right to have this wonderful, wonderful on-going connection with home.'

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