Keating's republic under attack

Confessing that he finds the Queen "a consoling figure", Bill Hayden, Australia's Governor-General, waded into controversy again yesterday when he attacked the government's plans for a republic on grounds that it could make proper government unworkable.

Mr Hayden, a former Labor government minister, and one-time republican himself, has come under fire recently for breaking the convention that the Queen's Australian representative, like the monarch herself, does not comment on public issues. He has made speeches supporting euthanasia, same- sex marriages and free markets, and has been uninhibited in expressing his views about Australia's constitutional future.

In an interview yesterday with the Sydney Morning Herald, Mr Hayden inflamed republicans, who regard him as a turncoat for sounding warning bells against the plan by Paul Keating, the Labor Prime Minister, to hold a referendum on the monarchy by 2001. Mr Hayden directed his main criticism at the government proposal for the Queen to be replaced by a president elected by a two-thirds majority of both houses of the federal parliament.

This, he said, could run into "very serious pitfalls" if the elected president turned out to be a "populist opportunist" who could make the proper process of government "difficult to sustain".

Mr Hayden also referred to an attack on him last week in the Telegraph Mirror, a daily Sydney tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch, which claimed that Mr Hayden's spending on travel and entertaining had become excessive. He rejected the charge, saying that spending had fallen by 3 per cent a year in real terms since he moved into the Governor-General's Canberra residence seven years ago.

He had little doubt that recent attacks on his vice-regal lifestyle were linked to the Labor Party's dismay over his failure to keep his views on a republic to himself. He said: "I'll tell [the Queen] how bitterly unfairly I have been treated."