Prince 'achieved his aims in Australia'

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THE Prince of Wales ended his Australian tour yesterday with an unprecedented parting message about his role in the country's republican debate. As the Prince prepared to leave today for New Zealand, where republicanism is not an issue, Richard Aylard, his private secretary, took the unusual step of formally announcing to the press that Prince Charles believed he had successfully accomplished his three main aims in visiting Australia.

'The first of these was to make a measured personal contribution to the debate as to whether Australia should become a republic,' Commander Aylard said. The other two involved meeting people in areas where Australia performed well, and pursuing his own particular interests 'in an Australian context'.

On Thursday Commander Aylard told journalists: 'He has done what he came out to do, to make a major contribution to the republican debate and to leave people in no doubt what his views are on that debate. He has warm goodwill to the country and intends to come back regardless. The Prince would not regard it in any way as a personal failure or tragedy if (Australians) do vote for a republic. He believes they have to decide what is best for them.'

The centrepiece of Prince Charles's visit over the past 12 days was his speech in Sydney on 26 January, Australia Day, in which he apparently endorsed the country's republican debate by describing it as 'the sign of a mature and self-confident nation'. He also indicated that he was prepared for constitutional change in Australia when he said of those who called for such change: 'And perhaps they are right.'

Questioned yesterday about Prince Charles's decision to address directly the republican issue - an unprecedented move for a member of the Royal Family - Commander Aylard agreed with the suggestion that, if the Prince had gone to Australia and said nothing, then 'it would have been a problem'. He said the Prince wanted to 'put his personal gloss' on the Queen's advice to Paul Keating, the Prime Minister, at Balmoral last September that republicanism was a matter for Australians alone.

Prince Charles leaves Australia with his personal popularity there enhanced, and with almost universal acclaim for his handling of the republican issue. In some respects, his remarks may have boosted republicanism. An opinion poll taken in Sydney and Melbourne a week ago, after his speech, showed that 50 per cent of those questioned favoured a republic. A poll in December, published in Time, showed support for a republic at 44 per cent.

After a day off on Fraser Island, near the Queensland coast, and visiting the cities of Gladstone and Bundaberg in pouring rain, Prince Charles was confronted yesterday with the only overtly republican demonstration of his tour. When he arrived at the Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane, five protesters met him with a placard saying: 'Give the throne the royal flush'.

In Sydney yesterday, David Kang, the 23-year-old student who caused a security panic on Australia Day by running towards Prince Charles and firing blanks from a starter's pistol, was released from prison on conditional bail. Mr Kang has been in custody since the incident, and faces charges of assault, causing an affray and possessing a firearm without a licence.

(Photograph omitted)