The New South Wales government wants the state Governor - the Queen's representative - to work part-time from home and turn the country's oldest vice-regal residence into a "people's palace".
The move was seen as another slap in the face for the monarchy in Australia, and a significant step towards a republic.
Under the radical plan announced by Bob Carr, the state's Labor Premier, the next Governor, Gordon Samuels, a British-born former judge, will live in his own modest suburban house near the Pacific Ocean, while the grand official mansion, built as a castle in colonial days, will be thrown open to the public. Outraged monarchists yesterday demanded that the state parliament be recalled and a referendum held on the decision. They compared it to the Queen being told to move out of Buckingham Palace.
Mr Carr, a former journalist and avowed republican, dismissed their charges. "We want to update the role of Governor, make it somewhat more relevant to the Australia of the 21st century," he said. "There will be no return to the antiquated concept of Governor."
So far, the republican debate has focused on the role of the Governor- General, the Queen's national representative, whom Paul Keating, the Prime Minister, wants to replace with a president by 2001. The six state governors are hangovers from the colonial history of the then unfederated states in the 18th and early 19th centuries. If Australia as a whole votes for a republic, they would become superfluous.
Mr Carr has deeply upset Australia's traditionalists and conservatives. New South Wales is the oldest and most populous state. Government House, the turreted sandstone residence of the Governor in sweeping grounds above Sydney Harbour, represents the birthplace of British democratic traditions in Australia. The Queen and other members of the Royal Family have stayed there many times.
From next week, the grounds will be turned into public parkland, while a committee decides whether the mansion itself becomes an art gallery, music centre or some other cultural venue. One Labor MP suggested that it be converted into a wine centre, where the public could lounge in the gardens drinking - in contrast to the formal vice-regal garden parties which have been held there for more than two centuries.
Mr Samuels, 72, who will take over as Governor in March, made it clear yesterday that he had agreed to take on the job only on condition that it be stripped of its traditional pomp, leaving only basic constitutional duties, such as opening parliament and attending some public ceremonies.Reuse content