Australia's republicans hold fire after queen's death

·3-min read

Republicans in Australia and New Zealand held back on demands for a removal of the British monarch as head of state Friday, biding their time as tributes poured in for the late Queen Elizabeth.

The head of the Australian Republic Movement, journalist Peter FitzSimons, said it is "unlikely we will ever see a monarch as respected or admired by the Australian people again".

But the group took the opportunity to argue that the queen "backed the right of Australians to become a fully independent nation during the referendum" in 1999.

That vote, which asked Australians whether the country should become a republic with a president, saw 55 percent of people say "no".

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who has long advocated the nation have its own head of state, said "today is not a day to talk" about breaking with the monarchy.

The issue remains on the cards however after his government in June appointed Australia's first-ever minister for the republic.

Former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who led the Republic Movement from 1993 to 2000, said it was "too early to say" what will happen in the wake of the queen's death.

Turnbull recalled that the first time he and his wife met Queen Elizabeth, the monarch gifted them a portrait of her and Prince Philip.

"With a wry smile she said, 'Here you are. You can put them in a cupboard, I suppose,'" Turnbull recounted.

The staunch republican even teared up Friday as he revealed that he and his wife had taken out the portrait and admired it as news of the queen's deteriorating health circulated.

"We just thought: What an amazing life. What amazing leadership," Turnbull told public broadcaster ABC. "It is the end of an era."

- 'Aroha' -

Republicans in New Zealand struck a similarly respectful tone after waking to news of Elizabeth's death.

"The passing of a family member is always a sad moment and New Zealanders, regardless of their views on Aotearoa's head of state, will send aroha (sympathies)," said Louis Holden, chair of New Zealand Republic.

He added that the group would be making no further statement until after the queen's funeral.

New Zealander Petra Otte told AFP that she hoped the queen's death "doesn't trigger a debate in the media here" about becoming a republic.

"I would find that disrespectful to the royal family at this time of their grieving, regardless of personal viewpoints," Otte said.

Fellow Kiwi Carol Garden told AFP that "if Charles can continue along the same vein as his mother, then there is no reason for New Zealanders not to respect him or question our allegiance to him as the monarch".

"There's something about being at the end of the world and so far away, yet still part of the Commonwealth, which appeals to New Zealanders," Garden said.

- 'Graceless' -

But despite the cordial tone struck by most, rumblings of dissent slipped through.

The leader of Australia's Greens party Adam Bandt sparked ire on Friday by saying that "now Australia must move forward", with many calling his timing "graceless".

A sizeable portion of the population support Australia asserting its independence.

A June survey by polling company Essential found 44 percent of Australians backed the country becoming a republic, down from 48 percent in March.

The poll also found those in the 18-34 age group were the most strongly opposed to Australia breaking ties, with 40 percent saying they were against the move.

Sydney resident and monarchist Rowan Drew, 20, told AFP another monarch may not have succeeded in keeping Australia under the crown like Elizabeth.

"I'm not sure how that will play out for Charles, but I think him being her son, that will get him quite far."

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