UK Media Pounce on Republic Remarks

March 16, 2006, ABC Newsonline
By Rafael Epstein for AM

The British press has been working itself into a lather over musings from the Prime Minister and the Queen on whether Australia's ties to the monarchy will last beyond her reign.

Asked by BBC Television how long he thought the monarchy would survive in Australia, John Howard said nothing would change while Queen Elizabeth remains on the throne.

"I don't believe Australia will become a republic while the Queen is on the throne - beyond that, I don't know," he said.

He was equally non-committal when asked by ITV whether Prince Charles would ever be seen as King of Australia.

"That is a matter for the Australian people," he said.

Ever sensitive to talk of abolishing the monarchy in the UK, the comments from Mr Howard and the Queen have been reported in Britain as the beginning of a long farewell.

It is not quite a 'Lizard of Oz' moment - the tabloid frenzy that greeted Paul Keating's treatment of the Queen - but Mr Howard's comments have been covered prominently.

The BBC's late evening TV news is its flagship bulletin, and its royal reporter Nicholas Witchell is one of the most watched interpreters of seemingly generic royal statements.

He interviewed Mr Howard, and was emphatic about the import of the comments by the Queen and the Prime Minister.

"Both are traditionalists, yet both seem to recognise that constitutional change is now inevitable," he said.

"John Howard, the staunch monarchist, imagined what - for him - has been hitherto unimaginable: an Australia without the monarchy."

The tabloid, the Daily Mail also leapt on Mr Howard's words.

Referring to the monarch's earlier speech, the paper says "The Queen signalled for the first time that she accepts Australia may one day become a republic."

The newspaper says the result of her declaration that it was time for Australia to reflect on wider horizons "left onlookers in no doubt of her underlying message".

And the tabloid says her speech was "seized on by the Prime Minister Mr Howard, who said the monarchy had little relevance".

The newspaper says Mr Howard spoke out after the Queen "carefully prepared the ground for the prospect of a republic".

The BBC's royal watcher was in no doubt about the Queen's intentions.

"It was the Queen's way of saying that Australia has come of age," said Mr Witchell. "And if that means moving on now from the constitutional arrangements of the colonial era, then so be it."

Another tabloid, the Daily Telegraph headlines its report "Charles may never rule Australia, says Prime Minister", and it added "the Queen hinted Australia may be ready to fly the nest".

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