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Australia debates whether to be - or not to be - linked to Queen

Should Australia unseat Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state and become a republic? The country's newly elected prime minister, Robert Hawke, favors the idea of Australia becoming a republic - although he says he won't push for it - and Australians are heatedly discussing the issue.

Republicans argue that there's no place for the monarchy in modern-day Australia, an increasingly multicultural nation, where most present-day immigrants have no British links. Many proponents say the year of Australia's bicentennial, 1988, would be the ideal time to install a president.

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Monarchists argue there's no point tampering with a system that works. And opinion polls show more than 50 percent of Australians still favor having Queen Elizabeth II as their queen and head of state.

There are monarchists and republicans in all of Australia's major political parties, but more republicans among Labor Party supporters. Former Labor Party Prime Minister Gough Whitlam is one of Labor's fervent campaigners for a republic.

A major setback for Australian republicanism was the marriage of Prince Charles in 1981. The romantic royal tale enhanced the monarchy's image in Australia by leaps and bounds.

This month Prince Charles, the Princess of Wales, and their infant son Prince William - complete with two front teeth - are touring Australia. And the sentiment favoring the political status quo is enjoying another surge.

Republicans try to show that Australian national pride isn't helped by having an English monarch based in London as the nation's head of state. They note that many of the third-world members of the British Commonwealth that became independent in the 1960s and 1970s are republics.

Many republicans favor 1988 as the year to become a republic, but others among them believe that would be too soon and that the monarchy will still have broad support then.

So Australian republicans are biding their time. Despite support at the highest levels of government, they believe making a major issue of whether to keep the monarchy could be destructively divisive at present.

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