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Australia cuts lingering legal links with Britain

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Australia has cut residual legal links with the British crown, but Queen Elizabeth II remains ``Queen of Australia.'' Whether the change is an advance for Australia toward republicanism, however, is questionable. The country's chief executive continues to be the governor general, the Queen's official representative. Although his actions are restricted by unwritten convention, he is an appointed head of state -- unlike the presidents elected in many other British Commonwealth countries.

In practice, what has happened is of little consequence:

Court cases in Austrlia will no longer be referred to Britian's Privy Council on final appeal.

The Queen will no longer need to ``approve'' from afar the appointments of governors (a ceremonial position) of Australia's states. Those state governments wishing to, however, will still be able to bestow knighthoods on New Year's and the Queen's birthday.

Australia has been independent since 1901, but only on a visit to Australia last month did Queen Elizabeth give royal assent to the Australia Act, so terminating lingering legal links. The change is viewed here as merely symbolic of Australian independence.

Despite official independence, closeness to Britain was hardly questioned until the 1950s. Now, however, some past events rankle many present-day Australians. For example, more 30 years ago, Australia's government allowed part of its country's vast hinterland to be used for British atomic tests.

In recent years, a stronger nationalism has been apparent. Advertising, for instance, increasingly uses the ``Aussie-ness'' of a product to sell it.

Amid some controversy last year, ``Advance Australia fair'' replaced ``God save the Queen'' as Australia's national anthem. But changing the national flag apparently will be tougher. Polls show Australians deeply divided over whether a new flag should wave in time for the 1988 bicentenary celebrations (of European colonization).

Opinion polls also indicate that, despite significant support for a switch to a republican form of government, that mood doesn't quite yet reflect the views of 50 percent of Australians.

Republicans admit that British royal tours -- and weddings in the royal family -- evoke sufficient sentimentality to set their cause back a few years. They are biding their time, because the republicans, like Prime Minister Robert Hawke, one of their low-key supporters, say that becoming a republic must be a matter of popular choice.

Republicans comfort themselves with the observation that Australia is, less and less, a nation of British heritage. In an increasingly multicultural country, antirepublican sentiments will inevitably be diluted. Almost half of Australia's immigrants, these days, come from Asia. Many others come from countries where Britain's royals are no more than interesting foreign celebrities.

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