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Australia's governor general strays into republic debate

Nov. 25, 2013 at 12:10 AM   |   Comments

CANBERRA, Australia, Nov. 25 (UPI) -- Australia's prime minister has defended the right of the governor general -- representative of the British monarchy as Australia's head of state -- to declare her support for Australia becoming a republic.

Avowed monarchist Prime Minister Tony Abbott leaped to the defense of Governor General Quentin Bryce, whose brief comment has ignited the debate over who should be the country's head of state, The Australian newspaper reported.

Bryce, who represents Queen Elizabeth II at public and state functions, said in a public speech that "one day, one young girl or boy may even grow up to be our nation's first head of state."

Bryce also reportedly voiced her support for gay marriage, saying she hoped Australia would be a country where "people are free to love and marry whom they choose."

The queen as head of state is largely symbolic, although the subject of becoming a republic is highly emotive.

Australia, similar to 16 other former British colonies and territories, including New Zealand and Canada, that are now members of the Commonwealth of Nations, has Queen Elizabeth II as head of state and not it own elected prime minister. Australia has no president.

Of the other 53 Commonwealth nations, 33 are republics, including India, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Nigeria and Bangladesh whose presidents are the head of state. The remaining 5 Commonwealth countries have their own monarchs as head of state.

Half of Commonwealth countries have the British Westminster system of parliamentary democracy and 14 members have United Kingdom's Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as their supreme court.

Abbott said it was "more than appropriate" for Bryce to share her personal views, The Australian reported.

"She did it with grace and style," said Abbott, who is a past director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy.

"Obviously different people have different views on these subjects."

Supporters of Australia becoming a republic welcomed her statement that was condemned by monarchists who called for Bryce, 70, to step down before her term expires in March.

Bryce made her comments while delivering the final Australian Broadcasting Corp. Boyer Lecture in Sydney on Friday.

Australians for Constitutional Monarchy immediately posted a notice on its official website condemning Bryce's comments, saying she has "blotted her copybook" so close to the end of her term in office.

"It will be said she has damaged the institution," the notice reads.

"It is too robust for any long-term damage. Her excellency has damaged herself. She is now a divisive figure. By convention, and one would have thought commonsense, viceroys must be -- and must appear to be -- above politics."

ABC called her speech was a "landmark" presentation from Australia's first female governor general, appointed put forward for appointment by Abbott's predecessor Kevin Rudd in 2008.

There is no set length for the appointment, but most last about 5 years.

An ABC poll of 1.4 million responses, conducted just before this year's national election, showed 38 percent in favor of cutting ties to the monarchy.

Liberal party Senator Dean Smith of Western Australia told ABC that Bryce has "stepped across the line" with her comments.

Her statements were a "breach of trust because she would know better than most that that central office is so integral to stay above the day to day political fray."

ACM national convener David Flint told ABC that have involved the Crown, saying "it goes against the position."

But opposition Labor party leader Bill Shorten -- who is married to Bryce's daughter Chloe -- defended his mother-in-law's comments, saying he supports gay marriage and Australia becoming a republic.

"The governor general has made a remarkable contribution to our country and she is entitled to express her views," a spokesman for Shorten said.

Both Chloe Bryce and Shorten -- a former union leader and head of the Labor Party since October -- were previously married and have one child together and two from Bryce's first marriage.

Governor general Bryce reportedly offered to resign from her post just before Shorten was chosen as Labor leader, news.com.au reported last month.

Abbott said Bryce had offered to leave office early to avoid any perception of bias, but he refused her offer because she was due to retire in March.

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