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Monday, August 9, 1999 Published at 16:05 GMT 17:05 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Australia alters republic question

Australians could be given a chance to directly reject the Queen

The Australian Government has agreed to change the wording of the referendum question that will be used to decide if the country should become a republic.

After pressure from republicans, Australians will now be asked specifically whether they want to reject Queen Elizabeth II as head of state in favour of a president.

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Before the alteration, the question avoided any mention of the British monarchy and referred only to the establishment of a republic headed by a president.

But Republicans have been pressing the government to support a compromise which would include a mention of the Queen.

Australians are now be asked if they want a republic "with the Queen and Governor-General being replaced by a president".

Prime Minister John Howard, a staunch monarchist, agreed to back the move because he said he did not want the wording of the question to be blamed if the republic proposal was rejected.

"If the referendum is defeated - which I hope it will be - I don't want anybody to say it was defeated because of some trickery with the question," said Mr Howard.

Poll support

A poll commissioned by the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper found only 31% support for the original question.

But 57% said they would vote yes if asked whether Queen Elizabeth II should be replaced by an Australian president.

The proposed change to the wording of the question, must now go before the Senate.

If the vote is to take place as scheduled, the parliament has to pass legislation before the end of the week.

The referendum, itself, has to be supported by a majority of Australians across the country and in at least four of six states.

Currently, the Queen appoints a Governor-General, on the advice of the Australian government.

Australia became an independent nation in 1901 but has, until now, been happy to retain the Queen as its figurehead.

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