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UK queen on 10-day visit to Australia

By Alexis Lai, CNN
October 19, 2011 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Queen Elizabeth II speaks to members of the armed forces as she arrives in Canberra on October 19.
Queen Elizabeth II speaks to members of the armed forces as she arrives in Canberra on October 19.
  • Possibly last official visit to Australia for Britain's Queen Elizabeth II
  • Reaction in media and among most Australians warm and respectful
  • Recent opinion poll reveals 55% of Australians support monarchy, while 34% support republic
  • Journalist: Republicanism "very much on hold" while Queen Elizabeth on throne

Hong Kong (CNN) -- Britain's Queen Elizabeth II arrived in Canberra Wednesday for her 16th -- and possibly last -- official visit to Australia.

The 85-year-old monarch will open the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth on October 28 as part of a 10-day visit to the country with her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh.

The reaction in the media and among most Australians has been warm and respectful, despite the lingering issue of republicanism in a country where the queen is the official head of state -- though this is largely ceremonial.

"There is an enormous amount of respect and goodwill [towards the queen], regardless of political views," said Phillip Coorey, chief political correspondent at the Sydney Morning Herald.

"Even people who are republicans like the queen. She's a person who's hard to dislike. She's been present throughout their lifetimes and their parents' lifetimes."

Coorey said he expects this visit to be far more emotional, given that this is widely considered to be her last.

There is an enormous amount of respect and goodwill [towards the queen], regardless of political views.
Phillip Coorey, Sydney Morning Herald chief political correspondent

Since a landmark 1999 referendum when more than half of all Australians polled voted against republicanism, the issue has been mostly sidelined on the nation's political agenda.

A recent opinion poll revealed that 55% of Australians support the monarchy, while 34% support a republic-- the lowest percentage in 23 years.

Coorey suggested the issue of republicanism was "very much on hold," with republicans unlikely to press their agenda while Queen Elizabeth is on the throne.

He suggested the "best time for [republicans] to make their move" would be when Prince Charles, who is not as popular among ordinary Australians, inherits the throne, compared with his hugely popular son, Prince William, who is next in line.

William's marriage to long-time girlfriend Catherine Middleton earlier this year revitalized popular interest and affection towards the monarchy around the world. One Australian newspaper -- The Advertiser -- said the live broadcast of the royal wedding "forc[ed] Friday night football to second television status in most households."

"I know Prince William's visit really gave people a shot in the arm after the terrible disasters we had and I'm sure that people will feel the same when they see Queen Elizabeth here...," Queensland Premier Anna Bligh told the Australian Associated Press, referring to the floods that devastated much of the state at the start of the year.

Ultimately, the throne's occupant is but one factor in determining the viability of a republic.

Coorey noted that both Australia's prime minister and opposition leader would need to be republicans in order to carry enough votes for a successful referendum. Tony Abbott, the current opposition leader who is widely expected to become the next prime minister, is a staunch monarchist.

But even if Australia becomes a republic, there is no agreement among republicans about what kind of republic to have. "I think it's going to be a long long time [before Australia becomes a republic]," predicted Coorey. "Australia is a very conservative country; people here don't like change."

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