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Australian leaders unite for split with Britain's Queen Elizabeth

As Australia prepares to commemorate Australia Day, seven of its eight state and territory leaders have called for the country to become a republic. Britain's Queen Elizabeth is currently head of state.

Seven of Australia's eight state and territory leaders signed a declaration published on Monday for an Australian head of state to replace Britain's queen.

Australia is currently a constitutional monarchy with Britain's Queen Elizabeth as its head of state. On January 26 each year, Australia marks Australia Day, which commemorates the start of British settlement in 1788. The anniversary often brings up the debate surrounding Australia's sovereignty.

"It's well past time for Australia to become a sovereign nation," said South Australia Premier Jay Weatherill in a statement. "Any self-respecting, independent country would aspire to select one of its own citizens as its head of state."

Weatherill said it would be "the ultimate act of respect" if Queen Elizabeth presided over the transfer of Australia from a monarchy to a republic. "I mean if you think about it, what are we waiting for? Are we waiting for her to die? I would have thought that it's much more respectful to have her supervise this transition," he said on television on Monday.

The only dissenting voice, Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett, said he also supported a republic but did not think "the time is right."

Republican PM Turnbull

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (photo), a staunch republican, became a leader last year in place of monarchist Tony Abbott. This gave rise to suggestions the change to a republic might become a live issue. But Turnbull, who led the Australian Republican Movement in the 1990s, said "My commitment to Australia having an Australian head of state is undiminished," but that it was not a priority on his political agenda.

In response to Monday's declaration by the state leaders, Turnbull said he believed a national vote would be unlikely during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, Britain's 89-year-old monarch.

In 1999, a referendum proposing a republic was defeated, with 55 percent of people voting against.

'Knightmare'

Last year, then prime minister Tony Abbot knighted the husband of Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, a move which led to wide-ranging criticism from politicians, public and the media who dubbed it a "knightmare." Abbot's party replaced him with Turnbull shortly afterwards.

Current Australia Day celebrations focus on diversity in Australian society with a range of community events and awards. Citizenship ceremonies for new immigrants are also held.

jm/jil (AP, Reuters)

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