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Queen Elizabeth must die or abdicate for Australian republic

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, Australia’s head-of-state, must die or abdicate before Australia can become a republic, said one of the country’s leading politicians and former head of the republican movement.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth attends the annual Christmas service at Sandringham Church in Norfolk, eastern England, December 25, 2007. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Malcolm Turnbull, now opposition treasury spokesman, said Australians would not vote for a republic while the country’s monarch reigned.

The majority of Australians support their country becoming a republic, but a 1999 vote on a republic failed because Australians could not agree on the type of republic.

Turnbull said Queen Elizabeth’s departure from the throne would be a “watershed event that would galvanize the population” into debating what type of head-of-state they wanted.

“I said at the time of the 1999 referendum that if we voted ‘no’ it would mean ‘no’ for a very long time,” Turnbull told local media on Monday.

“My own judgment is that the next time when you would have your best prospects (of a republic) is at the end of the Queen’s reign -- when she dies or when she abdicates,” said Turnbull, former head of the Australian Republican Movement.

Former conservative prime minister, John Howard, who lost office last November, was a staunch monarchist.

But new Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and many in his government, are avowed republicans, but Rudd has dismissed another vote on the issue anytime soon.

Australia was once a British colony where convicts and political exiles were deposited. Now an independent federation of states, Australia’s titular head is still the British monarch.

Opinion polls since 1993 have found the majority favors the country becoming a republic, with a president elected by popular vote. The 1999 vote for a republic was defeated because the model offered would have seen a president elected by parliament.

Australia today is one of the world’s most multicultural societies, with people from more than 150 countries, and many have little personal connection with Britain.

But Turnbull said many Australians still had a great affection for Queen Elizabeth as she was the only monarch many had known.

Editing by Bill Tarrant