Sydney, Sept. 22 (Reuters): Australian republicans prepared a lukewarm welcome for Britain’s Prince Harry today, happy for him to enjoy four months of rugby, polo and art, but unimpressed Australia will foot part of the security bill for his private visit.
The second son of heir to the throne Prince Charles, Harry is taking a year off between school and an army career. He was due to arrive in Australia either late on Monday or early on Tuesday.
Clarence House, the new London headquarters of Charles, has stressed the visit is a private one and no details have been released ahead of a photo opportunity with 18-year-old Harry at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo tomorrow.
The visit has reignited a long-simmering republican debate in the former British colony, with republicans unhappy it would cost Australians A$600,000 (US $408,000) to provide back-up security for the prince’s own security team. “We welcome visitors to Australia and are quite happy for him to spend what seems to be a terrific planned end-of-school excursion but I don’t think we should be paying for what seems to me to be over-the-top security arrangements,” Australian Republican Movement chairman John Warhurst said.
Australians voted to retain Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, Harry’s grandmother, as head of state in a 1999 referendum but a strong republican movement remains. Conservative government ministers saw the trip as a good opportunity to promote Australia. “We would have to spend five times that amount of money to get the same positive publicity for Australia in the United Kingdom,” tourism minister Joe Hockey told local television.
But Opposition Labor MPs said Australian taxpayers should not be asked to pay for what they described as a “jaunt”.
“But if it is just a bit of a jaunt, I think maybe we should look carefully at the cost-sharing arrangements with the British government on this, because it’s a lot of money,” Labor’s foreign spokesman Kevin Rudd said.
Harry’s visit coincides with the start next month of the Rugby World Cup, where he is expected to cheer England. Authorities are planning Australia’s biggest security operation since the Sydney 2000 Olympics for that event. Adding to the security burden at the same time will be trips by US President George W. Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao.
While no details of the trip were announced before Harry’s arrival, local media speculated that the sports-loving prince would play polo and even work in the polo stables of media magnate Kerry Packer, Australia’s richest man.