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Monarchy becomes issue in Australia’s cliffhanger poll

The British monarchy's ties with Australia could be at stake as the country goes to the polls this weekend.

Both leadership frontrunners are UK-born but the pair are at odds over republicanism.

Voting begins Down Under just days after the nation's current prime minister, Julia Gillard, called for the country to cut royal links after the Queen's reign ends.

With Ms Gillard's election rival Tony Abbott saying he sees no need to change the status quo, the issue has emerged as a possible key factor with neck-and-neck ratings in the polls.

Julia Gillard's centre-left Labour Party has long argued that the country should be a republic.

And the 48-year-old, who emigrated to Australia from south Wales with her parents John and Moira when she was five, said the Queen's death would be a fitting point to do so.

She told reporters: “What I would like to see as prime minister is that we work our way through to an agreement on a model for the republic.

“I think the appropriate time for this nation to move to be a republic is when we see the monarch change. Obviously I'm hoping for Queen Elizabeth that she lives a long and happy life, and having watched her mother I think there's every chance that she will.”

Meanwhile London-born Liberal leader Mr Abbott said: “I think that our existing constitutional arrangements have worked well in the past and I see no reason whatsoever why they can't continue to work well in the future.

“So while there may very well be future episodes of republicanism in this country, I am far from certain at least in our lifetimes that there is likely to be any significant change.”

Despite a two-decade growth streak the envy of the recession-hit Western world, Ms Gillard has struggled to gain a clear lead ahead of Saturday's vote.

A 1999 referendum saw Australians vote against replacing the monarchy with a president elected by parliament.

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