Prince Charles declines Australian speech invitation

CANBERRA, Australia — Prince Charles has declined a cheeky invitation to explain why he, and not an Australian, should become the nation's next head of state, an advocate for constitutional change said on Wednesday.

"It appears the prince is unable to answer this question," the Australian Republic Movement said in a statement.

Australians have long been divided on whether the British monarch should continue to also be Australia's head of state.

Australians had a chance to replace the British monarch with an Australian president as their head of state in a referendum in 1999. But the referendum rejected change. While opinion polls suggested most Australians wanted reform, they were split over whether a president should be appointed by Parliament or directly elected by the people.

The Australian Republic Movement said it wrote to Queen Elizabeth II's eldest son in December inviting him to give a speech during his five-day Australian visit next month. He and his wife Camilla will visit Australia to open the Commonwealth Games at Gold Coast city.

The movement's national director Michael Cooney said the Prince of Wales' Assistant Private Secretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Bernadette Smith recently wrote to decline their invitation.

"They apologize for the slow reply and they say the queen and the Prince of Wales have always made it clear that they believe that the future of the monarchy in Australia is for the Australian people to decide," Cooney said.

Cooney declined to share the letter with The Associated Press because it was marked "private and confidential."

Australia has for the first time in its history a prime minister and opposition leader who both agree that Australia should become a republic. But there are no plans for a second referendum to make the constitutional change during the widely-respected queen's reign.

The prince's official residence, Clarence House, declined to comment on Wednesday.

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