Australian PM Julia Gillard sparks royal row by failing to curtsy to the Queen
JULIA Gillard, the Australian prime minister, has been accused of showing disrespect to the Queen and embarrassing the nation after she failed to curtsy when welcoming the monarch to the capital.
While Quentin Bryce, the Australian Governor-General, executed a neat curtsy as she greeted the Queen at a military air field in Canberra on Wednesday evening, the Welsh-born prime minister, a self-avowed republican, chose instead to shake the Queen's hand and bow.
Her decision has incensed some quarters of the Australian media and many ardent monarchists.
June Dally-Watkins, an Australian etiquette expert, said Ms Gillard's "wobble" was shameful.
"I thought it was really hilarious and of course very rude," Mrs Dally-Watkins told the ABC.
"If she isn't a royalist, it's not a matter of that; it's a matter of paying courtesy to a queen, to the Queen."
Her sentiments were echoed by Matthew Archer, deputy chair of the Victorian branch of the Australian Monarchists League, who accused Ms Gillard of being staggeringly impolite.
"I understand she thinks we should ditch the monarchy but it's just a sign of courtesy, it actually would be a sign of respect," he said.
Other commentators branded the move "churlish" and a "Mr Bean-style moment", while Melbourne's Herald Sun news website ran a photograph of a young girl curtsying as she met the Queen at a Canberra flower show on Thursday next to the headline "See Julia, it isn't that hard".
To top off the curtsying controversy, the prime minister was also criticised for her decision not to wear a hat to the Queen's official welcome.
In response to the growing furore, Ms Gillard, whose father worked as a coal inspector in the South Wales mines before the family emigrated to Adelaide when she was aged four, was forced to defend her choice of royal greeting.
"The advice that was given to me was very clear – that you can make a choice with what you are most comfortable with," she said.
"That's what I felt most comfortable with. The Queen extended her hand and I shook her hand and bowed my head."
The prime minister insisted she was an admirer of the Queen and believed many Australians held her with a great deal of affection and respect "and so do I".
"I mean, what a life, what an incredible life she's lived over so many generations of change and to see someone play such a steadfast role over so much change, I think, is remarkable."
Despite her protestations, the issue is unlikely to go away in a hurry. Ms Gillard will attend an audience with the Queen on Friday and later host a reception for the royal couple at Parliament House. All eyes will be on whether she decides, after all, that a curtsy is probably the wiser choice.
According to the royal website, the official advice on meeting with the Queen is that there are "no obligatory codes of behaviour – just courtesy".
"However, many people wish to observe the traditional forms of greeting," the site says, going on to list curtsying for women and bowing for men as appropriate.
Ms Gillard leads a Labor government which supports holding a referendum on severing ties to the British crown. However, the prime minister has said in the past that a vote is unlikely to be held until the Queen's reign ends.
The Queen's 16th, and possibly her last, visit to Australia comes at a time when the tide of republicanism is at its lowest ebb in more than two decades.
Australian affection for the royal couple was on full display on their first full day of engagements on Thursday, when thousands of people turned out to wave and cheer the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh as they arrived by boat at the Floriade flower show on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin.
Later, the royal couple climbed on-board a solar-powered golf cart attempting to photograph a mob of 46 kangaroos living in the grounds of Government House. But the trip was unsuccessful, as each time the buggy approached the animals, they reared up onto their hind legs, took one look at the approaching vehicle and bounded off into the sunset.