Right royal welcome awaits Kate, Will and George in Australia

Right royal welcome awaits Kate, Will and George in Australia
Britain's Prince William (right) and his wife Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge (centre), attend an art unveiling ceremony at Government House in Wellington on April 10, 2014.

SYDNEY - The welcome awaiting the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their bonny Prince George when they arrive in Australia next week may well be warmer than ever before, or ever again.

That is certainly how Republicans see it, under a Prime Minister who wears his love of the British monarchy on his sleeve and has turned constitutional debate topsy-turvy Down Under.

The Australia that will greet the royals has just taken a surprise step back into its colonial past with Prime Minister Tony Abbott restoring knighthoods.

Renowned as an arch monarchist, he nonetheless shocked the nation when he announced on March 25 the restoration of titles which were scrapped in the former convict colony in 1986.

Without consulting his cabinet, Abbott declared his first new dame and sir had already been appointed by Her Majesty and added "a note of grace" to the civic landscape.

Quentin Bryce, the outgoing governor-general, was made a Dame, despite recently admitting she would like to see an Australian head of state, while Peter Cosgrove, who succeeded her, kept his counsel on becoming a knight.

Prince William and Kate might feel more at home among sirs and dames, but the move sparked a huge backlash which still rumbles on through social media with some arguing the highest Australian achievement is once again on British terms.

Sydney University historian James Current declared in The Age newspaper it was "one of the most pompous, pretentious, nostalgic and self-indulgent prime ministerial decisions in a generation".

Even Abbott's conservative mentor, ex-premier John Howard, who ruled out a return to the British honours system when he was in office, stood by his view of such a move as "somewhat anachronistic".

It was Howard who saw off the 1999 referendum when Australians voted 55 per cent to 45 per cent against a proposal for a republic. The issue has since remained largely dormant.

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