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Australia gets first female governor-general

world Updated: Apr 13, 2008 13:14 IST

Australia is to have its first female governor-general, who is the representative of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, the country's head of state.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced on Sunday that Quentin Bryce, the governor of northern Queensland state and a former head of the federal sex discrimination commission, has been appointed to a five-year term.

Bryce, a 65-year-old former lawyer and academic, will replace Major General Michael Jeffery, a Vietnam war veteran whose term expires next month.

"Ms Bryce has an outstanding record of service to the entire Australian community," Rudd said in a statement. "She is highly qualified for the role of governor-general."

The prime minister is Australia's head of government, but formally reports on many matters to the Queen's representative.

The governor-general's role is largely symbolic, but does have little-used powers.

The then governor-general John Kerr sacked Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam during a constitutional crisis in 1975 and replace him with his conservative opponent, Malcolm Fraser.

The governor-general appoints ambassadors, ministers and judges and is commander-in-chief of the Australian Defence Forces.

Australia gained independence from Britain in 1901, but retained Britain's Westminster parliamentary traditions dating back hundreds of years.

The majority of Australians support their country becoming a republic, but a referendum in 1999 on a republic failed because the public was divided over what model of republic to adopt.

Most Australians want a directly elected president, but the vote was on a president to be appointed by parliament.

The former conservative prime minister, John Howard, who lost power last November in a landslide vote for Labor, was a staunch monarchist.

Rudd is an avowed republican, and said he expected a renewed push for a republic in the next year although it was not a top priority for his government.

He met with Queen Elizabeth II last week during a 17-day world tour visiting heads of state.