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Prince Harry's hefty security bill raises eyebrows in Australia
( 2003-09-23 16:04) (Agencies)

Prince Harry's hefty security bill to the Australian taxpayer brought howls of protest from the national opposition, as he headed down under for his gap year.

It will be Prince Harry's first solo overseas trip, but he will be accompanied by a large security contingent at the insistence of his father Prince Charles, amid fears he could be a terrorist target.

A team of 12 royal security officers will shadow the 19-year-old prince from a distance of a few steps away, at a cost of 25,000 pounds (40,000 US dollars) a week, also keeping him away from the drinking and marijuana use that led to him being nicknamed "Harry Pothead" by the British tabloids.

But the Labor opposition said Australia's agreement to spend more than 600,000 Australian dollars (400,000 US dollars) on local police back-up, including a crack special forces unit, looked rather large for a private trip. Foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd said Labor would not object if it was an official visit involving charity work.

"But if it is just a bit of a jaunt, I think maybe we should look carefully at the cost-sharing arrangements with the British government on this, because it's a lot of money," Rudd told commercial television.

"At the end of the day it's the British Royal family, the Queen is the head of Australia, the princes are not, and I think therefore we should be a bit more cautious about this."

Many Labor politicians would prefer a republic anyway, although in 1999 voters in a referendum opted to retain the Queen as head of state.

Organizers have been reluctant to provide details of the young royal's movements, although he was slated to attend a media event at Sydney harbor on Tuesday morning.

Tourism Minister Joe Hockey said 600,000 dollars was good value, as the publicity would likely make Australia more attractive as a tourist destination.

"We would have to spend five times that amount of money to get the same positive publicity for Australia in the United Kingdom," Hockey said.

Prince Harry is expected to spend at least four months in Australia, reportedly leading a Young England team in a polo tournament hosted by Australia's richest man Kerry Packer, working at a sheep station and supporting favorites England in the Rugby World Cup.

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