AUSTRALIAN Prime Minister Paul Keating launched straight into a potential break with the Crown at his first public appearance in Britain yesterday, insisting that most Britons would support his country becoming a republic. Mr Keating said relations between the two countries would be strengthened by such a move. ''Most of the people of Great Britain, if they were asked about the issue, would agree with us,'' he said. ''I believe they would find it unexceptional and inoffensive that Australians should consider taking this step at this stage of their history.'' Mr Keating was speaking at Australia House at a ceremony marking its 75th anniversary after arriving in Britain on Thursday night. Today he travels to Balmoral, the Queen's Scottish residence, to stay overnight, when he will get the Queen's reaction to his plans first hand. After a meeting later with Britain's Prime Minister John Major, Mr Keating said he and the premier had agreed that the issue was one for the Queen and the Australian people to settle. ''The policy is between the Australian people and the Queen of Australia,'' he said with Mr Major at his side after a working lunch at 10 Downing Street. Asked what sort of reception he expected from the monarch he said: ''I think as warm and friendly as the one she gave me when I saw her last.'' Mr Keating insisted at Australia House that it was not because of any breakdown in the machinery of any relationship with Britain that his country now wanted to become a republic. ''It is because a great many Australians - in all likelihood a great majority of Australians - believe the machinery is no longer the most appropriate,'' he said. ''I am quite convinced that were Australians to choose the republican option, this expression of their identity which has inevitably changed so much in the past century, our friendship with Great Britain would be stronger, as any friendship is stronger for being more mature,'' he said. But he insisted: ''The decision on this can only be made by the Australian people.'' If Australians decided that their country should be a federal republic, he would find it hard to believe that anyone of good faith in Britain would not consider it a wise judgment as well as a democratic one. A poll last month appeared to support Mr Keating's contention, showing 62 per cent of Australians in favour of a republic compared with 34 per cent against. Mr Keating praised the way Mr Major had handled the issue using quotes from him extensively to indicate the way the British Government viewed the development. ''The Prime Minister echoed my own comments when he said earlier this year that each of our two countries had been 'driven by the imperatives of geography, economic interest, social change and political vocation to give a new priority to its region', that this is 'perfectly natural' and constitutes no threat to the strength of our friendship, the memory of shared experience or the future of our exceedingly healthy and flourishing trade and diplomatic links,'' Mr Keating said. ''What we are talking about is a new relationship - as I said, a mature relationship.'' Meanwhile, the British press, particularly the tabloids who have dubbed him the ''Lizard of Oz'', are watching Mr Keating's every move. He was accompanied by his wife Annita, who caused a stir in the tabloids last year by refusing to curtsy to the Queen on three occasions during a royal visit to Australia. During that visit, Mr Keating was also criticised in Britain for not showing enough respect for the Queen when he touched her back in a familiar fashion. Also yesterday, he met opposition leader John Smith. He flies to Dublin from Scotland tomorrow, where the media will again be on the lookout in case he comments on the Northern Ireland troubles.