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Saturday, June 13, 1998 Published at 08:21 GMT 09:21 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Race dominates Australian elections

Pauline Hanson: labelled racist and anit-aborignal

People in the Australian state of Queensland have been voting in an election which will test support for a new political party opposed to immigration.

Its leader, Pauline Hanson, has described Asian immigrants as an alien presence bringing crime and disease to Australia.

BBC Correspondent Michael Peschardt reports from Queensland
Mrs Hanson is promising an end to all immigration into Australia, an end to special funding for aborigines and an increase in tariffs to protect Australian jobs.

Opponents accuse Mrs Hanson of preaching the sinister politics of race hatred. The Australian Prime Minister John Howard has described her as bordering on the deranged; yet day by day in the last week of the campaign her popularity has increased.

Once voted the most despised politician in Australia, opinion polls over the past week have suggested that Mrs Hanson's One Nation party now has the support of 18.5% of the electorate in Queensland, and more than 20% in disaffected rural areas.

Balance of power

Correspondents say that such support could give One Nation candidates the balance of power in the next Queensland state government.

A Queensland victory might allow Pauline Hanson to win a seat or two in the Senate, the upper house of the Australian parliament, in elections later this year and possibly then to hold the balance of power over the Australian national government.

Commentators are afraid this could also damage Australia's relations with its neighbours in south-east Asia, where Pauline Hanson's views on Asian immigrants have been reported extensively.

Queensland's current Conservative coalition government, led by Rob Borbidge, admits that support for Mrs Hanson could split the conservative vote, and make a Labour victory more likely.

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