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Sunday, November 7, 1999 Published at 17:33 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Australian PM snubs his critics

Prime Minister John Howard was blamed for the defeat

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has refused to answer the republican campaigners who say he sabotaged Saturday's referendum which voted against a republic.

Australian referendum
With 80% of the votes counted, 54.22% of the electorate have opted against breaking ties with the British monarchy, despite polls suggesting most Australians would prefer a republic.

Voting was compulsory and many supporters of the republic chose to retain the monarchy because they did not like the alternative on offer - a president elected by parliament, not the people.

[ image: Malcolm Turnbull has vowed to continue the nine-year republic campaign]
Malcolm Turnbull has vowed to continue the nine-year republic campaign
Mr Howard, a staunch monarchist, bore the brunt of the frustration at the result.

But he said there had been a clear verdict in favour of retaining the queen as head of state and it was now time to move forward.

He refused to be drawn on the criticism.

Prominent republicans had accused him of sabotaging their campaign by offering the unpopular option of a president chosen by politicians, which exploited the differences of opinion in the republican camp.

Australian Republican Movement chairman Malcolm Turnbull said: "Whatever John Howard achieves, history will remember him for only one thing: he was the prime minister who broke this nation's heart."


The result also increased pressure on Mr Howard to reverse his decision to officially open the Sydney Olympic Games next year, rather than invite the head of state to do so, in line with tradition.

[ image: John Howard wants to open the 2000 Olympic Games]
John Howard wants to open the 2000 Olympic Games
Mr Howard said it was more appropriate for the head of government to open the games, rather than Queen Elizabeth II or her Australian representative, the governor-general.

But both monarchists and republicans said on Sunday he should reconsider the decision.

Labor opposition leader Kim Beazley said: "Now that we've had this vote, the sensible thing to do would be for the Queen's representative to do the job if she didn't want to do it herself."

Relations with Asia

Mr Howard doubted the vote could be perceived as Australia reaffirming its ties with the West at the expense of its relationships with Asia.

"Asian countries don't really give a damn about our constitutional arrangements," he said.

The BBC's Michael Peschardt reports: "Millions had stayed up all night to watch the results"
"Australia was always going to have ties with the West, with America, irrespective of its constitutional arrangements."

Mr Howard's government has broken a long Australian tradition of nurturing closer ties with Asian countries and muting public criticism, especially of the country's northern neighbour Indonesia.

Australian troops headed the multinational force that went to East to restore peace after pro-Jakarta militias took revenge for the territory's overwhelming vote for independence from Indonesia.

How Australia voted

Vote-counting will resume on Monday.

The BBC's Red Harrison: "The morning after this historic vote reveals more despondency than euphoria"
So far, of Australia's six states, only Victoria voted for the proposal, and that by the narrowest of margins - with 49.6% for and 49.4% against.

In the territories, 63.2% of voters in Australian Capital Territory were in favour of breaking ties with the monarchy, while those in Northern Territory narrowly rejected the proposal.

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