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Wednesday, 14 November, 2001, 15:14 GMT
Australian election: The BBC's Mike Peschardt
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Australian Prime Minister John Howard has won a third term in office despite wide unpopularity at the start of the year.
Not only that but his conservative coalition has won an increased majority, following his hardline approach to asylum seekers.
Labor's Kim Beazley is quitting after two failed efforts at election victory.
What does a third Howard term mean for Australia? What treatment can asylum seekers now expect?
To discuss this issue we were joined by the BBC's Sydney correspondent, Mike Peschardt.
Politics isn't necessarily a thing people talk about a lot in this country but directly the asylum seekers issue started to hit home, people were actually talking about it - they were actually talking about politics and that's what changed this whole campaign. There were other factors but I don't think you should ignore the importance of the asylum seeker issue.
The point is though that Australians genuinely believe that they are right at the centre of the asylum seeker problem. They believe Australia has a worse problem than anywhere else in the world. Now the reason for that is, as the questioner suggests, because the Australian media don't really give that international background and dimension to the problem. So if you talk to people, they say of course Australia must take a firm hand otherwise everybody in the world would be coming here and it is just Australia with the problem. It is very hard to convince Australians that in fact Australia's problem is really quite small by comparison with the rest of the world.
However, you could argue that she has in fact set the agenda for this election. If you actually look at the result, the government won by really only a very small majority and where it picked up votes was from the One Nation party. People who voted for One Nation last time came back to the Liberal and Conservative coalition. You could argue that one of the reasons they came back was that the Liberal Party was in fact aping Pauline Hanson's policies by being tough on immigrants - that's exactly what Pauline Hanson and One Nation wanted to see. So in some ways they set the agenda but in so doing they actually guaranteed the end of their political hopes as a political force in this country.
If you look at the numbers of people who are coming into the country, the majority of the people are not white Anglo-Saxons anymore - that changed in the late 1970s, early 1980s. So there's certainly not a "White Australia" policy but what there is a very firm holding of the line that if you want to come to this country, you have got to fill out the relevant forms and you have got to go through the relevant processes.
The way that asylum seekers are being increasingly portrayed here is as queue-jumpers - people who are trying to get to the head of the queue unfairly when there are people waiting overseas wanting to get to this country and doing the "right thing" and you have got the queue-jumpers coming. That's one of the very strong arguments against the asylum seekers - it really resonates with Australians because this is a migrant nation - most people who are here have come from somewhere else but they have all gone through a process. There is a feeling, particularly amongst relatively recently arrived migrant communities, that if they've gone through the process why should other people short-circuit the process.
The counter argument to that - and it is a very strong argument - is that there really isn't a queue. It's impossible to apply to migrate to Australia if you are on the Afghan border - there really is no bureaucratic framework for you to make that application. So what can you do if you want to come here - you have to somehow get here and that involves getting on a boat.
As for the ethnic mix and racial harmony in this country, that very much now depends on Mr Howard and the government and the rhetoric and the way in which they frame the argument. There are people in this country who believe that in the rush to get votes, to capitalise on an anti-immigration prejudice in this country, the debate was whipped up and there was a lot of very unfortunate rhetoric used. I suspect, after the election now that things have calmed down we will see a very different approach - a much more inclusive approach - and I actually do believe there will be a softening on the asylum seeker issue because, for very good practical reasons, there is no real alternative.
Equally there is no doubt at all because of the international crisis with which we're all surrounded - and Australia has committed troops to the war against terror - there is no doubt that people preferred the idea of staying with the government that they knew. It was the devil that they knew and somebody who they believed was already in the loop, as it were, with the rest of the international community. People very much felt that it was too much of a gamble to change government now. There was no overwhelming reason to change the government so they struck with the devil they knew.
Plus there were good sound economic reasons for staying with the Howard government because there's no doubt that in terms of economic management, the Howard government has been a success. If you compare the economic performance of this country to the rest of the world over the past five or six years, this is in fact one of the - if not the most strongly performing OECD nations. During all the talk of recession that there is now and actual recession in very many parts of the Western world, Australia is still predicting 3% growth. So if you look at the basic economic fundamentals, there are good reasons to stick with a government that had a sound grasp of the economy. That is not to say that Labour wouldn't have done an equally good job, it's just that the Liberal party has got the runs on the board.
I think there is no doubt at all that if you were to ask Australians the simple question - monarchy or republic - there would be an overwhelming vote in favour of the republic and then from then there would have been the whole debate about exactly what form of republic it would have been. So there would have been very real progress towards a republic if Labour had won. The fact that they haven't means it's off the agenda, for another three years, until there is a change of government or a change of prime minister. It is worth bearing in mind that the person most likely to succeed John Howard as Liberal party leader is a very firm republican. Now he may change and bring it back on the agenda but for the moment it's very much off the agenda.
The reason for that is because the Labour party decided that banging on about Aboriginal issues too hard and too loud was not going to win any votes for them. There were no votes, they decided, in being very, very pro-active on the Aboriginal front. So it just went off the agenda - now it will come back, I have no doubt about that because it has to come back - it must come back. It is a running sore, it is the great blight on this nation, so it will come back. But the Labour party developed a strategy which, at the time, seemed like a good one, which was to try to be as small a target as possible, to have as few policies as possible, to have as few controversial policies as possible and hopefully win government that way. In fact the way international events went, they got overtaken and they became invisible and that's really why they lost.
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