Australia votes for Howard and tax

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The Independent Online
PROVING THAT a tax raising platform is not always fatal, Australians have given the ruling conservative coalition government, led by John Howard, a second term in a general election. The result is also likely to see the end of the racially divisive One Nation party led by Pauline Hanson.

Mrs Hanson, the independent MP renowned for her attacks on Asian immigration and Aborigines, faced defeat yesterday in her Queensland constituency of Blair by the Liberal Party after a pact with Labor.

With about 80 per cent of the national vote counted by last night, One Nation had won about 8 per cent - mostly, as forecast, in dissatisfied rural areas. But it has won no seats in the lower, House of Representatives. In the Senate, the upper house, it may win just one seat, for Heather Hill in Queensland, while David Oldfield, Mrs Hanson's adviser, is likely to be defeated by an Aborigine standing for the small, moderate Democrat party. Mrs Hanson had boasted that One Nation would win 15 lower house and six Senate seats, and hold the balance of power.

The Hanson party took votes away mainly from the conservative coalition parties - the Liberals, led by Mr Howard, and their junior partner, the Nationals, led by Tim Fischer. It failed to wipe out the Nationals in their traditional rural base, as many had feared, but its old lower house majority of 42 seems likely to be slashed to between eight and ten: counting postal and absentee votes could delay the result for a week.

The Labor Party, led by Kim Beazley, achieved an extraordinary result, given that it needed to win 27 seats to form a government. The overall swing to Labor was more than 5 per cent. It suffered little or no damage from One Nation, and took 18 seats from the government parties. Last night, 12 more seats were still in doubt.

Mr Howard and Mr Beazley both claimed victory for their campaigns, but Mr Howard told cheering supporters the coalition would now push ahead with its main policy - sweeping tax reforms, including a new VAT-type consumption tax.

The unpopularity of this tax cost the coalition some votes, and in the Senate the Democrats, led by Meg Lees and likely to hold the balance of power, will oppose the tax unless he drops it from food and books.

Mr Beazley scored a personal triumph at the polls, when migrant "Brits of Brand" south of Perth failed to support One Nation.

With Australia facing uncertainty from economic turmoil in Asia, the election result is likely to give the country renewed political stability. Australian business supports Mr How-ard's economic reforms.

nAustralians now face a referendum next year on whether to replace the Queen as head of state. Mr Howard sees no reason to do so, though opinion polls put him increasingly at odds with the voters, particularly young ones. The Labor Party supports a republic.

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