Howard courts Hanson voters

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A NEW state government of Queensland formed by the Labor Party was sworn in yesterday, almost a fortnight after an election which rocked Australia over the strong vote for One Nation, a party built on racially divisive policies.

The Labor Party will be able to govern Queensland for the next three years with support from an independent MP, and Pauline Hanson's party will play no part in the government, despite winning 11 of the state parliament's 89 seats and capturing 23 per cent of the vote.

The Prime Minister, John Howard, yesterday went on a speaking tour of rural Queensland to try to win back support from Mrs Hanson's converts. But in doing so, he appeared to sympathise with some of her more controversial policies, opposing Asian immigration and welfare spending on Aborigines.

In a crowded hall in Maryborough, north of Brisbane, Mr Howard said he did not want an Australia where "people of Asian background" felt unwelcome. But, he added: "I resent, along with a lot of other people in this room, the fact that you haven't been able to talk about immigration in this country for years without being called a racist. I've suffered that criticism myself. I suffered that criticism when I attacked the Aboriginal affairs policies of the former government ..."

The Prime Minister's remarks drew applause from his conservative audience who, by and large, supported Mrs Hanson's call for abolition of the federal laws that give Aborigines native title rights to traditional lands. Mr Howard's government is trying to amend the law in a way that restricts Aborigines' rights to native title over outback pastoral leases.

The bill is blocked in the Senate, the upper federal house, and Mr Howard has threatened to call a "double dissolution" election of both houses to resolve the issue.