Why Australia would be wise to vote for change

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The Independent Online

Aborigine communities in the remote Northern Territory outback cast the first votes of the Australian general election yesterday. Anyone concerned about world peace must hope that when the rest of the Australian electorate goes to the polls on 9 October, it will reject a fourth consecutive term for John Howard's conservative coalition.

The Australian premier is the next to face election of the Allied leaders who invaded Iraq - he ought to be held to account for his part in this débâcle. Even now, like Tony Blair and George Bush, Mr Howard remains immune to demands that he acknowledge the depth of the crisis in Iraq, pretending that the situation is improving. Mr Howard even launched his re-election campaign by claiming to a bitterly divided nation that his decision to back the war had made "the world a better place".

Australians are understandably agonised about national security, and many of them may, as a result, be tempted to turn to Mr Howard rather than his less experienced rivals. But Mr Howard has not made Australia safer. And the recent bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta appears only to have reinforced his dangerous faith in the Bush doctrine of pre-emption. Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines are rightly appalled at his suggestion that anti-terrorist police squads could carry out pre-emptive strikes on terror suspects on their soil.

If Mr Howard's credibility was not shaken by his unquestioning support for George Bush's "war on terror", his government's shameful immigration policy should cause voters to question his fitness for government. He oversaw an official campaign to demonise asylum-seekers and create the impression that Australia was being overrun by illegal immigrants. He stands accused of deliberately misleading voters on the eve of the last election by claiming that a boatload of refugees had thrown their own children into the sea.

Mr Howard is now cynically pledging billions of dollars in new spending to woo voters in marginal seats. Australians would do well to look beyond the gimmicks and consider the wider consequences of returning him to power.