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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Right-Wing Romp Roils Australia

SYDNEY -- Australia has ushered in a new era of conservative government, leaving the republican movement badly shaken and setting up a subtle realignment of foreign policy as storm clouds gathered on the domestic front.


As prime minister-elect John Howard savored his crushing defeat of outgoing Prime Minister Paul Keating in Saturday's general election, Australia began to get a taste of its first conservative government in 13 years.


The republican movement put a brave face on the result, but commentators and monarchists loyal to the nation's current head of state, Britain's Queen Elizabeth, said Keating's aim to replace her with an elected president was now in serious doubt.


Up to one-third of the cabinet ministers in Keating's Labor government lost their seats in the ballot, which ranks as the worst election defeat for Labor in a century and has delivered Howard with a majority of more than 40 seats, the biggest majority in 21 years. Counting has yet to be completed.


The scale of the victory by Howard's Liberal-National coalition was reflected in breathless newspaper headlines. "Howard's Massacre," screamed The Sun-Herald newspaper in Sydney. "Labor Swept Away," said The Sunday Age in Melbourne.


Financial markets greeted Howard's win Monday by surging on the first day of trading after the election, as investors wagered on tighter fiscal policy and an aggressive market reforms.


Howard, a bespectacled, balding, conservative veteran and self-styled "honest John" and family man of Australian politics, went to church on his first day as prime minister elect, then relaxed with his wife and young children in their Sydney home.


Foreign minister apparent Alexander Downer, in an interview with Reuters, immediately jettisoned the nation's claim under Keating to be a part of Asia but said stronger ties with Malaysia was a high priority.


But on Monday, Howard pledged a continued push into Asia, telling his first news conference since Saturday's victory that the Asian region was central to Australia's future.


"I intend to maintain the momentum begun long ago by prime ministers on both sides of the political fence," Howard said.


On the home front, Howard has already tried to put to rest fears that he will shed his new, caring image, committing himself Saturday night to governing for all Australians, including Labor's dwindling band of "true believers."


But the trade union movement, which has threatened to wage an industrial "war" if Howard pursues his proposed labor-market reforms, stands as a major hurdle to his plan to free up coastal shipping to foreigners and weaken the influence of trade unions.


Howard's failure to win control of the upper house, the Senate, has put other reforms in doubt, including his pledge to sell a third of state-owned telecommunications carrier Telstra.


The left-leaning Australian Democrats, again likely to hold the balance of power in the Senate, have pledged to block the sale.


?Aborigines fear racism is on the rise after a candidate who made comments against aboriginal social welfare won big support from voters at Saturday's general election, The Associated Press reported.


"Aboriginal people now are feeling very insecure throughout the nation," Sam Watson, of the Australian Indigenous People's Party, said Monday. "This is absolute red-necked racism."


Candidate Pauline Hanson from Queensland won her electoral district with a big majority after she complained that aborigines received too much government welfare at the expense of white taxpayers.


Aborigines, who number about 300,000 in a population of 18 million, are regarded as the nation's most deprived social group.


Hanson was dumped by the Liberal-National Party coalition after her remarks were publicized nationally.


Despite this she won her parliamentary seat easily as an independent. She maintains her views are shared by many Australians.