Australia goes right Howard coalition: The queen gets a reprieve, may keep her Aussie throne.

March 09, 1996

JUST WHEN the Labor Party in Britain expects to win the next election, the Labor Party of Australia was turfed out. Its sin was being in power 13 years, getting stale and tolerating unemployment. Prime Minister Paul Keating's sin, after four years in the top job, was aloofness and rigidity.

John Howard, the new prime minister, is a staunch proponent of deregulation, smaller government, competitive free enterprise and open markets. He cannot impose a revolution along these lines, however, because Labor's Mr. Keating already did to a large degree. This was not an ideological election.

But the implication of the new coalition of the Liberal (which is conservative) and National (which is rural) parties is ideological in the extreme. God may not save the queen, but the Australian electorate just has -- for a while.

Mr. Keating tried to distract Australians from a the stagnant economy with a crusade to head of state. His goal was to replace the governor-general as the queen's representative with president of Australia to open the summer Olympics in Sydney in 2000.

The motive of republicanism is dual: Australians consider themselves classless and many resent England's class system as personified by the royal family. Many Australians want to break the ancestral link with Britain either to have closer ties to the U.S. (which has a stronger navy for protection) or to fit more comfortably into Asian and Oceanic geopolitics.

Mr. Howard is a monarchist, but also a politician. Rather than vowing to stop the republican tide, he means to delay it with a constitutional convention next year to be followed by a referendum. It's a good bet that the monarch of England will be monarch of Australia through the Sydney Olympics, even though a republic may eventually prove inevitable.

Mr. Howard is relatively pro-American, especially in the security sphere. The U.S. can expect strong military contacts and constructive consultations about Asian policy.

Pub Date: 3/09/96

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