Australia's conservative Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and his Liberal Party retained power in yesterday's national election despite a strong swing to the left for the opposition Labor Party.
It was Fraser's third successive win and guarantees that the Australian economy will be dosed with the same tight fiscal policies that Fraser has imposed since he came to power in 1975.
The outcome of the elections guarantees Fraser a margin of at least nine seats in the 125-member House of Representatives. It is a big drop from the 48-seat majority he had in the previous Parliament, but is more than enough for him to retain power and pursue his policies for the next three years.
The victory was more impressive because of the nature of the campaign against him by the Labor Party and its leader Bill Hayden.
Hayden promised across-the-board tax cuts for every taxpayer, a return to a free national health scheme, more money for education and new government handouts to families. He also promised a New Deal-style scheme to put a quarter of Australia's 400,000 unemployed to work in community service projects.
In return, Fraser offered nothing but a continuation of his tough economic policies. He argued that Hayden's program would be inflationary and would threaten Australia's competitive position on world markets. His solution to the unemployment problem was classic conservatism. He said a tight rein on inflation would help private business expand and eventually allow it to hire more workers.
He described his win as "substantial," an indication that he is more likely to toughen than relax his tight monetary policies.
Reelection of the Fraser government will also have important implications for Australia's relations with the United States and on foreign policy generally.
Although it is probable that Australians voted him back as much because they remembered the wild inflation and erratic government of the last Labor government under Gough Whitlam from 1972 to 1975 as for any other reasons, Fraser made foreign policy an important issue in the campaign.
Fraser ordered Australia's only aircraft carrier, HMAS Melbourne, and four other ships -- a big naval force for Australia -- into the Indian Ocean last month and said that the United States was sounding him out on the force joining an international effort to keep open the Strait of Hormuz. Under Fraser, there is little doubt that Australia would agree to such a force. Hayden was resisting the idea, and his Labor Party indicated it would not join such a force without formal and restrictive treaties with all the nations involved.
Fraser has also offered the U.S. Navy use of Cockburn Sound, near Perth, as either a home or staging base and invited the U.S. Air Force to use Australian air bases for B52 bombers. He said his government would give the green light for them to carry nuclear weapons. Hayden said that nuclear weapons would not be allowed under a Labor government, that he did not see the need for B52s to come to Australia and that the U.S. Navy would not be allowed to establish a home port anywhere in Australia.
Throughout the campaign, Fraser emphasized that Australia was a U.S. military ally and had to accept the responsibility to stand up and support its ally -- especially in areas such as Afghanistan, the Middle East and Indochina where the Soviet Union was trying to extend its influence.
Despite its improved vote -- it gained 46 percent of the national tally or 6.3 percent more than three years ago -- the Labor Party now faces a troubled period in opposition.
Its most significant new member of the House of Representatives is Bob Hawke, who stepped down from a decade of leading the trade union movement to enter national politics directly, vowing that his ultimate aim was to become Labor leader and prime minister.
It is unlikely that he will challenge Hayden immediately, but Labor is unlikely to settle down to effective opposition to Fraser's policies before the inevitable showdown between the two.
The election result will mean a big boost to Australian businessmen and foreign investors. Fraser promised to retain a 20 percent tax concession investment allowance Labor had vowed to scrub and flatly rejected Labor's promise to introduce a resources rental tax to siphon off some of the big profits now being made by largely foreign owned mines in Australia.
Fraser will now open the door to a projected $35 billion worth of investment in Australian resource projects, much of which Labor had questioned. Labor had promised to ban all export of Australian uranium and tear up existing contracts.
Fraser had ordered the export to go ahead. Australia's uranium accounts for nearly a quarter of the noncommunist world's reserves.
At the age of 50, Fraser now seems set to challenge the late Sir Robert Menzies as the most successful politician in Australia.
There are grumbles in his party and its rural ally, the National Country Party, about his aloof, authoritarian style and his remoteness from ordinary people, a remoteness based on his lifestyle as an aristocratic millionaire sheep and cattle rancher. But Australian conservatives never dump a winner -- they kept Menzies at the helm for 16 continuous years in the 1950s and 1960s -- and Fraser is proving every bit as successful as the legendary Menzies in retaining power.