Australia. In February, a special Constitutional Assembly
proposed that Australia, which is part of the Commonwealth,
should free itself from the United Kingdom and, in 2001,
establish a republic with an elected president as head of
state instead of Queen Elizabeth. At the end of 1999,
residents are expected to vote on the changes.
The battle over Australia's treatment of its aboriginal
people, the Aborigines, continued. Mining companies and
farmers welcomed a contentious parliamentary decision in
July to limit aboriginal land rights in large parts of the
country. Amnesty International branded the government's
refusal to compensate "the stolen generation", the hundreds
of thousands of Aboriginal children who were taken from
their parents before 1970 and coerced into white families.
In May, however, for the first time, National Excuse Day was
celebrated, dedicated to the adopted children.
In the state of Queensland, the One Nation Party
dissatisfaction party, led by Pauline Hanson and by many
labeled as racist, took almost the fourth vote in the June
13 election. Its unexpected success also marked the fight
for the federal re-election on October 3. It was a long time
in voter support between Prime Minister John Howard's
conservative government coalition and the opposition with
the Social Democrats (Australian Labor Party) under Kim
Beazley, but when the votes were counted, the government
could remain - albeit by a slight margin. One Nation was
given only one mandate and party leader Hanson stepped out
Countryaah, a major conflict broke out in April between the Port
Workers' Union (MUA) and the stowage company Patrick
Stevedores, which received government support. The company
laid off its 1,400 unionized workers and deployed
unorganized labor. MUA responded with a port block which
crippled Australia's exports. Only since the Supreme Court
ordered the company to reinstate the dismissed did a
negotiation solution reach in June.
A series of explosions and fires in the state of
Victoria's largest gas plant on September 27 took two lives
and cost society and business billions in energy losses.