Australian Prime Minister John Howard

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Shortly before the Oct. 3 federal election that returned him to power, John Howard took time out to share his views on his country and its role in Asia with the editors of TIME's South Pacific edition.TIME: Why has Australia so far escaped the worst of the Asian financial crisis?
Howard: Because our economic fundamentals are very strong and because we have been able to engage in some trade diversification over the past few years. And also because many of our exports to Asia are bound up in long-term commodity contracts.
TIME: What would you say to the people of Asia about Australian attitudes?
Howard: Well, Australia remains fundamentally, as it has always been, a very open, democratic, robust society, politically and socially. Whenever any society undergoes significant social and economic change, some people are left feeling vulnerable and disadvantaged. Unsurprisingly, people will come along and seek to exploit that sense of vulnerability by offering simplistic solutions, frequently involving the scapegoating of one or another group in the community. That's really what's happened.