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Australia's new federal ministry sworn in

Meanwhile, PM Howard continued to deflect speculation that he might soon retire after almost a decade in the job.

india Updated: Jan 27, 2006 12:17 IST

Australia's new federal ministry was sworn in on Friday, as conservative Prime Minister John Howard continued to deflect speculation that he might soon retire after almost a decade in the top job.

Governor-General Michael Jeffery swore in 19 new ministers and parliamentary secretaries at Government House in Canberra.

Howard was forced to reshuffle his Liberal-National coalition following Defence Minister Robert Hill's resignation last week.

The resignation of Hill, who is expected to become Australia's ambassador to the United Nations, leaves only three members of Howard's first ministry in cabinet: Treasurer Peter Costello, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Attorney-General Philip Ruddock.

Howard, 66, will mark a decade as prime minister in March, but insisted on Friday that he was yet to decide whether he would lead the government into the next election in about two years' time.

"I said in (the) middle of 2003 that I would remain leader of my party for so long as it wanted me too, and (for so long as) it was in the party's best interests that I did so. There were two things, and that has not changed," he told commercial radio.

Howard criticised the media for constantly speculating on his retirement, saying when he decided it was time to go, he would not be "dropping it out of the side of (my) mouth in a private gathering, in an off-the-cuff fashion."

First Published: Jan 27, 2006 12:14 IST