Australian PM celebrates 10 years in power | india | Hindustan Times
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Australian PM celebrates 10 years in power

PM John Howard celebrated his 10th year in power, making him the second leader in Australia's history to have reached the decade milestone.

india Updated: Mar 02, 2006 14:43 IST

Prime Minister John Howard celebrated his 10th year in power on Thursday, making him the second leader in Australia's 105-year history to have reached the decade milestone.

But even as the 66-year-old politician restated his support for his presumed successor, Treasurer Peter Costello, he refused to give any hint as to when he might hang up his leadership boots.

Asked whether he would step down before the next scheduled election in 2007, Howard repeated his long-standing reply that he would remain as Prime Minister for as long as his center-right Liberal Party wanted him to.

"I know I sound boring giving that answer, but ... I really can't respond in any other fashion," he said.

Peter Costello has shepherded Australia's economy since Howard was first elected prime minister on March 2, 1996.

Although he is widely credited for overseeing Australia's 15-year-long economic boom, several polls suggest voters find Costello cold and detached, and would not favor him as leader.

But Howard rejected suggestions he was hanging on to the leadership until a more suitable successor emerges.

"I have always said that if I were to go under a bus, the person who would and should become the leader of the Liberal Party is Peter Costello," he said. "That is my view; it remains my view; it's a strong view."

Howard remains popular with voters despite widespread opposition to Australia's involvement in the Iraq war.

His stature also has failed to be dented by claims that he and his senior ministers were aware that the country's monopoly wheat exporter, AWB Ltd., was allegedly paying bribes to Saddam Hussein under the U.N. oil-for-food program.

A recent poll suggested that 52 percent of voters approved of Howard's performance as prime minister, even if 59.5 percent did not believe his repeated insistence that the government did not know about the alleged bribes.

Howard began his celebrations late on Wednesday with a 10,000 Australian dollar per table gala dinner at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia's capital city. More dinners will be held on Thursday and Friday.

Waving placards, hundreds of union representatives protested Thursday outside an elite Sydney hotel where up to 1,000 faithful Howard supporters celebrated the anniversary. "Howard, it's pay day," said one sign held aloft. "Hands off our union," said another.

John Robertson, a secretary for Unions New South Wales, said Howard's decade in power had meant increased average working hours and a decrease in full-time jobs, coupled with an increase of less secure part-time and casual jobs.

Howard, who was elected to a fourth three-year term in office in October 2004, is Australia's second longest-serving prime minister.

Only Howard's political hero and Liberal Party founder, Robert Menzies, notched up more time at the helm, serving 18 years before his retirement in 1966.