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Tuesday, September 29, 1998

Australia Voters In No Mood To Dump Government - PM

ARKIB : 28/09/1998

SYDNEY Sept 27 - Australian Prime Minister John Howard indicated on Sunday he expected to win next Saturday's national election, saying voters were in no mood to dump him.

Howard said that even if voters cut his massive parliamentary majority, he would still have a mandate to carry out pledged tax reforms and hold off any challengers to his leadership.

''I don't sense that there is a mood to throw out the government,'' Howard told the Seven Television Network.

''In the 24 years I've been in politics I've sensed that mood on three occasions - 1975, 1983 and 1996.''

Those three years mark the changes of government since Howard first entered parliament in 1974. Howard led the Liberal-National conservative coalition to a landslide victory in March 1996 after 13 years of Labor rule.

''However, you can still lose an election even though there's not a profound mood to throw you can still happen,'' he said.

The Labor opposition needs an extra 27 seats in the 148-seat lower house of parliament, the House of Representatives, to win power - a feat never before achieved. If Howard is defeated, his will be the first one-term government since 1931.

Most opinion polls show Labor with a slight lead over the government, but one suggested on Saturday that most of Labor's increased support was in its own safe seats.

Howard said the rise of populist lawmaker Pauline Hanson's One Nation party had probably hurt the conservatives more than Labor because it drew support from coalition constituencies.

One Nation is polling about seven percent in national polls, not necessarily enough to win seats but sufficent to influence the final outcome in some electorates.

''I hope One Nation fails next Saturday,'' Howard said in a later interview on Channel Nine television.

''I don't want them to win any Senate seats, I don't want them to win any House of Representatives seats. I naturally want the coalition to control both houses.''

However, it appears unlikely the government will control the Senate, or upper house, where a proportional voting system makes it easier for smaller parties to win seats.

Howard said if he won the election, he would consider it a mandate to implement his proposed tax reforms, which centre on the introduction of a goods and services tax (GST).

''You either win or lose elections. A win is a win and a loss is a loss. As far as I'm concerned if the coalition is returned with a working majority that is a win, and that is mandate to get on with the job,'' he said.

Labor opposes a GST. Another party in the Senate, the Democrats, has indicated support for a GST but wants the government to make changes - including not applying it to food.

Howard said he would not expect to be challenged for his job even if he won only a narrow victory.

''If I lose, well, good night, nurse as far as I'm concerned. If I win, then I've got a mandate for another three years.''

Howard has said previously he will step down as leader of the ruling Liberal party if the coalition loses the election.

But there has been speculation throughout the campaign, which began on Aug 30, that Treasurer Peter Costello will challenge Howard for the top job within two months of the poll.

Howard denied there had been any tension between the two during the campaign and said he had not discussed the leadership with Costello since becoming prime minister in March 1996.

''He has legitimate ambitions as somebody in his early 40s to one day lead the Liberal party,'' Howard said.

''I'm not anointing anybody but I want to make it very clear that I hold him in very high regard.'' - Reuters

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