Mon, Feb 27, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Aussie PM to mark a decade in power

AFP , SYDNEY

Prime Minister John Howard celebrates his 10th year in power this week, loved for making Australians richer but loathed for making them "meaner."

He is hailed by some as a strong leader who has won greater respect for this country but hated by others as a "deputy sheriff" of the US who sent Australian troops to an unjust war in Iraq.

Howard has presided over Australia's longest post-war boom, with unemployment reaching record lows while property and stock markets soared. But in a country which prides itself on giving everyone "a fair go," a recent poll showed that half the population believes Australians have become meaner under his conservative government.

Howard, 66, a less than charismatic former suburban solicitor ridiculed by cartoonists for his small stature, bushy eyebrows and imperfect teeth, has no such qualms.

"I don't think we've become meaner at all," he said in an interview ahead of his 10th anniversary in power on Thursday. "There's a tendency for people to always think that there was a golden era in the past of generosity which never quite existed."

Howard said he believed the greatest achievement of his government had been to develop "the strength, in a broad way of the Australian nation."

There was no longer "this perpetual seminar on who we are or where we came from or where we are going, but we just get on with life and demonstrate in so may different ways what a great place it is," he said.

Critics, however, charge Howard with failing to alleviate the despair of the marginalized Aborigines, leaving at least a million Australians in poverty and eroding civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism.

"The change wrought by Howard has been profound, a tectonic shift to the populist politics of individual selfishness on one hand and corporate gigantism on the other," wrote columnist Mike Carlton in the Sydney Morning Herald.

"War, poverty, civil liberties, common decency: these are merely the vapid obsessions of the latte-sipping `elites,' who the Howardistas have brilliantly demonized as the new class enemy of all right-thinking Australians," Carlton said.

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