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Australian PM: Economy, Fighting Terrorism Top Goals in 4th Term - 2004-10-11


Australian Prime Minister John Howard has outlined his vision for a fourth term in office after a decisive win in Saturday's election. Mr. Howard says keeping the economy strong and fighting international terrorism will remain his top priorities.

Mr. Howard was back at work Monday after winning a 4th term in office Saturday - wining the strongest mandate of any government in more than 20 years. But he urged his conservative Liberal-National coalition not to let their comfortable election victory go to their heads. With this in mind, the prime minister confirmed there were not likely to be any radical changes of direction.

Economic issues and the war on terror are expected to dominate his next three years in power.

Canberra's commitment to Iraq remains unchanged. Australia will keep 920 military personnel in the Persian Gulf. The defeated opposition Labor Party had promised to bring them home by the end of the year.

Mr. Howard also plans to improve his country's anti-terrorism efforts across Southeast Asia, by deploying squads of Australian police officers in neighboring countries and establishing a joint intelligence training center where countries in the region could pool their expertise.

At his first news conference, Mr. Howard said he would press to ease media ownership regulations, continue with the sale of Australia's national telecommunications network, Telstra, and push for tougher labor laws.

"We do need more industrial relations reform," he said. "And if the better outlook in the Senate means that we can have a little more reform in that area, especially the things that we've talked about, then that will to the good of the country.

Australia's previously hostile Senate had blocked such efforts - but Saturdays' elections seem to have changed the balance of power.

Foreign trade is also expected to be a key feature of the re-elected Howard government. Free trade agreements have already been signed with the United States, Singapore and Thailand. There are expectations that similar deals with China and Malaysia could follow, as well as closer ties with ASEAN, the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations.

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