Howard: 'Not playing politics'

Mr Howard ruled out retiring before the election and says he has no regrets about his decision to contest a fifth term.

南宁桑拿

But his words appeared to fall on deaf ears, with two former ministers publicly squabbling on the floor of parliament after question time today.

West Australian Liberals Judi Moylan and Wilson Tuckey ignored Mr Howard's pleas for unity on the difficult issue of AWB, with Ms Moylan accusing Mr Tuckey of defamation and Mr Tuckey sticking by his claim that she was defending corrupt behaviour by the wheat exporter.

Tuckey on the loose

It was Mr Tuckey's second offence of the day, after the outspoken backbencher earlier hinted that the Liberal party could dump Mr Howard before the election.

"Some people say you can't do things late, well Labor couldn't have done it any later than they did with Bob Hawke," Mr Tuckey told reporters.

"History tells us he not only won, he stayed there for a long time."

But Mr Howard ruled out handing over to heir apparent Treasurer Peter Costello before the election, expected to be held in October or November.

"I have no desire to do anything other than remain prime minister of my country and leader of my party for as long as the Australian people want that to be the case," Mr Howard told Sky News.

"Like any other leader of a democratic party in a democracy, I am at the disposal of the Australian people – whatever they decide will be right."

Mr Howard denied his warning to the party room was an attempt to play politics or send a signal that he was willing to hand over power to Mr Costello in the next term of government.

"I see no point in deluding myself or deluding my colleagues or giving a signal to the Australian people that I don't understand that they are at the moment contemplating a change of government," Mr Howard said.

Beazley's view

Former Labor leader Kim Beazley, whose ousting by new leader Kevin Rudd last December started the government's slide in the polls, said Mr Costello had missed his chance by not challenging for the leadership last year.

"He should have challenged, lost, spent five or six months recreating himself with speeches on the environment, on Iraq, on industrial relations," Mr Beazley told ABC radio.

"The party would be begging him now and he would have come in as a cleanskin.

"Frankly, simply changing John Howard now for Peter Costello is shifting deckchairs on the Titanic."

Mr Rudd played down Labor's chances, saying the party would have to defy history to regain office.

"If you're any student of Australian politics you'll know that on two occasions since the last world war, Labor has won government from opposition," he told reporters.

"We need to win 16 seats on this occasion. History's against us."

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