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    Howard denies slush fund claims

    Prime Minister John Howard denies his Government used a $300 million regional development program for the bush as a secret political slush fund.

    Mr Howard says the Government will follow normal practice in relation to a newly established Senate inquiry into the affair, meaning ministers such as National Party leader John Anderson will not appear in person to give evidence.

    Mr Howard says the inquiry is politically motivated and he has defended the Government's use of the Regional Partnerships Program.

    "There's a strange notion around that when it comes to deciding how government money, which is taxpayers' money, should be spent, that the last people who should actually make those decisions are the members of the Government itself," he said.

    The Senate formally voted to set up an inquiry into the allegations of pork barrelling this morning.

    Labor's Senate leader, Chris Evans, moved the motion, supported by the minor parties, saying there is public concern about the way grants are awarded.

    "There are a lot of questions that need to be answered about the operation of this program and so far we haven't been able to get a lot of those answers," Senator Evans said.

    The Government opposed establishing the inquiry.

    "You should be absolutely ashamed of yourselves," National Party Senator Ron Boswell said.

    But Greens leader Bob Brown says the inquiry is needed to keep check on the Government.

    "Senator Boswell says it's hard on the bush ... here's a Government deceiving the bush," Senator Brown said.

    Senator Brown wants Mr Anderson to give evidence at the inquiry.

    "If everything has been above board, I would expect that John Anderson would volunteer to be before the inquiry and very clearly defend his point of view against evidence which will arise during the inquiry," he said.

    The inquiry stems from concerns raised by independent MP Tony Windsor but will not deal with his bribery allegations.

    In other developments:
    A Federal Labor MP says there is no guarantee that Mark Latham will still be leading be party at the next election. (Full Story)
    Three hundred people including Federal Opposition Leader Mark Latham have joined former AFL star Michael Long in his walk through Canberra today, while more than 100 people rallied in the Northern Territory to support the march. (Full Story)
    Prime Minister John Howard says Queensland National Party leader Lawrence Springborg's plan to merge his party and the state Liberals would not work. (Full Story)
    Prime Minister John Howard has not ruled out appointing former Liberal minister Richard Alston as high commissioner to London. (Full Story)
    Federal Opposition Leader Mark Latham has called for action against a newspaper journalist who allegedly threatened a member of his staff and another Labor MP. (Full Story)
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