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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 June, 2004, 08:52 GMT 09:52 UK
Howard asks schools to fly flag
Australian schools must have a functioning flagpole if they are to qualify for extra educational funding, Prime Minister John Howard has said.

Mr Howard, who is expected to call an election within months, said cultural attitudes were changing and more Australians now wanted to fly the flag.

The announcement came as a new poll suggested the opposition Labor party was still ahead.

The Australian's Newspoll showed Labor leading a two-way race by 52% to 48%.

Other conditions schools must meet to earn a slice of the A$31bn (US$21bn) funding on offer include meeting national standards on the curriculum, improving reports for parents, and setting aside two hours each week for students to exercise.

Childhood obesity is on the rise in Australia. Last week Labor called for an end to junk food advertising during children's' television programmes.

"We are laying down the sort of standards and benchmarks that Australian parents want," said Mr Howard.

The prime minister rejected criticism that flag flying was old-fashioned.

"It's perfectly compatible with the attitude of Australians, the display of the national flag by Australians now is far more regular, far more visible, far more a part of life than it was when I was 30 years younger," he said.

Mr Howard also said he "wouldn't mind" the national anthem being sung in schools, although that was not a requirement.

The latest poll results dim the chances that Mr Howard will call an early election in August, as had been rumoured last month.

Three weeks ago the prime minister's Liberal-National coalition was leading Labor by six percentage points, although Labor strategists dismissed this at the time as a sampling error.

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