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Peter Costello

Peter Costello’s remarkable comments on John Howard’s apparent fib 12 years ago (‘I will stand aside after 1.5 terms’) do not advance his personal objectives. In a ballot of the Federal Liberal Party young PC wouldn’t stand a ghost of a chance against old JWH for the PM position. So, as an alternative to a ballot, PC is attempting to derive moral weight for the ‘top job’ from what he claims was JWH’s undertaking, made 12 years ago, to step aside 6 years later – this is ancient history. A pity because PC is an excellent Treasurer and his misconception on this issue may backfire on him.

JWH won’t forgive because of the damage it does both to JWH and to the Liberal Party. He will not step aside because of this move – he would hate the idea of being seen to have been ‘pressured out’. JWH may retire for pre-established reasons – he is renovating his Sydney home – but, other things being equal, this move by PC will only make him dig in his heels and hang on for a while. JWH is an impressive performer and a winner – and he knows both of these things.

The Opposition parties can take limited joy from these events. They don’t have the ministerial talent of the Liberal Party and their tattered policy mix doesn’t offer much hope to an electorate with an economy enjoying such a sustained period of prosperity. The Labor Party’s best hope to regain government is to emphasise divisions in the Government and watch them do just that.

11 comments to Peter Costello

  • Tanya

    I can’t believe that Costello is not only such a cry-baby but also such a public cry-baby. So folk make promises and they break them. Get over it. Has Costello never made a promise and then changed his mind?? Perhaps Howard was being honest when he made the promise but then, after holding the position for a while, he figured that he was good at it and should stay … or maybe he figured out that Costello has some major flaws (his guffawing dog routine is truly horrible) and that he (Howard), would be able to keep the Libs in power longer.

    Whatever happened between these two, the vacuum in which this sort of ‘leadership planning’ takes place. They remind me of the Labor folk I know who have planned out who will hold x seat up until the year 2050. Ever heard of democracy? Go get the numbers, people… and for gawd’s sake, stop whining to journalists.

  • Tanya

    Uh, “Whatever happened between these two, the vacuum in which this sort of ‘leadership planning’ takes place” should read as “Whatever happened between these two, what annoys me is the vacuum in which this sort of ‘leadership planning’ takes place.

  • Bring Back EP at LP

    an excellent treasurer like McMahon was.
    He hasn’t had anything to worry about.
    15 years of economic growth must have started before he got the job.
    He has been competent in not stuffing it up.

    He of course is the longest serving treasurer who was given a lesson in basic budgetary costing by a ABC journalist!

  • hc

    Tanya I agree with both your main points. Costello should get over it – but he won’t because he doesn’t have the numbers.

    But Howard is right in saying that this issue needs ultimately to be resolved by an election – not a deal.

  • jack

    The Sydney Morning Herald reader poll says that the punters clearly reckon John Howard is not telling the truth (80:20).

    The punters find it conceivable, that Howard, at that stage not knowing how the marbles will fall wanted to sew up his party room win by getting Costello to step out of the ring.

    John Howard’s, or rather his spin doctors’ line this morning, i.e. Tue 11th, and first flagged by Bronwyn Bishop on Lateline the night before, has changed: irrespective of whether there was a deal or not, and it was such “a long time ago” (and this non sequitur is now being retailed by Harry Clarke in his avuncular mode), is that it was not up to Howard to make the deal anyway, it was up to the democratic process of the men and women of the Liberal Party’s parliamentary rank and file to choose their leader.

    This spin is clever but it begs the question: why make the deal in the first place if it isn’t yours to make. That would be fraudulent at worst and disingenous at best.

    Curiously, nobody on The Smirker’s side has put that rejoinder forward. Maybe the absurdity hadn’t yet occurred to them.

    Then, comes spin no. 2, via Downer, that the party didn’t know who would be leader until the party room election took place in 1994, after Downer vacated the leadership. Downer’s assertion to the media is, to use his favourite phrase, insulting. The punters aren’t THAT naive. It is clear to anyone over 12 that such internal elections or spills are well worked over by the numbers persons. Sometimes the challenger will demand a spill just to indicate how close the numbers are, and/or put up a hare.

    Spin no.3 was articulated by the little master himself, and, literally, on the run this morning: “I distinctly remember that Mr Costello approached me sometime between December 1994 and January 1995 to say that he would run against me. This suggests that there was no deal.”

    So the construction, first suggested by Bishop, and repeated by Howard’s soldiers on AM this morning, that the deal was irrelevant because Howard was not in a position to make any such deal, has now been abandoned and we are hearing that the deal didn’t happen and by inference, Mr Costello and Ian Mclaughlan are conspiring in a huge public lie.

    Problem is that the public believes the Costello version and so do Mr Murdoch’s organs, because they have been flogging that for the last few days, relentlessly. This leads us to ask, sotto voce, has Mr Costello done some sort of deal with Mr Murdoch, first flagged a few months ago when the mogul hinted to Mr Howard that the latter ought to now think about retiring.

    But never mind Rupert and his machinations. Let us deal with the perception as it is being put about and obfuscated by the Howard camp and his shameless claqueurs.

    What does that mean, “he may dig in his heels because he would hate the idea of being pressured out.” ? Does that sound like the action of person who has Australia’s interests at heart? Does that sound like a party deciding or an individual being bloody minded?

    In my view, this is politics and what Costello is doing is no more and no less what happens in politics. It is a very orthodox, oft-repeated struggle for ascendancy using the media and the public arena as a battlefield.

    The reason why the backbenchers have fallen in step behind Howard is because they don’t trust Costello to win the next election for them, or at least, win it well enough so that their sinecure in parliament will be vouchsafed. Costello is generally disliked by the electorate. With the election slated for October 2007, just after the public grandstanding and photo op of APEC, Costello wants the chance to throw the switch to vaudeville and get some electoral love his way. Sensible enough, when you think about it. But you wouldn’t want to stand between a seat in parliament a politician and commonsense.

  • hc

    I just think its politics, Jack, and these sorts of agreements will be made and dissolved – Keating/Hawke the same issue. If a verbal contract between businesspeople isn’t worth the paper it is written on what about a verbal agreement between aspiring pollies?

    I am fairly confident PC is telling the truth but think he is foolish at this stage to make this stand unless he has decided he either wants the job or will quit politics.

    And you are naive if you have only just woken up to the fact that politics involves abundant ego and ambition. And yes Howard will be concerned with the view history takes of him – he seems relaxed and enjoying the job and has no compelling reason to be seen as someone dumped.

    The machinations among the elite will have a huge impact on even a secret party-room ballot as you say.

  • jack

    You make a fair point in your third-last paragraph Harry. Unless Costello has made a deal with Murdoch. This is most entertaining, I must say.

  • Tanya

    Although completely unlikely in the current political climate, this situation does make me think that we would be better off with term limits. An alternative would be compulsory reballoting with the incumbent still able to considered. Thoughts?

  • jack

    With all due respect to Tanya as a professor and chief academician of political science at the Lomonosov Moscow State University (up until 1991) I think the term “compulsory” is now a bit passe. What the party does internally is its own business and the suggestion is as odious as Costello’s repeated calls for secret union ballots, etc. etc. The ultimate judge will be the electoral poll and that tends to concentrate the mind like the prospect of a good hanging once used to.

  • hc

    Jack, I thought secret ballots were about giving workers the right to free choice. Hardly the same as denying people the chance to make choices.

  • jack

    Yeah, like they have a free choice in the parliamentary Liberal Party, with Mr Howard’s emissaries such as Bill Heffernan heaping abuse on recalcitrants and out-of-line-steppers. And no deals are ever stitched up beforehand. So the party, behaves like a beehive or an ants colony acting as one single organism, spontaneously. And because of that they don’t need secret ballots.

    And of course not only do you pay lip service to the construct but also sincerely believe that Mr Costello just got up one morning, and an idea launched itself into his cortex to go for the Prime Ministership, or as you put it, he conceived a “misconception” that may now “backfire on him”. OH DEAR. Silly billy that Mr Costello. And a crybaby, too (thank you, Commissar Tanya).

    And Uncle Rupie never got in touch with Mr Costello and indicated by gesture, deed, wink, nod or telephone call that if Mr Costello went for Mr Howard before the cabinet met to decide on the new media regimen in Australia, which is worth billions of dollars to the main players like himself, then Rupie would see what he could do. And what COULD he do? He showed Mr Howard a cudgel and put it under his nose to have a sniff (it smelt of political death).

    July 9, Sunday Tele. Headline:
    THERE WAS A WITNESS. HOWARD DID TELL COSTELLO HE WOULD GO. PM BROKE HIS SECRET DEAL
    July 10 Daily Telegraph. Headline:
    MEAN, TRICKY AND DISHONEST.
    July 11, The Australian. Headline:
    COSTELLO: PM BROKE PACT.
    July 11, Daily Telegraph. Headline:
    ONE OF THESE MEN IS LYING
    followed by a photo of a noble, suffering Costello and shifty, scowling Howard.

    How many days could Howard take that sort of barrage?

    These are the known knowns.
    Now for some unknown knowns that we can guess at.

    I reckon Howard got onto Rupert and threw in the towel but asked for a decent interval so history would judge him kindly and not like a whipped dog. Howard, like all his kind, is very very mindful of historical appraisal. (Personally, I think history is overrated. People have short memories, and you can always buy a historian you like. Especially if you have a few monkeys and a think tank in your pocket and a menagerie of failed academics on the payroll.)

    Lateline was instructive last night (11 July) in the way Gerard Henderson (Howard’s backdoor mouthpiece) and Glenn Milne, the hack that broke the story in News outlets, played the rift down.

    Milne and Farr – good little player Glenn, could tackle all day – have now been taken out of the attack and Denis Shanahan and Paul Kelly been brought in from the bench.

    The existing media laws really were designed for K. Packer and channel Nine. But now, channel Nine is not what it used to be, one of the best of Packer/Howard’s bovver boys is soon to be damaged goods and Kezza is St Kezza, pushing up daisies. Hmmm.

    It used to be a power struggle between Kezza’s interests and Rupert’s. Now that Kezza is not around, Rupert is making his move for access to free to air television. I suspect that the Government has already caved into his demands.

    Tell me professor that the media law change is completely unrelated to Costello’s whiff of grapeshot. Mr Costello is not so silly as to have expected to win but his foray, at the behest of Uncle Rupe, was designed to give Mr Howard little touchup. Like a bell at the end of a round.

    Say it ain’t so, Harry.