May 02, 2005 | Graham

Work till you drop John

For a man who thinks we should all be working past the current retirement age of 65, Peter Costello seems to have a penchant for wanting to move the old and the wise on. Stories are that before her preselection he told 64 year old Victorian Senator Judith Troeth that she was too old for parliamentary work and should retire. She told him where to go, organised her numbers and now is no longer a rusted-on Costello supporter.
Now it is John Howard who is the recipient of gratuitous advice. Newspapers love a beat-up, so today they all carry stories of the Prime Minister’s missile from Athens. The inference is that Howard deliberately sent a shot over Costello’s bows. This is unlikely. If he had, he wouldn’t have been claiming to be misquoted, nor would he have sent a copy of his comments to Costello’s office in clarification. Of course, as the reaction of the Costello camp is likely to further disrupt the ambitions of their protege, whatever the truth, Howard could always claim it as a tactical masterpiece.
Every now and then Howard is a little less disciplined and a little more human than usual, and he slips up. This looks like a slip-up which even less disciplined and even more human Costello supporters have decided to beat-up. Costello, showing his usual self-indulgence, has decided to kick it along as well.
Underlying the Costello camp’s claims is the belief that there should be continual change at the top and that there is a full well of successful leaders from which to draw.
One of the few Costello supporters, apart from Costello, who is prepared to go on the record, is Peter Slipper, the member for Fisher in Queensland. On past performances though, a number of other Costello supporters will be hitting the telephones, and they include other Queenslanders, such as George Brandis and probably Brett Mason. Before any Liberal MLAs and Senators take these boosters seriously, they should look at their records.
The Queensland Branch of the Liberal Party is widely acknowledged as the worst in the country, but Brandis et al don’t get all the credit they deserve for making it that way. From 1994 to 1997 they worked to undermine the most successful administration the party had elected for somewhere around 20 years. Not only did they win elections – a rare talent in the Queensland Liberal Party – but they made the party solvent again. The key theme in the campaign against them was that the party needed “generational change”. Which of course worked on the basis that, if you guys can win elections, then anyone can. For the most recent illustration of the chaos into which the party has descended, have a read of this account of the Ryan FEC meeting and the utterances of “maverick” (at least I got the first two letters right) MHR Michael Johnson.
The fact is that successful leaders do not just happen, and they are very rare. John Howard is an essential part of the success of Australian federal Liberal campaigns, and you can’t just take the apparatus that supports him and use it to put some other leader in place. A good illustration of this is what appears to be Lynton Crosby’s failure in the UK. A failure that Howard seems all too aware of, judging by these remarks, taken from the same interview as the one where he side-swiped Costello. Howard says about his Conservative namesake that, “people don’t have the faintest idea what he believes in.” And about the campaign he says, “I don’t think the Conservatives have done enough spade work. You can’t fatten the pig on market day in politics.”
Now here’s a quick quiz – in one sentence, what does Peter Costello stand for? I doubt whether there is a single back-bencher, let alone voter, who could give me a satisfactory answer for that. And until they can, Costello hasn’t even satisfied the first condition to be considered as the next Prime Minister of this country. Oh, and he wouldn’t want too many more Judith Troeths – Howard’s not the only one with occasional bouts of hubris.

Posted by Graham at 9:29 am | Comments (4) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. Costello stands for whatever line the party is taking at the time.

    Comment by matt byrne — May 2, 2005 @ 12:47 pm

  2. Not a conviction politican then?

    Comment by Graham Young — May 2, 2005 @ 12:59 pm

  3. The Athens distraction

    The one thing I will point out in this post is tonight’s 7:30 report interview with John Howard, following a conversation between him and Peter Costello. It seems Howard is backing away from his comments, or at least from what the press and and blogo…

    Comment by The 52nd State — May 3, 2005 @ 1:00 am

  4. Costello thinks that he is owed something, but why should JH stand aside? I think Howard is right that he owes the party more than they owe him, so it would be unfair to retire prematurely. As far as I can tell Costello stands for selfishness and self-indulgence, so would make quite a pathetic contrast if he ever becomes leader.
    Costello’s line should be “I completely support John Howard as leader until he or the party decides to retire him, I will never launch a challange against him, he is the best thing that has ever happened to this party.”
    What Howard and the poor actions of Beazley (resigning after 2001 election, Latham (becoming leader about 2 1/2 years too soon) and the labor caucus (not supporting crean into the 2004 election) have taught me is: patience in politics and a steady hand in the till. Calm down Costello, you can survive until late 2008/early 2009.

    Comment by benno — May 3, 2005 @ 12:05 pm

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