Peter the Loser


The Howard/Costello stoush has highlighted the paucity of leadership in Federal Parliament.

If Labor had a leader, Peter Costello would not have been game to have a crack at John Howard. But more to the point, if Labor had a leader he/she would be making mincemeat of both Costello and Howard.

What we’ve had amply demonstrated last week is just how bad Costello’s judgement is, and how limited his experience of the real world. He does not have Party or public support to claim the job of prime minister. And isn’t it ironic that the man who divides the world into (tax) winners and losers is one of Australia’s all time losers?

It’s taken Costello an awfully long time to realise that Howard is not a man of his word. And still he doesn’t have the guts to take him on. Costello went along with ‘children overboard’ and the rest of Howard’s spin and lies (otherwise known as his political agenda) without a public word of protest. No, Costello is a Howard man and as long as that situation prevails, he will not be able to successfully challenge.

Who is this bloke that believes a wink and nod will secure him the top job? And why does he think that publicity will overcome his lack of numbers in the Party room. Pathetic. All that was achieved last week was the spotlighting of Costello’s lack of courage and common sense qualities we really don’t want pushed in our face.

Costello has learnt a few tricks from Howard. One is the art of political grenade-throwing, which is a tactical response designed to blow other issues and players off the TV screen, putting the thrower at the centre of media coverage. The most recent example of Howard employing this tactic was his announcement that it was absolutely essential to have an urgent and high profile debate on nuclear energy (and waste?).

On the eve of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting and with leadership ambitions gnawing away at the very fibre of his being, Costello decided it was best to throw a few grenades on the very pressing issue of New Federalism not water, not infrastructure, not the skills shortage no, the very pressing issue of New Federalism. Costello’s timing and choice of issue could not have been worse. In one day’s lobbing, he managed to alienate all State Premiers and probably a big percentage of voters outside Melbourne and Sydney.

Like Paul Keating before him, Costello considers himself to have been a brilliant Treasurer. He is not shy about his own intellectual worth. But with the GST and the minerals boom he’s had so much money to play with that balancing the Budget (let alone contriving a string of surpluses) has not been difficult.

Thanks to Alan Moir.

However, under his watch, there’s been unforgivable waste the Department of Defence alone has been so profligate that a billion dollars was written off on a badly managed helicopter project, and another billion lost over badly stored ammunition.

Costello has failed to invest in our future at a time when there have been ample funds to do so. He has demonstrated that his vision is as limited as Howard’s and Kim Beazley’s. So what’s his special claim on the electorate? Why support him over the other?

But spare a thought for Howard he no longer has the option of sniffing the breeze. Costello has forced him to go to the next election as leader and by then the economic outlook might not be so good. With the Middle East unravelling, he might be facing a fuel shortage leading to a general price hike, inflation, higher interest rates and a slowing of the Chinese led resources boom.

The slim economic margins on which many Australians currently operate might be threatened, presenting Howard with a hostile electorate no longer prepared to overlook his manifest shortcomings. Under such circumstances, the only thing that might save him is a ‘khaki’ election with the drums of war and the fear of terrorism claiming greater attention than economic pain.

If Costello believed that Beazley could beat Howard he might have stayed his hand assuming that Beazley would be a one-term wonder. If Costello then led his Party to victory in 2010, he would have been 54 four years younger than Howard in 1996.

But Costello has Latham’s disease: haste for his own advancement, vision only for his own agenda.

If Costello wanted to challenge for the top job he should have done so by example. He should have put distance between himself and Howard through constructive and compassionate alternatives to Howard’s neanderthal social and foreign policy agendas. By so doing, he might have become de facto leader of ‘the opposition.’ It would have needed to be a most subtle play and, on current form, perhaps beyond him.

As it is, in policy terms, he is nothing more than a Howard man and will rise or sink accordingly.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.