Peter Costello: Up Close And Very Personal


The following transcript was found in Peter Costello’s Canberra apartment, sandwiched between battered copies of Thus Spake Zarathustra and Atlas Shrugged. It appears to be the outline of a speech which we speculate was intended for delivery via videotape …

If you are reading this, I, Peter Howard Costello, am dead.

Or at least, I could be, for all you care. I am dead to the Australian public and I have been replaced by a puppet! You don’t deserve me! It’s clear now that you never did. I should have figured out that much long ago.

I did wonder sometimes, as I looked disdainfully onto the public gallery, involuntarily quaffing the odours emanating forth: why was I so keen on "representing" anyone at all. Have you looked at them lately? Really looked, I mean? There they sat, bleating. There they sat with their glottal stops and their imitation Mark Latham haircuts, bleating about this or that grocery item being too expensive. I did it all for them. For them!

Need anyone be reminded that the GST was the stalwart foundation stone that undergirded the titanic financial legacy that reinforced the tempered-steel scaffolding that in turn supported the impenetrable granite ceiling of Australia’s ceaseless, bountiful prosperity. It was Atlas-like! It was colossal! It was magnificent!

The GST should today be celebrated by every destitute child in the land. Every day, tiny hurrahs should ring forth in commemoration. Instead, the little mouths quivering over thinned gruel are silent.

Just as Michelangelo must have felt when carefully filling in the final cuticle on God’s fingernail with a brush made from his own eyebrows, I did feel upon intoning, "Let’s whack a 10 per cent tax on everything."

It was the e = mc2 of consumption-based taxes: mathematical perfection! Stravinsky’s iconoclastic Rites of Spring was first shunned by a cosseted Parisian public bloated on absinthe and consumptive courtesans, but it was soon celebrated as an unassailable masterpiece.

Eventually, the GST will be recognised as the central plank of my public’s financial, emotional, and sexual lives: verily, it is the tough exoskeleton of a healthful, beady-eyed prawn gallantly protecting the delicious meat within. In this, the land of the shrimps and the barbies! Yet instead, the bloodied cat-o-nine tails of public opinion chose to mercilessly, endlessly flay my soft, jiggly underbelly of self-doubt.

Artists of my calibre cannot endure the acrid stench of their undeserving comrades forever. A simple example will suffice. One morning in 2006, I felt sunlight spilling dappled shadows over the House of Reps’ lacquered boxwood floor, personifying the sweet, blossomy spirit of abstract justice. I turned across the floor to look at Kevin Rudd, hoping to share a delicate moment wherein each soul recognises the profundity of the eternal play of shadow and light and is thereby transported.

There he was, totally engrossed in the digital excavation of his ear, nibbling his findings as carefully as a sparrow. It was as if the essence of parliamentary camaraderie were at that moment being denatured inside his churning stomach.

Yes, people, I bestrode that tanbark-lined playground of flesh-coloured Smurfs! I was not of their ilk. No, I was like a gigantic novelty firecracker which had unfortunately fallen into the sink and been fatally dampened on just one side. Nobody knew which. You could hold the flickering flame of democratic duty up to my soul and: bang! Or: pfffft! Blammo or bugger-all: that was my way. Predictability chafed me.

And now it’s all happening again. It’s like my recurrent nightmare of Howard softly singing "Happy Birthday, Mr President" while wearing my wife’s revealing cocktail dress. Soft, slow singing. Abbott, that bicycle-fondling jackanapes, utters something that requires less thought than a bout of gastro and everyone treats him like a monkey on a unicycle.

Well, I’ve got something to tell you all. Haven’t I just?

It’s all a sham: Abbott is a puppet.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking: nonsense! How could such a man be invisibly manipulated over such a long period? But you mistake my meaning.

I threw Tony Abbott together in 1994 from an old jack-in-the-box, some spare Torana parts and several kerosene tins that I had lying around my shed. We entered Parliament together, quite literally. I thought it would be fun to bring a twitchy wooden mascot onto the floor. Why not? It would be like one of those scary novelty ones you can purchase at Balinese marketplaces. When an ABC journo spoiled the joke by asking my wooden friend a serious question, through clenched teeth, I just muttered the most outrageous thing I could muster. (Something about sodomy, from memory.)

Nobody laughed. Nobody laughed!

By the time I was ready to confess, it was too late. Some people actually thought he — that rickety assemblage — was their elected representative. Over the next few years, I made "Abbott" say all manner of crazy things. I stole Wilson Tuckey’s diary and read it for inspiration. To heighten the effect, I contorted that foolish puppet-form. All those insane convulsions which so disrupted Question Time? It was me, rapidly pulling the string up and down to make those legs kick maniacally in opposite directions. Nothing worked.

When the grim reality of Kevin 07 set in, I knew Howard wouldn’t go. Slowly, I realised that I could use Abbott to pull off the perfect coup.

Install a puppet as leader — my puppet! The puppet fashioned with my own hands! Then make him so obnoxious that my braying colleagues would beg for my return. They would start blubbing about what a great PM I would have made. They would have realised the great achievement of my GST. Then — bang! The puppet goes limp, off comes the sheet, up I pop, back from the grave. "It was he all along!" they’d say. "Save us! Save us, Peter. Save us!"

It’s over now, of course. He — it, I mean — has won.

I have to go and write another speech for it now. It might be a proposal to ban seat belts, or it might be a proposal to reintroduce chastity belts. But whatever it is, you’ll love it. And I will remain concealed. Dead to you all. Because that’s the only way you’ve ever loved me.


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.