You can read it in the Sunday papers

The story splashed all over today’s News Limited papers about John Howard’s supposed “vow” back in 1994 to stand aside in favour of Peter Costello after serving just two terms as Liberal Party leader provides an example of how political reporting can be not much more than a gossip column with some low grade soap opera effects thrown in.

The main story out of this is not what may or may not have been said back in 1994, but that Peter Costello is so desperate that he’d arrange for a story like this to be placed in the Sunday papers.

Fresh from a year of the federal government using their control of the Senate to take more and more power, and Mr Costello musing just last week about grabbing more power off all the state governments too, Liberal Party figures now clearly think they are so politically unassailable in government that they can publicly brawl over who gets control of their gravy train.

It’s a bit of thankless task trying to guess who might actually be telling the truth when the people involved are John Howard, Peter Costello or Ian McLachlan – especially when it’s ‘reported’ through the prism of a column which is reinterpreting second or third hand gossip to fit the desired story. I expect even if there was a tape recording of the meeting, the words used were sufficiently ambiguous to allow everybody there to take the interpretation that suits them.

There was only one aspect of this article that really surprised me. It certainly isn’t that a conversation like this took place in 1994 – it would be fairly unremarkable if it did, given what was happening in the Liberal Party at the time. What did astonish me was the statement by the article’s author that “Ian McLachlan, a former Defence Minister who retired in 1998, is regarded as one of the most honorable figures in modern politics”!

The column doesn’t actually state just who regards Ian McLachlan in this way. While I’ve never met him, I’ve certainly heard him described in lots of different ways by many other people, none of who used terms consistent with this description. Last I heard of him, he was busy in his current role as head of Australian Wool Innovation, channelling millions of dollars of Australian woolgrowers’ money into the pockets of expensive lawyers, running a major court action aimed at silencing Australians expressing concerns about unnecessary animal suffering in the wool industry – money that legally is meant to be spent on research, development, innovation and marketing.

Still, he has apparently carried the notes he took about this Howard-Costello meeting in his wallet for more than 10 years. Quite why he would do this I don’t know and isn’t made clear, but they must be pretty battered and mouldy notes by now. Maybe he just doesn’t clean the junk out of his wallet very often.

The Canberra Press Gallery will no doubt now gallop off in another salivating frenzy of leadership speculation, which unfortunately will put soap opera ahead of the issues and stories which actually affect Australians’ lives. The only comment I have on the leadership of the Liberal Party is some quotes Greg Sheridan made back in March this year:

There is no reason why Peter Costello should ever be prime minister of Australia. …. For those who would like a change there is not the slightest way of knowing what sort of change Costello would bring, or even what he believes in or stands for…. The bigger disappointment about Costello is just how lazy and shallow his thinking is whenever he’s not speaking from a Treasury script.

…….. Oh all right, maybe one extra quote – by NSW Treasuer Michael Costa, commenting today about Mr Costello’s call for the Commonwealth to take complete control of economic matters from the states:

“I have to be frank with you, I don’t think Peter Costello is across the details and as a consequence when you do challenge him on these issues he finds himself in a position where he can’t explain what he wants.”

UPDATE: Rather than a story, it is now clear this is a campaign. Glenn Milne’s follow-up article in the Monday paper is replete with the amazing assertion that “Peter Costello was desperately trying to speak the truth” when he wouldn’t directly answer a question about whether he’d had an understanding with John Howard, as well as the revelation that Mr Costello was so not-responsible for leaking this story that he hadn’t even told his wife about this purportedly pivotal meeting he had with Mr Howard 12 years ago. (Although it’s hard to see how anyone but Mr Costello would know that he hadn’t told his own wife).

Now the Treasurer himself is reported as making a statement at a media conference that Mr Howard “told me that he intended to do one-and-a-half terms as prime minister and then would hand over. I did not seek that undertaking, he volunteered and I took him at his word.

It seems that taking Ian McLachlan at his word won’t suffice, as the ‘deal’ has now shrunk from Howard quitting after two terms to quitting part way through his second! My response to all this is to turn to an insightful quote by Glenn Milne himself, again in today’s piece in The Australian:

“All politicians have a capacity to render past history in the cast of their own view of the truth.”

Of course, this applies to a lot more people than just politicians, but that’s another story. It seems like Peter Costello won’t be Treasuer for much longer. I can think of quite a few people in the business community alone who won’t be overlyconcerned by that prospect.

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  1. What disappoints me is that the ALP buys into this soap opera. It makes the ‘alternative government’ as pathetic and narrow as the government. Why isn’t the ALP pointing out what the government is really doing to workers conditions and to Australian society generally instead of arguing on the level of ‘interest rates will go up’. We need an alternative – more Democrats!

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  3. I agree Alison, I don’t think anybody particularly cares about the Costello/Howard leadership thing.

    Labor needs to just keep running ads about the IR laws – I would even suggest they stick with actors getting sacked for theoretically true scenarios instead of “real people” – and they will romp it home.

    This IR thing is 100% toxic to the liberals and will cost them the next election. Except except except … I actually think Howard might be smart enough to repeal the laws if he needs to.

  4. Also I thought the comments by Michael Costa about Costello were dead right. From what little I’ve seen of him, Costa seems the one bright spark in NSW Labor quagmire.

  5. Dodgyville

    I think that even if Howard dressed down the IR policies, there are too many other issues, e.g. dominance of senate, up-front tertiary fees (who wants that), welfare to work, GST (wasn’t quite what we were told), children overboard… it’s just all adding up.

  6. They will be re elected because

    Australians are scared the others will let more and more into our country and we wont know what an Ausie is anymore.

    They like his stand on no T re Muslim extreamists because they are scared.

    Mind you it wont change a thing.

    When they are ready they will take this counrty.

    Beazley wont get anywhere while he has Jack Lake as his adviser for a start.

    I dont like either guy but Howard at least has guts.
    Thats not the case with Beazley.

    He would be a nice bloke to have a drink with.

    Thats about all.

  7. Howard has become a dictator with the help of a supine media too scared to report anything much of substance. I was asked 10 days ago why the true story of dodgy Pakistani documents being used to cancel Afghan visas has never been told and I had to tell a senior journalist it was because all of Australian media were too damn gutless, too afraid of DIMA to expose what they did to honest people. What you don’t know is that Aunty investigated then pulled the story because they thought they would lose funding. SBS wouldn’t do it because “it was too hot to handle”, the Australian because “we couldn’t find any relatives in Afghanistan so we aren’t going to look at it” and the SMAGE senior editorial staff refused to run it even when it was booked.

    It was a story that involved the lives of many small children and their mums, their dads wrongly imprisoned and so on and no-one wanted to know. The senate almost refused to even look at it but were gazumped. I don’t believe our media has ever been so gutless.

    Who knows maybe that journalist might be annoyed enough to tell it sometime if he manages to get the final truth.

    Then we have Iraq where all but the West Australian and Canberra Times actively supported blowing up an entire nation and murdering people on the basis of lies told by the Dubya crowd – none of them have moved too substantially from that position except the SMH who refused to endorse a political party at all at the last election and have promised to never endorse one again.

    Howard is a dishonest weasel – yet Costello’s crimes are worse. Howard defends his wrong positions, Costello thinks that his spineless silence on moral issues, social justice and the like will save him.

    They should both be sacked for the terrible job they are doing.

    $500 billion in debt will bite soon, the Iraqis will sue us along with the US over the AWB scam and so on.

    The ALP should also find some spine and sack Beazley, sack Laurie Ferguson and put John Faulkner in his place then make him leader.

    The man is charismatic, charming, decent and has some morals. Probably not any values that many in parliament are endowed with anymore hey Andrew?

  8. Hi Donna,

    I respectfully disagree that the “other issues” will cause Howard problems at the next election. Each one you listed, with the exception of “dominance of senate”, have already been tested at several elections.

    “up-front tertiary fees … welfare to work … GST … children overboard”

    And as for dominance of the senate, it has been 15-20 years since the public was educated about the role of the senate and so I actually believe that it will be a non issue as most people don’t even really know what the senate does. And of course the Dems I believe have been unsuccessful at educating the public on the role and purpose of the senate – a contributing factor to their collapse. But really, it was always a tough ask for a minor party to articulate policy and also education 20,000,000 people about the nuances of their political system. The Dems rely on people understanding the senate and preferential voting – two difficult concepts – and a heavy load to lift.

    My prediction is if the Coalition doesn’t repeal IR then will lose the next election but still have control of the senate.

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  10. Wendy is very mistaken about the ALP wanting more of “them” into Australia when in reality Howard has the largest migration program running since the second world war. He just disguises it by distracting the population with his mistreatment of a very tiny few who come as refugees.

    This anti-muslim rant has to stop, people like Wendy should just stop it. Muslims were here long before any of my family, they built the interior of the country, the railway and telegraph lines and so on that the English couldn’t and wouldn’t do.

    Give it a rest now Wendy, Howard has almost trebled migration to Australia.

  11. Cossie could try a Keating. Remember how bad it made Hawke look when he refused to stick with the agreement. And wasn’t it for the same reasons Howard is now giving – Australia wants me?

    On second thoughts, the picture of Cossie fuming on the back bench isn’t nearly as effective as the cranky Keating picture. Keating had vitriol, Cossie just has, um, something else probably, maybe, slight crossness?

  12. You’re all kidding yourselves if you think that the voters will get rid of Howard, or even Costello. What alternative do they have? One policy about repealing these work laws will not be enough enticement for the punters to take a gamble on a horse they haven’t seen win a bloody race yet.

    Oops. I fell into metaphor land.

    Look, as much as I wish the Libs gone, I just don’t see why anyone would vote for the ALP or the Democrats as an alternative. The Greens are the only other people articulating a set of policies, and that’s only because they’re a bunch of moral high-grounders. They’d never be any good at governing. Unfortunately for us all, Howard and Costello are going to win AGAIN. Get the red wine ready and let’s have a wake at my place after the next one.

  13. Her Radicalness:

    No. I think you are wrong. This time, because of their incredibly bad timing (as I have said on another thread), the Liberal Party has finally done itself in. Hold the Bollinger and the nibblies; you can’t start partying just yet ….. because the voters will go for whoever looks the most promising. If Pauline Hanson was still in Parliament there would be calls for her to be prime minister. If the Communists were still active and organized, we would have a Communist government. If Kath and Kim stood, they would be swept in. Anything but the Liberals! Being more realistic though, I hate to think of who might be put up to replace the disgraced Liberals. There is still some hope, just so long as we have people like the Australian Democrats and the Greens and the independents in Parliament to hinder blatant abuses of power.

  14. The only reason the Greens haven’t abused power in the federal parliament is because they don’t have any, although they’ve certainly abused it at state level when they’ve had the chance.

    And of course the Democrats (or some of them anyway) very quickly abused their power as soon as they were given the chance once Brian Harradine said he wasn’t going to support the GST.

    Scrutiny, transparency and honesty are what protect against abuse of power, not any particular political party.

  15. M
    You really just make it up as you go dont you.

    What I said was the public beleive! that they are safer with Howard.
    This is the problem with you M,. You read something and go off half cocked without listening what the writer is saying.

    I said that the public see Howard as the one working to stop boat loads of people just crashing here. I said the public wanted it stopped. Howards done that. The public are worried that Labour wont stand up as Howard will.

    Surley you except that most people support Howard.

    After all he has won a few elections now has he not?

    You are well aware of my work with the Muslim people and that I personally work with the Australian federation Of Islamic Council so enough of the lies.
    I am most certainly not anti Muslim and you very well know it.
    I support proper visitors into Australia but I dont like people thinking they can just rock up here and get on our welfare while telling us there should be no Santa and push to remove bibles from our hospitals.
    The skilled and educated ones who come here legally , speak english and become Ausies are most welcome.

    Your extream idea that Australia should pay for the whole world is what people dont like.

    However at the end of the day Ausies put Australia first and I want to know the elderly dont have to wait two years for a operation and that our aboriginals are being trained to work first.

    That hardley makes me a Muslim hater now does it.

    Small doses of the right stuff is what we all need M not a mack attack that you always dish out to anybody who does not agree with every single word you say.

    You spend hours typing each day M So why cant you type something from home and earn a wage.

    You have a kind heart towards migrants but you are savage towards your fellow country men.
    That is hardely going to win you any votes either.

    Please ensure you do not post anymore faulse information in regards to myself and the muslim people. My company is called Halal Kind Meats so clearly I am not against Muslim people and I dont wish your nonesense to effect the daily work I do with my muslim Partners> Many who are my friends.

    I also run a NFP which could live without your untruths as well..

    Your the one who needs to stop M.

    Oneday somebody is going to sue you if you continue to carry on with untrue statements as you do.

    Now I have responded to defend myself I will probably be told i am off post.

    Funny isnt it.

  16. People should also be very wary of Peter Costello

    extract from:

    Costello’s very own crusade
    Author: Michael Gordon 19/02/2005

    “John Howard is enthusiastic about the next round of workplace reform; the mild, measured and capable Workplace Relations Minister, Kevin Andrews, is doing the hard yards but, make no mistake, this is Costello’s crusade.”

    Costello isn’t known as Dollar Sweetie for nothing.

    “(Phone rings) PETER COSTELLO ANSWERS PHONE: Peter Costello.

    WOMAN: Peter Costello, a couple of weeks ago you may not have heard of him.

    MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The HR Nicholls Society named for an obscure Tasmanian editor and industrial campaigner, is now 20 years old. A loose group of industrialists, lawyers and right wing thinkers, dedicated to industrial relations reform.

    WOMAN: The case established for the first time that unions could be sued under common law for the damage resulting from industrial disputes. Since then, Costello has starred in a host of cases challenging union power.

    MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Peter Costello, as a barrister, fresh from his victory for the Dollar Sweets Company against the unions, was one of the four founding members of the group back in 1986. It has been a proudly controversial participant in the IR debate in this country ever since. The criticism of the Government’s IR reforms have come thick and fast from the left. But they are just as tough on the right. Last weekend the HR Nicholls Society celebrated its 20th anniversary with a conference titled ‘Let’s Start All Over Again’ and that pretty much sums up their attitude. Des Moore is one of the more prominent society members. He proudly wears the tag given to him by one High Court judge of “industrial Ayatolah”.

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