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14 Sep 08 The dogs of democracy

Costello and latham, dogs of democracyPoliticians must be aware when they enter politics that they have a use by date. Sooner or later, due to scandal, party machinations or electoral rejection the time comes when there is no option but to make an exit. If politicians are aware of this, why do so many of them feel the need to publish memoirs subsequent to political demise which are intended to be highly damaging to their own side?

The Latham Diaries, published in 2005 were unashamedly spiteful. The same can be said about Peter Costello’s recent memoirs which abounds with attacks on his political colleagues. Michael Costa recently added his name to a growing list of disgruntled politicians taking the opportunity to damage their own party after being shown the door. Did these people enter public life with no ideals of serving a cause? No matter how disgruntled you are, why not make a dignified exit rather than become a wrecker? Such indulgent expressions can be seen as nothing more than rampant self interest.

Sometime during his career Peter Costello acquired the nickname ‘dog’, mostly for his looks. Now more than ever his behaviour deserves the same title. Costello has no excuse for the venom contained in his new book. After years of waiting for the Liberal leadership to be handed to him on a silver platter he now refuses it when it is laid at his feet. Perhaps a deep self doubt lies behind Costello’s ‘captain smirk’ egotism. Perhaps he realises that when push came to shove, he never had the ability to win an election in his own right or lead his party through a bleak period of opposition. Costello’s behaviour since losing the 2007 has been mysterious. Perhaps it is true, (as has been suggested in the press) that his current position on the leadership is just a way of promoting sales for his book.

Costello’s memoirs are nothing more than the culmination of a long period of sulking due to John Howard’s refusal to hand him the leadership or have him and his wife over to dinner. While many might now decry Howard’s mishandling of Kyoto, The Republic issue, the children overboard affair, refusal to apologise to aboriginal people, the industrial relation debacle etc. his refusal to step aside for Costello now seems his most astute decision.

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18 Aug 08 Howard no coward: the eyebrows have it

john howard Former prime minister John Howard believes he would have been seen as “a coward” if he had stepped down voluntarily for Peter Costello but would have quit had a delegation of senior ministers demanded him to. Mr Howard’s views and those of other key figures are contained in a recent essay by Sydney Institute executive director Gerard Henderson.

John Howard has been described by some as “Australia’s greatest Prime Minister”. History might well see him in a different light. Despite almost equaling Sir Robert Menzies record as the longest serving Prime Minister, the Howard years have left a string of bad memories. Among them: the draconian 1998 waterfront dispute lead by then industrial relations minister Peter Reith, the infamous ‘children overboard’ Bob Hawkecontroversy (later found to be untrue) which secured Howard the 2001 election, mandatory detention of illegal immigrants and their children and the wrongful deportation of Australian citizens and of course the ‘Work Choices’ debacle which put the final nails in Howard’s coffin. Voters might have forgotten many of the previous sour memories but were not so easily fooled when their working conditions and pay came under attack. Perhaps Howard never really realised that a wholesale attack on unions was not just an attack on the Labor party but an attack on Australian workers themselves.

Staying on as leader might well have been described as “a courageous decision” by Sir Humphrey Appleby (of Yes Minister fame). In actual Edward Gough Witlamfact, it is unlikely that after Work Choices anyone in the Liberal party could have done any better than Howard. In fact, Peter Costello might well have incurred even more wrath from voters as the principle architect of the highly unpopular Work Choices policy. Current speculation about a Costello return from the backbench is unlikely to worry the Labor Party very much either. Memories of the Work Choices betrayal are much too fresh in our minds. Having lead his government to a landslide defeat and the ignominious loss of his own (formerly blue ribbon) seat does little for the Howard legacy.

Perhaps John Howard’s best claim to being a great Australian Prime Minister is his development of a fine set of owlish eyebrows in the Sir Robert Menziestradition of other notables like Menzies, Whitlam and Hawk. Such a fine set of eyebrows seems to imbue a Prime Minister with an air of knowing wisdom. Howard’s eyebrows may well go down in history as his greatest achievement.

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