If he wants it, Peter Costello can still be Prime Minister. There are two interesting developments today which could combine to push the former treasurer in that direction. One is the announcement that Melbourne University Publishing will publish his memoirs, at which he is currently working. The second is that according to Newspoll, coalition voters want Peter Costello as Liberal Party leader, with Malcolm Turnbull as his deputy.
Despite Mr. Costello’s decision to step down from the front bench and consider other employment opportunities in the days following last year’s election loss, he has kept his options open, quietly attending to his duties as a backbencher. There would most certainly be strong support within the party for him to return to the leadership team, and take charge. Some observers have questioned whether he has the “ticker” to take it on, but I think the real question is does he have the patience?
After years of patiently waiting in vain for Mr. Howard to pass the baton, it would now take many years more to drive the coalition back into government. Realistically, Kevin Rudd is still enjoying a remarkable honeymoon with voters, and unless he and his government do something incredibly stupid, could well be in office for two or three more terms. Although that is uncertain, it could mean that any Liberal Party leader has a very long wait ahead of them.
Even if Peter Costello succumbs to temptation and takes the leadership, he still might never be Prime Minister. He could become the Liberal Party’s Kim Beazley, guiding the party through the tough times of opposition, but never reaching the pinnacle of office. There is no doubt that Peter Costello has the ability and the experience, and the party would benefit from his leadership. But on careful assessment, he may yet decide that six or nine more years is too long and he could make his contribution to society in another way. And who could blame him? After all, he has already been (arguably) Australia’s most successful treasurer.
Either way, I still think that the next Liberal Party Prime Minister will be Malcolm Turnbull.