EDITORIAL WEDNESDAY 23.07.08. Pressure is mounting for Peter Costello to come clean on whether or not he intends to retire from the parliament. Some say that if he intends to leave he should do so immediately so that the by-election for his electorate can be held at the same time as those for the seats of retiring former ministers Alexander Downer and Mark Vaile in order to save money. Some say the people of Higgins deserve a member who is devoted to representing their interests, not spending his time on preparing his memoirs. Others are concerned about the shadow hanging over the leadership of Brendan Nelson. But really, why should Peter Costello be pushed into making a decision in anything other than his own good time?
It’s just not true that having by-elections concurrently will save any significant amount of money. The only way to save the expense of a by election is to not have one and for Mr. Costello to either stay on or schedule his retirement at the end of the term. There is no doubt that Peter Costello is perfectly capable of serving his electorate while he remains in parliament, even if he is writing a book. After all he doesn’t have to worry about being the treasurer anymore. And as for the leadership question, while he remains in the Parliament it is others who are feeling uncomfortable, not Mr. Costello.
The fact is that it is not only some of the Liberals who are unsettled by having Mr. Costello around. The government too has an interest in whether Peter Costello stays or goes. They are well aware of the fact that if he stays he would be a significant adversary. The Liberal party is currently led by politicians without anything even remotely resembling the experience of Peter Costello, and both sides know it.
If Peter Costello should be persuaded to remain in the Parliament, the leadership is his for the asking. He has the experience and the capability to make the Liberal Party a truly viable alternative. He also has a very good prospect of being elected Prime Minister by those Australians who feel that he has done the hard yards and deserves his opportunity. There are no guarantees of course, as there are others who feel that if he had what it takes he would have taken on the role of opposition leader immediately after the election instead of dropping the bottom lip and retreating. Despite this I believe he is still electable, and at present represents the Liberal Party’s best chance of being returned to office after just one term in opposition.
Of course, that all depends on one important thing. What does Peter Costello want to do? I suspect that Peter Costello will choose to depart the stage as the could-have-been prime minister who never faced an election as the leader. After all, if he lost an election fair and square he could no longer be seen as the tragic victim of political treachery denying him his opportunity. No longer would he be able to tell himself, “It’s not my fault.”