EDITORIAL TUESDAY 16.09.08.
Brendan Nelson’s brave move to catch Malcolm Turnbull unprepared for the leadership ballot has failed, and his time as leader has come to an end. With the installation of Mr. Turnbull to the post the Liberal Party now has the opportunity to draw a line under the speculation and the uncertainty, and move on. Indeed, that will be the immediate challenge for the new leader. But is the uncertainty really over?
While it was clear that Brendan Nelson could not survive as leader, the end of his tenure is not the only hurdle confronting the party. The other significant hurdle has always been, and continues to be, the ongoing presence of Peter Costello. Mr. Costello’s stated aim was to support Brendan Nelson, and not to seek the leadership for himself. Now that Mr. Turnbull holds the post it might be wondered if Peter Costello is quite finished with the whole idea of leading the nation.
At any time, Peter Costello could stop all the speculation by simply retiring from politics. But so far he has refused to do so, insisting that he will remain on the backbench for as long as it suits him, and possibly even face the next election. Regardless of who might be the leader, whether Mr. Turnbull or anybody else, as long as Mr. Costello remains in parliament the question will continue to hang in the air. Mr. Costello can insist all he wants that he is no longer interested in the leadership, but there will always be those who either don’t believe him, or hope he will change his mind.
The longer he stays in parliament, the more this will be true, and Peter Costello must know that. So, why is he so intent on staying on, despite knowing the destabilizing effect of his presence? There are three possible answers. One is that he still wants to keep alive the possibility of finally making it to the top. Another is that he wants to maintain a role as a powerbroker, especially as he dislikes Mr. Turnbull. The third is that is that he just doesn’t care anymore and is more interested in looking after his own affairs and the backbencher salary helps to pay his bills until something better comes along.
From the point of view of the Australian people, none of the options is particularly impressive. In fact, whichever one is true, it would only serve to strengthen the view of many Australians that Peter Costello should do everyone a favour and just move on, thus allowing everyone else to do the same.