The Costello Memoirs

The back cover of the book points to one of the themes that run through The Costello Memoirs: “How did it come to this?  How did a Government that had created such an Age of Prosperity, such a proud and prosperous country, now find itself in the wilderness?”   Written nine months after the Coalition lost office, Peter Costello is still scratching his head wondering why.  His first chapter titled What Went Wrong? recalls the evening before the election, when he knew the Government was defeated, to the barbeque at his home the day after polling.  In that chapter he gives substance to the words on the back cover in a paragraph that records his and the Howard Government’s achievements.  It begins “The achievements of recent years have been absolutely outstanding”.  All the facts he states are accurate, albeit incomplete.  The astonishment at being removed from office in the face of such ‘outstanding achievements’ comes through, as it does throughout the book. More...

The China intrigue

Whatever it was that precipitated the linking of Joel Fitzgibbon to Helen Liu, it has created a firestorm of ‘we need to watch China’ sentiment.  In just two of today's newspapers, Fairfax’s Melbourne Age, and Murdoch’s The Australian, there were about a dozen articles, editorials, cartoons, and smaller references to China and the Fitzgibbon affair.  The front page of The Weekend Australian has a photo of Kevin Rudd getting into a car holding a book China’s Rise, given to him by the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington where he has just given a speech.  Although the caption explained how he came to have the book in his hand, casual readers would associate Rudd and China yet again.  Christian Kerr cleverly pointed out that "Yesterday our snapper in Washington got this pic of our Prime Minister carrying… China’s Rise,” with the comment "It’s maybe not the best timing to be seen with that title given the Joel Fitzgibbon row...”  Of course you would know Christian. More...

The ‘toxic bore’ stakes

Tony Abbott knows that perception is everything in politics.  So he has embarked on a campaign to label Kevin Rudd a ‘bore’, and just too add a splash of colour, no matter how meaningless, he adds the prefix ‘toxic’.  Would he have ever selected such an adjective had it not been for all the contemporary talk about ‘toxic assets’ on bank balance sheets?  Why toxic?   In my dictionary ‘toxic’ means ‘poisonous’.  Did he really mean to call Rudd poisonous?  We’ll never know as he’ll never explain his thinking.  The ill-chosen word is more a reflection of Abbott’s intense disdain for Rudd than an attempt at an accurate descriptor.   More...

Dear Malcolm

Now that the tumultuous last week of parliamentary sitting is behind you, I suppose it’s a time for reflection.  Time for you to ask: ‘How am I doing?’  Time to check the compass, time to contemplate how to achieve better outcomes – unless of course you’re quite satisfied with your direction and your progress.  Which you may well be.  With a reputed ego as large as yours and with the superabundant self-confidence you’re said to have, you may consider improvement unnecessary, except of course at the edges. More...

The power of one

Steve Fielding has one vote, which he has the right to exercise, although he could hardly claim to ‘represent’ Victorians, having garnered less than 2% of the Senate vote.  Yesterday saw him exercise that vote against the alcopops legislation, thereby sinking it by one vote.  This man is the mouthpiece for Family First, and says he acts in the interests of families.  So the conundrum is how voting down this measure, which was supported by medical and alcohol and drug groups, along with the $50 million of health funding measures to cut alcohol abuse and mandatory warning labels on bottles and cans is ‘family first’.  Teenagers, along with Brendan Nelson’s ‘ute men’, will now be able to buy alcopops without the 70% tax added.  More...

The Turnbull Twist

Asked by a viewer last Sunday on Channel Ten’s Meet The Press why the Government and the Opposition could not work together collaboratively to manage the nation’s response to the GFC, Agriculture Minister Tony Burke responded by pointing out that “Mr Turnbull changes his position almost every day”, presumably rendering cooperation out of the question. Government ministers express the same sentiment repeatedly; in Question Time today Kevin Rudd accused the Coalition of rank inconsistency and flip-flopping.  Malcolm Turnbull’s changeability was addressed also on the previous Sunday by Laurie Oakes on Channel Nine. He presented him with a catalogue of changed positions over the last year or two.  Turnbull blustered and fumbled his answers; some of his explanations lacked plausibility.  While all politicians are entitled to change their positions as circumstances change, there seems to be little doubt that Turnbull does often change his position.  Why?

This piece proposes that it is because forces within his party regularly pull and push him away from his own considered opinion.  As he dances to others’ tune, we see him sometimes gyrating violently, sometimes swaying gently, and sometimes lurching precipitously – this is the ‘Turnbull Twist’. More...

Silly questions

Media people yearn for the scoop, the breaking story they get to first.  They dream of being ahead of the pack, of upstaging their competitors.  They pursue their dreams every day.  But today’s politicians watch every word they utter, fearful of saying something that will come back to haunt them, as it can so easily with today’s instantaneous communications technology.  They worry about spilling the beans about party machinations, about what has been said behind closed party doors.  There are of course a few exceptions; some enjoy backgrounding, leaking and sabotage.  But more than anything else they are nervous about letting slip party strategy and tactics. 

Herein resides the conflict between the media and the politicians.  They are in constant battle – the media intent on drawing out of the politicians what the politicians do not want to reveal, and the politicians determined to thwart them.  This is the basis of the charade we see played out daily on TV and radio.  The media personalities that indulge in this line of questioning seem to enjoy the joust, the politicians themselves may sometimes enjoy it too but usually look uncomfortable, whereas those forced to witness the contest usually end up frustrated, annoyed or plain bored.  This is the ‘silly questions syndrome’.  A few contemporary examples illustrate the several forms it takes.  More...

Has the Costello comeback begun?

The reappearance of Peter Costello over recent weeks has heightened speculation that he will soon take a run at the leadership.  Rumours filtered out today that he now has the numbers in the Liberal party room to roll Malcolm Turnbull if it came to a challenge.

As asserted in an earlier piece on The Political Sword, The Costello enigmaCostello is highly unlikely to accept any front bench position other than leader.  His much publicized dislike of Turnbull makes the acceptance of a position under his leadership virtually out of the question.

Recently, the electronic media, always quick to sniff a coup coming up, has focussed on leadership to the detriment of its reporting on the matters that really count, the GFC, ETS and IR.  Then today in an editorial First leader to the centre wins The Australian declares its hand and gives the Costello bandwagon a hefty push.  More...

The Turnbull answer to the Rudd essay

In an article in The Weekend Australian of 7-8 March titled PM's cheap money shot Malcolm Turnbull responds to Kevin Rudd’s essay in The Monthly, The Global Financial Crisis – (first 1500 words of the Rudd essay here).  Turnbull’s piece is worth reading as it gives tentative insight into his thinking, tactics and ideological position, more the former than the latter.  You be the judge.

It’s an article in three pieces – an initial somewhat emotive and sarcastic condemnation of Rudd’s propositions, then an objective account of how the sub-prime mortgage problem emerged, starting with Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac, followed by a return to a condemnation of Rudd and some personal invective thrown in for good measure.   The contrast between the middle and the rest of the piece is arresting.  Did someone else compose the middle?  It doesn’t sound like Turnbull-speak. More...

The Costello enigma

Aspiration to the highest office in the land is the ambition of most senior politicians.  So after so many years coveting that position, it came as a bolt from the blue when Peter Costello declined leadership after it was offered on a plate right after the 2007 election.  A role outside of politics was mooted, but as time passed and nothing suitable eventuated, the backbench seemed all that was to be had.  But from time to time, like a smouldering fire smoking on the crest of the mountain, speculation flares about his return to active political engagement. Yesterday was one of those times.  More...

Who do you want at the helm?

Metaphors abound around the global financial crisis.  The Government says we’re facing a global tsunami, and we can’t swim against that sort of tide.  We’re in a ship in stormy waters battling the elements.  In the wake of Victoria’s bushfires, it’s surprising that the ‘firestorm’ metaphor has not much been used. 

In today’s Australian George Megalogenis heads his well-balanced piece Leader’s bounty kept ship afloat Michael Stutchbury, in an even-handed video clip We’re in recession  avoided metaphors, but in McCrann on Australia’s recession, Terry McCrann, so prone to exaggerated language, couldn’t resist.  He has the global economy “slowing to a walk”, the Australian economy in a “twilight zone” between the good things and the bad things, and accuses the Reserve Bank and the Government of “over-egging the pudding”.  His piece was nonetheless reasonable. More...

Dangerous and dishonest predictions

So much of life is predicated on a capacity to predict.  We want to know what the weather is predicted to be tomorrow, this week, next week.  We want our doctor to predict the likely progression of our illnesses and the effect of treatment.  Investors would like to know what the stock market is likely to do this week, this year.  All of us would like to know if climate change is a reality, and if so, how it was generated and how fast it is predicted to progress.  And at this time of financial uncertainty governments need to predict where the economy is heading, and assess the likely outcome of its legislative moves.  Accurate prediction is crucial. More...