As everyone positions themselves for a Labor win in Ryan on Saturday, the PM’s fixers are trying to somehow blame Peter Costello for his own self-inflicted problems.

Absolutely. So who’s responsible for all this crap that if – or more, when – the Libs go down in Ryan this weekend it will all somehow be Peter Costello’s fault?

There have been two main pieces. Jennifer Hewitt gave the Treasurer a well briefed blast in Saturday’s Sydney Yawning Herald, then he copped a thorough going-over from Brendan Nicholson in the Sunday Age: “Federal backbenchers believe the Coalition will be defeated in next week’s by-election in the federal seat of Ryan – seen as a crucial test of the government’s standing – and they are blaming federal Treasurer Peter Costello. ‘Fairly or not, Peter is seen as the problem rather than as a solution,’ one told The Sunday Age. ‘Whatever happens in Ryan, John Howard is safe.’ ”

We now know that the Ryan by-election is on because the Little Fella was prepared to take the punt. There’s been no rebuttal to Geoffrey Barker’s item in the Fin from Tuesday stating John Moore said he was willing to go to the backbench and stay there to a general election when he relinquished his portfolio.

The previous Monday, Glenn “The Black Dwarf” Milne column in the Oz had contained a naughty provocation – a jab suggesting the Prime Miniature’s job would be on the line if the Liberal vote plunged in this weekend’s Ryan by-election. (Editor’s note: did some of that column read like a Michael Kroger briefing?)

But why would you respond to that – particularly if this “test” is of your own making? Who would be stupid enough to put leadership on the agenda less than a fortnight out from the first significant by-election the Howard Government has faced since Jackie Kelly was forced to recontest her seat in 1996 – and one that is gathering more importance all the time?

Well, there are a few interesting clues scattered in Milne’s column this week, including quotes referring to one “Abbo”, better to known to Crikey readers as the Mad Monk. And if “Abbo” is out their briefing, don’t assume for a moment that he’s alone. The PM’s eminence grise, Bill Heffernan, would be giving a helping hand, too.

We’ve even seen Peter Wreath make a useful combination. Costello used to be known as “Dog”. Well, Wreathie should now be referred to as “Dog in the Manger”. What was left of his leadership credentials after the docks war were blown away by the Telecard affair – but he’s still making his presence felt. He told Monday’s AM: “apart from the media, no-one’s raised it with me, and I don’t expect anybody to, and I can tell you the tone of the party room is that John Howard is a first-class leader, and quite frankly I don’t say any more about it because I don’t think it deserves any more”. Right.

And how has the beneficiary of all this reacted? What has the Little Fella had to say?

Well the timing is scarcely great to be fueling leadership issues. The Gallery has scented blood – or more importantly, thinks it has. Unless the Libs pull off a surprise win in Ryan on the weekend, the PM is going to be pilloried. Leadership speculation is the last thing he needs.

But readers shouldn’t be worried. In his own indomitable style, John Howard has rewarded his all-so-faithful follower – and the man his Christmas reshuffle set up as Costello’s counterbalance. Just have a look at this piece from AAP from Tuesday morning:

Fed: PM agrees Abbott not yet ready for top job

CANBERRA, March 13 AAP – Prime Minister John Howard today refused to endorse frontbencher and ally Tony Abbott as his replacement, agreeing he was not yet ready for the top job.

Mr Abbott’s mother didn’t even think her son was yet ready to be prime minister, Mr Howard said.

Mr Abbott, the Employment and Workplace Relations Minister, recently hailed Mr Howard as the best leader since former prime minister Robert Menzies.

But when asked if he thought Mr Abbott could replace him when he retired, Mr Howard said: “That’s very nice of Tony to say that but who becomes leader of the Liberal Party leader after me is a matter for the Liberal Party”.

“I think in that same interview Tony said that not even his mother thinks he is ready to be prime minister at the present time,” Mr Howard told ABC radio.

“So I can’t trump that.”


A quid each way?

Sticking with the PM’s friends, Hillary was fascinated by Christopher “Piggy” Pearson’s psephological skills as he told Fin readers the Ryan result counted for naught.

“Comparisons,” Piggy wrote, “with the by-elections in Bass, Adelaide and Canberra, obvious and generally simplistic, will be filling the pages of what passes for the quality press for weeks to come.” Er, right.

In Bass and Canberra, governments got a bollocking at by-elections and went down at general elections soon after. In Adelaide, Labor lost a safe seat – and stayed in power for another eight years.

Is Piggy having a quid each way? That’s the charitable interpretation. Hillary tends to think what passes for quality comment is so preoccupied parroting O’Dreary’s dross that he’s forgotten to check the details.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]


Now, this is an earlier column from Hillary on Alan Jones, Andrew Thomson and the ICC.

When Howard Hughes completely flipped, he surrounded himself with Mormons.

Well, it’s time to start paying very close attention to the personal hygiene habits of cash for comment king Alan Jones and the man who made Ros Kelly look like a great sports minister, Andrew Thomson.

What’s Hillary babbling on about? Well, Jones and Thomson have being doing the damnest to stop Australia signing the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court – and are using a very interesting expert to help push their case.

Australia played an important role in the international negotiations on the International Criminal Court. The Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer announced in December 1998 that Australia would sign the ICC Statute. Most people think that an International Court dedicated to trying war crimes and other crimes against humanity was a worthy initiative. Who could watch the media reports on the atrocities in Rwanda and Somalia and the war crimes in Bosnia and Iraq and not support international attempts to set up a permanent tribunal to try the perpetrators of these crimes? Well, Alan Jones and Andrew Thomson are two.

Both have form. We should remember that Thomson is the politician who, as Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, tried to prevent Australia from giving effect to the extradition treaty with Latvia – the treaty that is being relied upon to extradite Konrad Kalejs to Latvia to face war crimes charges. Not a smart move from an MP facing a preselection challenge in an electorate with a large Jewish constituency.

Thomson’s latest effort is to try and prevent Australia ratifying the ICC statute. Having been rolled on the Latvia treaty, he is trying to get his revenge. How is he doing this? By holding “town hall” meetings with National MP, De-Anne Kelly around One Nation country in regional centres expounding on the evils of the Court and agitating opposition.

He has support for his views – from people such as Mr I C F Spry, the editor of the right wing National Interest and the Festival of Light. But the most interesting recruit has been one Professor Richard Wilkins, from Brigham Young University in the US. Never heard of it? Well, this is what its mission statement says:

“The mission of Brigham Young University – founded, supported, and guided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – is to assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life To succeed in this mission the university must provide an environment enlightened by living prophets and sustained by those moral virtues which characterize the life and teachings of the Son of God All students at BYU should be taught the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Any education is inadequate which does not emphasize that His is the only name given under heaven whereby mankind can be saved. Certainly all relationships within the BYU community should reflect devout love of God and a loving, genuine concern for the welfare of our neighbour”

Get the drift? Mainstream stuff we’re dealing with, here.

Professor Wilkins is opposed to the ICC on the grounds – amongst others, that the Court could find that marriage constitutes unjustifiable persecution of women on economic and other grounds and that the court could be used to create a worldwide right to abortion by prosecuting any government or person who prevented regular access to abortion.

He has some idiosyncratic views on international institutions. Have a look at It opens “When an acquaintance approached BYU law professor Richard G. Wilkins in April 1996 and asked him to attend a United Nations conference in Istanbul, she told him that proposed conference language ‘might undermine the family, promote same-sex marriage, and further entrench abortion as the final solution to most of the world’s troubles,’ Wilkins recalls.”

Thomson has been running Wilkins around Parliament House as an objective and informed commentator and trying to flog him to the media – and Jones picked him up.

He ran an interview with Wilkins on 7 February – it features prominently on his web site – and spewed forth in his daily diatribe on the Today program the following day:

“Amongst all the other nonsense that Australians are meant to endure which calls itself public policy, I have met few Australians who’ve heard about the background to and detail of the International Criminal Court. Can you believe that ministers Williams, the Attorney-General, and Downer, the Foreign Minister, have been pushing this nonsense for three years within the United Nations?”

Back in the studio, Jones kept the theme going:

“I’m going to just repeat a couple of comments here that I made at this time yesterday in that interview with Prof. Wilkins because following the interview on the International Criminal Court the phones here went into meltdown, people were alarmed at the kind of things that we talked about.

“And I’ve said over and over again that amongst all this nonsense that Australians are meant to endure, which calls itself public policy, very few Australians, as I said yesterday, knew the background or the detail of this international criminal court. And it’s impossible to believe that Ministers Daryl Williams, who’s the Attorney-General, and Alexander Downer, the Foreign Minister, had been pushing this for three years within the United Nations and this has never been discussed with the Australian people. And Mr Downer wanted to pass legislation last year ratifying it and, fortunately, some backbenchers, led by the Liberal MP for Wentworth in Sydney, Andrew Thomson, some backbenchers got in the way.”

But got in the way with what? How can they expect to be taken seriously with an “expert” like Wilkins.

If you want to get some other views on the ICC, submissions to the Treaties Committee from the Australian Red Cross; Amnesty International; the International Commission on Jurists; Human Rights Watch and the Law Council are available on line at

Jones and Thomson should take a look.